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Medicare forcing hospitals to improve their customer service

In the midst of arguments on the Affordable Health Care programs, it is interesting to delve into this year’s Medicare push for improved customer service in the hospital venue. Beginning in October, Medicare will hold one percent of their regular reimbursements based on performance. With payments that will total more than $50 million, United States health-care is being forced to improve the quality of their care.

The survey is called Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health-care Providers and Services (HCAHPS) and contains 27 pertinent questions about a patient’s hospital experience. Here is just a sampling of what patients are asked:

  • Did the nurses and doctors communicate well during your hospital stay?
  • Was your pain well-controlled?
  • Was your room clean?
  • Was the hospital quiet at night?
  • Was the food prepared well, and how was the menu?
  • When discharged from the hospital, did you receive clear follow-up instructions?

Some hospitals are really taking the new Medicare initiative seriously. They are demanding the entire hospital staff attend customer satisfaction seminars. Where many patients remember a physician entering a patient’s room and treating that patient as if he were merely a medical object and showed little compassion – much less any bedside manner, that entire mindset has been changing. Although it is a subjective opinion of what a patient perceives is compassionate, no one can deny the hospital that implements programs such as massage therapy, reflexology, and music therapy.

Hospitals have even improved their menus and the way food is presented to patients. In Detroit based hospital Henry Ford, don’t be surprised to see such menu choices as tilapia and chicken piccata. Room service and VIP lounges have been introduced with the hopes that patients will give the hospital higher marks. Hospitals will be reimbursed based on 70 percent of actual patient quality care and 30 percent based on patient satisfaction.

So besides adding luxurious extras to enhance the rather scary and unsettling hospital experience for patients, besides employing extra customer service training, hospitals are now hiring patient experience consultants to help deal with complaints and add the more compassionate touch to serious medical care. Watch some of the commercials on television where the words compassion, treating the “whole” patient, and a completely new genre of gentle and personalized medical services are offered – often taking the place of the impersonal green and white walls of hospitals in the past.

What happens however, in the poorer hospital areas where massages and high paid chefs are not an option in the medical hospital budget? There comes the practical argument that the quality of care is the most important aspect of healing a patient. These facilities will lose money on Medicare reimbursement because even poor patients want to be treated as a “whole” person.

So far only 67 percent of the patients polled gave top grades to hospitals. Now that is food for thought.

Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

This isn’t related to customer service as strictly as most of the other posts here on Service Untitled, but as I was typing this up, I figured I’d post it here because some folks might get some value out of it.

Like many people, I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs and what he accomplished. I pre-ordered his biography as soon as it was announced and have read a lot about him and talked to people who have worked for him. When I saw this post on the Harvard Business Review blog, I liked that it summarized some of the more applicable leadership lessons and wanted to write some of them down.

Here’s my summary of the summary of what leadership lessons people can learn from Steve Jobs.


  • Minimize the amount of products / services you offer.
  • Make three great products instead of 100 okay products.


  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
  • The best simplicity conquers rather than ignores complexity. In other words, true simplicity is more than removing clutter.
  • Asking “Do we need this?” about everything, even the things that seem obvious, is an exercise worth doing.

Take Responsibility End to End:

  • Seamless integration is an important part of simplicity.
  • It can be difficult to have a truly exceptional user experience without end-to-end responsibility for it. In other words, take responsibility for “the whole widget.”

When Behind, Leapfrog:

  • If you’re behind, make sure your next step puts you ahead instead of on par.
  • If getting ahead means cannibalizing yourself, it’s better than someone else cannibalizing you.

Put Products Before Profits:

  • Don’t compromise.
  • If you make great products and are passionate about it, profits should follow.

Don’t be a Slave to Focus Groups:

  • Customers don’t always know what they want
  • Henry Ford said “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a ‘A faster horses!”
  • Jobs said “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

Bend Reality:

  • Don’t accept what seems to be impossible.
  • If you have to, push people to make the impossible happen.


  • Mike Markkula urged three principles: empathy, focus, and impute.
  • People form an opinion about a product or company based on how it is presented and packaged.
  • Packaging can be as important as the product.
  • Similarly, design can send a message.

 Push for Perfection:

  • Don’t be afraid to step back and ensure everything is perfect before launch.
  • Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for it not to be perfect.

Tolerate Only “A” Players:

  • Work with only the best to prevent “the bozo explosion”
  • Hold those people to high standards.
  • It is the founder/CEO/visionary’s job to be honest.
  • If you expect great people to do great things, you can often get people to do great things.
  • Loyalty has to be a factor if you’re going to be brutal.

Engage Face-to-Face:

  • Spontaneous interactions can lead to great things.
  • Jobs said “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Know Both the Big Picture and the Details:

  • Individual products make up a big picture and it’s important to know what that big picture is.

Combine the Humanities with the Sciences:

  • Being a great technologist isn’t enough.
  • Being a great designer isn’t enough.
  • Being at the intersection of humanities and the sciences can be useful.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish:

  • There can be a place for a rebel and counterculture streak in the business world.
  • As one of Apple’s famous ads said “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Home builders stepping up customer service in tough market

Here in sunny South Florida, real estate is booming again, but there are definitely new rules when it comes to new construction. Builders who have been lucky enough to survive the economic real estate plunge are slowly emerging again with new and improved products. Home buyers are more concerned with advanced energy, the use of efficient materials, and builders who understand their desire to conserve the environment. Builders and realtors alike are concentrating on “Green” building using recycled and energy efficient materials, heat from the earth, recycled rain water and solar heat as alternative and environmentally friendly power sources. The best “Green” builders will welcome independent inspectors who rate energy efficient homes – the top rating “5+ Stars.”

Considering buying or building a home is one of the biggest financial decisions a person will ever make in their life, home buyers want to consider a builder’s mission statement committing themselves to building quality construction, a builder’s reputation, and more than ever now customer testimonials assuring home buyers the builder will deliver the best product for the amount of money a consumer is able to spend.

So what does customer service look like in the home building business? Customers want a builder to take the time to understand their wants and needs, the builder to ask the right questions, to understand a buyer’s style and to be responsive, understanding, and considerate through the entire experience. Builders now need to exceed the needs and expectations of a customer and focus on building a rapport so as to tailor a new home to fit within the monetary budgets while delivering a beautiful product.

Nowadays successful builders work on maximizing area, creating a modern openness in the living space, upgrades in such areas as the kitchen cabinetry, appliances, trim, and landscaping. Home buyers want their builders to be quick to respond and to provide them with timely updates. Consumers want the builder to be there with their realtor to sign the contracts, to understand the deposits needed, to be assured that the same contractors used by the builder are dependable, reliable and have been with the builder for years – a profound indication that a builder is respected and fair in all of his professional relationships.

And finally – when the big day arrives and the builder proudly hands over a set of house keys to the new homeowners, the after care service will never be overlooked. What was once an industry wide issue of builders neglecting follow-up care after the check had been cashed is no longer tolerated since buyers have so many options to choose from and so many builders who want to consistently be asked to build another home.

What customers need to do in order to get companies to listen to their complaints

Problems?Even nice customers get angry. It can happen to any organization, and figuring out the best ways to respond and satisfy your customers can mean loyalty and continued business. One of the common problems however, is getting a complaint satisfactorily resolved with the least amount of frustration, anger, and time.

Traditionally large companies do not pay their first line of customer service representatives high salaries. Many new employees read from scripts and seldom deviate from the question and answer page. Where the run-of-the-mill problems might be easy to solve according to the prepared customer service “cliff notes,” what happens when a customer’s problem or service complaint isn’t in the “one-size-fits-all” category?

Let’s begin with having all of the pertinent information on hand before making any inquiries to the company. Be prepared with receipts, names of service representatives called, a narrative of what was discussed, and a reliable time line showing when emails were exchanged, phone calls were made and any other points of contact. For those of us who have figured out the 1-800 number rarely gets us where we want to go when our complaint hasn’t been addressed properly, it might be time to escalate our sphere of influence and climb higher onto the help needed elevator.

Once you have passed from the floor person to a supervisor, head in a positive tone. It’s more than likely the supervisor has no idea why you are angry and frustrated, so why not put a positive spin on your conversation and build a rapport based on a person now with more authority to be able to step out of the box and make amends? Also, try to make a point not to insult the original customer service representatives. Often their behaviors and responses are required and thus considered appropriate answers to customer inquiries and concerns.

It’s my experience the earlier in the day you call with a complaint, the more likely you will get an answer and a resolution. Have a positive solution in mind. For instance, do you want a replacement of the product, a different product with a better track record, a refund, or free products or perks to make up for all the trouble and time you have had to endure? Again try to be positive and pleasant; human nature always responds better to a smile and a few kind words over snarls and insults. Don’t expect however, a supervisor to give away the store; make your requests reasonable.

If by this time you have not progressed to a satisfactory solution, you still have a few viable options. Facebook and Twitter bring a lot of attention – both good and bad. Many times social media representatives are quicker to act than working one’s way through the maze of automated telephone responses and customer service representatives. Then there is always the option of calling a company’s sales department. You might not get your refund yet, but often the sales representatives can point you to someone in the know.

Still can’t get anywhere? Google the CEO of the company and send them a respectful letter or call. Chances are you will attract someone’s attention and may very well find yourself working your way  up to an executive who is interested in why you were not satisfied with customer service. By the time you make your way to corporate, chances are these are the people who want to keep you as a customer and will make sure your needs are properly met.

photo credit: mStreetPhoto

Received lousy customer service? Complain about it on Gripevine

Beyond the long arms of social media where we frequently address our complaints to organizations that have “done us wrong,” enters another new kid in town who stretches beyond the 140 character Twitter or the full time media Facebook guru, and claims it can connect you directly to the top decision makers. In the media age when companies know too well the firestorms that can be created from negative events and a failure to respond in a reasonable amount of time, perhaps Gripevine.com promises some good results.

Just a month out into the public venue, the site Gripevine emerged offering dissatisfied customers the ability to “amplify their online voice.” Started by singer David Carroll of Nova Scotia, Carroll’s own negative experience with United Airlines made headlines when baggage handlers threw the singer’s band equipment and his own $3500 guitar haphazardly into the baggage compartment on the plane as Carroll watched helplessly from his airplane window. Despite all of his efforts to thwart the carelessness of the actions, nothing worked. When Carroll wrote a song entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars,’ it became a sensation. Obviously the negative publicity didn’t fare well for the airlines.

Most organizations know not to argue on Facebook with customers. No matter what the problem, other sympathizers are sure to join into the conversation and before long the complaint turns into a fray. Nothing gets resolved, but chances are the organization already lost customers. Twitter complaints can also present a problem because an organization does not always know who the unhappy customer is; it is always better to directly contact the person and have a private conversation to solve problems rather than to let it grow via social media. Sometimes other people will arbitrarily join into the conversation – not always what a business needs to hear.

Gripevine offers companies the opportunity to be automatically notified whenever someone has a complaint. Right now the most popular complaints center around phone companies and airlines, but Bank America and several debt resolution organizations have been solicited by consumers with unresolved issues.

Gripevine is free for the consumer and extremely user friendly. The customer begins by writing about their gripe, but first it is suggested by Gripevine to begin one’s gripe with a catchy title. It does ask that one clearly describe the problem and use professional decorum while writing. Complaints are then categorized into sections like billing complaints, contracts, misrepresentations, and poor service. Next the consumer is asked what they are looking for – perhaps an apology, compensation, refund, etc? Finally the unhappy customer has the ability to post photographs, receipts documents or any other information which will help lead to a satisfactory resolution. When all is done, the link says, “Plant it!”

Gripevine.com encourages those who participate to rate a company on their customer service once a company responds, and that will be added to their own customer satisfaction index. A person wrote into Tampa General Hospital with a complaint about customer billing, and the hospital did respond asking the writer to contact them personally about the problem. Ironically United Airlines, despite several written gripes has not responded.

Think, think, think about improving customer service

Customer service should be a priority if organizations expect to expand their businesses with new customers while still retaining their current loyal clientele. Businesses are so inundated with such automated services as paying bills online, balancing bank accounts online, pressing  14 digit account numbers followed by  pin numbers, our first pet’s name, our mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of our Social Security number, it almost seems that we all too commonly accept poor or no customer service as part of doing business.

Then through all of the haze of online “efficiency” appear companies like Enterprise, Zappos, and Ritz Carlton Hotels which present beautiful rainbows of personalized customer service. Surveys tell us that only one in three customers will actually tell you how they feel if there is a problem with your organization which creates the possibilities of losing two-thirds of your clients simply because something went awry and there was no way to figure out why these customers were even unhappy. When something goes wrong the first time a new customer deals with a business, chances are they will be heading to the competition next time. Nowadays customers have the Internet at their fingertips – plenty of other places to go in hardly a nanosecond.

So what do we need to do to keep our customers coming back? Why not start with learning from the service champions? Some people are just better at addressing customer needs and complaints than other representatives. Let the service champions be the guides and practice winning, proven methods to please customers. Practice fast and efficient service, but make it easy for customers to connect to a real person.

Shoppers between 25 and 44 years-old use Facebook, Yelp and Twitter to ask questions and complain about services, lack of services, lack of products, and the overall dissatisfaction with an organization. Companies who strive to improve their customer service can turn unhappy customers into happy customers and subsequent advocates by being readily available and responsive when an unhappy client posts his complaint. Have a helpful staff ready to make the bad things that have happened right, and sort out the problem in public before it becomes a real problem.

What do people look for when they shop? Two-thirds of customers choose where they shop based on their own personal experiences with the organization’s customer service. A business has to be easy to access, quick to respond, and be knowledgeable about the needs of a customer. Customers value expert advice, a helpful staff, and personal service. Organizations must continue to track disgruntled customers to make the situation right, be able to connect customers to that out of stock item Dawn M. really wanted, or find a customer service agent without having to play musical chairs through a maze of Press One to answer, Press Two to respond, and Press Three to return to Press One and Press Two again.

In the words of Winnie the Pooh, customer service is still all about successful businesses being able to “think, think, think.”

photo credit: typexnick