Does Your Culture Encourage Employees to Despise Their Customers?

Posted by Kristin Baird on September 24th, 2011 • No Comments »

It’s a well documented fact that your customer experience is only as good as the people on the front lines, and yet many organizations continue to miss the obvious. I was recently doing some training with front-line staff in a hospital that we have mystery shopped several times. The leaders were hoping I could fix some of the customer service problems they were facing. After a skills assessment, I realized that this organization had very little prior skills training, so I decided to rely on some tried and true coaching and skills development for both the managers and the front-line staff.

During the coaching training with managers, I noticed they spent more energy explaining why feedback and coaching won’t work in their unique situation than they did on practicing skills. (By the way, virtually every healthcare organization I have ever worked with tells me how unique their issue is and how conventional wisdom doesn’t apply.) This resistance was demonstrated in the presence of senior leaders who didn’t intervene or challenge the front-line managers with messages that would align them with the vision for a compelling and positive service experience. This was my first clue that the culture may be unwittingly supporting negativity and resistance.

My second clue came when I was with the front-line staff. We were role playing and practicing empathy statements (ironically) when one of the office assistants said, “Our patients are liars. They are manipulative to get their way.” The other staff nodded in agreement. The next statement was equally as telling when another office assistant said, “It’s not our problem that the patient didn’t listen when she was told she needed a prescription.” These statements were made by key people who are the keepers of the first impression.

These kinds of remarks are a symptom reflecting staff attitude, and, if relayed to the customer, they cannot possibly have a positive experience. Somewhere along the line, employees have been given the message that it is alright to think and talk this way about customers. It’s an accepted norm. And in this case, it’s not being dealt with. The end result of this cycle is that it has become ingrained in the culture as acceptable behavior. What you permit, you promote. And when someone has lived with a symptom for so long, it becomes a normal part of everyday existence.
Here’s my tip of the day: if you want to create a positive patient experience, don’t employ people who despise your customers. And if you find employees like these have somehow infiltrated your front lines, remove them quickly; otherwise, they will erode the experience for both their fellow employees as well as the patients, your consumers.

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Baird Consulting

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