When I ask groups of healthcare workers, “Who is responsible for customer service?,” I really expect everyone from the CEO to the newest housekeeper to raise their hands. While “customer service” needs to be part of everyone’s job description, it is important to define what each person’s role looks like from the perspective of rank and title. Not everyone’s duties are the same. In fact, one might say that the higher the pay grade, the broader the service responsibilities. It can be easier to identify the service behaviors related to standards than it is to recognize the service competencies required of leaders at the top and middle management levels.
In a culture of service excellence, employees at all organizational levels must understand their roles and responsibilities. No matter where you are in your service excellence journey, it’s always a good idea to periodically check back and make sure that everyone knows how they fit into the broader scheme of things.
The following is a brief outline of service expectations based on position within the organization. Of course, each organization will have their own duties as assigned, but this summary gives a good overview of how customer service responsibilities expand along with other duties based on position within the organization.
Those “at the top” set the tone for your culture. Because the CEO and vice presidents are a visible representation of the organization, it is important for them to “walk the talk,” or their credibility decreases among all employees and their contributions are marginalized.
What contributions should be expected of senior leadership? Is it enough that they deliver on the standards? No. Their role is to establish a strong foundation for service excellence in addition to rolemodeling service behaviors. This is not a task that occurs once and gets checked off a list. Senior leaders should continually revisit their service excellence actions and communicate their actions to the rest of the organization.
Some specific actions senior leaders can take to establish the foundation are as follows:
- Creating and communicating a clear vision for excellence: The leadership team sets the tone and framework for a vision of service excellence, and employees from all levels of the organization have a hand in shaping that vision. Senior leaders should continually communicate their commitment to the vision.
- Tying service to strategic plan and understanding and communicating a compelling business position for service excellence: Service doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and the organization’s operations don’t occur independently of service. Whatever the organization’s strategic goals are, service should be built into the plan. Senior leaders should be able to articulate to all stakeholders how service fits into operational plans and why it’s an important element of business success.
- Fostering an environment of innovation by showing support for innovative ideas from across the organization: This creates an environment that will continually produce more improvement ideas.
- Ensuring that resources are available to build processes and innovation linked to excellence.
Those on the director level are charged with supporting and championing service excellence. By examining service from a big-picture perspective, these champions undertake these actions:
- Understanding customer service from the stakeholder perspective by monitoring patient satisfaction surveys, post-discharge phone calls, customer comments, and other feedback devices.
- Planning and directing the business unit with specific, measurable service goals to meet and exceed customer expectations by using the information collected from customer feedback.
- Serving as a sponsor for teams to ensure that they have the resources needed to complete projects: Sometimes the resource that teams need most is time. Directors can ensure that employees have ample time to complete projects by stepping up and covering their jobs while they participate on a team.
- Seeking industry best practices and applying them to internal systems.
Those at the management level support the culture of service excellence by leading, structuring, and coaching for service behaviors. They see the daily activities of all employees and are able to monitor specific employee behaviors. Managers keep the customer service initiative visible and alive in the department through specific actions, such as the following:
- Acquiring patient satisfaction data, complaints, and commendations and using this to improve department processes and paint the picture for employees of the importance of service to their customers.
- Rewarding and recognizing staff in timely, appropriate ways. Recognition should always tie back to customer service standards. Managers should also support and encourage peer-to-peer recognition as well.
- Training and coaching supervisors and staff. Just like any job skill, a service attitude can be strengthened through training. And being close to their employees’ work, managers often are able to identify opportunities to coach employees who may need extra encouragement.
- Supporting and encouraging innovation. Employees at all levels are the backbone of successful service initiatives. Their ideas are a valuable contribution to service improvement. When their managers support and encourage them to implement those ideas, it creates an environment where innovation flourishes.
Leads, charge nurses, and other employees in supervisory positions are able to model service behaviors for other employees in a unique way. Working alongside frontline employees, their key role is to guide and coach for service behaviors at each opportunity.
Supervisors can put their role into practice:
- Helping others to understand and apply the services standards to customer interactions: They can incorporate specific standards into training and coaching opportunities and tie the standards to the employee’s actual behavior.
- Providing appropriate, timely recognition: Even more than managers, supervisors see employees’ work in the trenches on a daily basis. They should be equipped to provide instant recognition of a job well done. They should also be prepared to share the recognition not only with the employee but with that employee’s peers as well, to further encourage peer-to-peer recognition.
- Supporting and encouraging innovation: Supervisors can lead by example and encourage employees to follow them in implementing innovative customer service solutions.
Regardless of their position in the organization, all staff members are integral to creating a culture of service excellence. A service attitude that permeates all levels can only exist when everyone is engaged in learning, understanding, and applying service standards in their daily work.
All staff members are charged with the following:
- Taking responsibility for learning and applying the service standards in all encounters: This can begin even before an employee is hired and is practiced every day thereafter.
- Identifying ways to apply innovation and problem solving. Improving service levels isn’t a top-down initiative. The staff who are on the front lines, interacting with customers on a daily basis, are the ones most likely to develop workable solutions to improve encounters.
- Actively participating in recognizing peers: Staff can reinforce service behaviors in each other by seeking out opportunities to thank a peer for going the extra mile.
Take a moment to step back and assess whether the leaders and staff at each level of your organization are fulfilling their core service roles. Is one member of the team overloaded while another feels disconnected from the initiative? Does everyone understand their roles? With staff at all levels of the organization committed to fulfilling these key roles, your service initiative will become a well-oiled machine on its way to service excellence.