I am a firm believer in setting and upholding service standards. In fact, I first implemented service standards in 1996 and wrote about the importance of them in my book, Customer Service in Healthcare (2000, Jossey Bass). It surprises me that with all the focus on patient experience over the past decade, many organizations are still skipping over this essential step. Even worse are the ones who set standards, but do nothing to enforce them as a way of life. Why have standards that are not enforced?
I was recently talking with a group of hospital executives. They proudly told me that employees signed an agreement annually. The agreement was to demonstrate employee commitment to living their service standards. The signatures are collected and forgotten. There is absolutely no accountability or consequences associated with them.
“We’ll Be Coaching You”
These executives asked me (the consultant) how I was going to hold the staff accountable to the standards. I responded, “Through coaching.” One of the executives scoffed and said, “That is a huge number of people to coach.” I responded, “Oh we won’t be coaching your staff, we’ll be coaching you. It’s the people around this table who establish and uphold accountability.” This was followed by dead silence and a bit of uncomfortable squirming.
The leaders engaged in a very good discussion. They were very proud of the fact that they had an official document. But they missed the fact that the document was just the first step. They had to decide what accountability looked like and what consequences there would be for anyone choosing to not live up to the expectations. They had an epiphany when they realized that they had made their standards optional.