Heart Connection: Demonstrating Caring in Service Delivery
The Heart Connection: How Do We Demonstrate Caring in Service Delivery?
by Zohreh Yamin
Ask people why they chose to work in the health and human service field and most will tell you they wanted to help people or to make a difference. We assume that if we’re in the business of caring, then our interactions with customers will reflect this. But are we really helping? Are we providing customers with the care and support they deserve? Not always.
In an industry where resources are scarce and job stress high, healthcare organizations often miss what can be a critical market differentiator: the ability to provide exceptional customer service through compassionate and heartfelt service delivery.
As healthcare leaders, we all understand the importance of customer service. Many of us assume that our organization does provide a high level of customer service. We have processes and policies in place, we measure customer service via satisfaction surveys and other key indicators, and we periodically monitor our staff.
With so many responsibilities and only so much time on a given day, it can be difficult to stay fully in the moment when interacting with a customer. Are we missing an opportunity to elevate the services we provide and improve outcomes by really being present and attuned with each customer?
What’s important to remember is this: we are in the business of helping people transform their lives, often when they are at their most vulnerable. These individuals expect more from us, and we are obligated to make sure they know we care. We can help staff members who struggle in their day-to-day interactions with customers, but there’s a bigger issue – the culture of an organization – that is often overlooked.
Providing an exceptional customer experience begins with an organizational shift in culture to one that embraces treating everyone – staff, customers, and stakeholders – with respect, dignity, and positive regard from start to finish. Creating an organizational culture focused on compassion requires the involvement of everyone. It’s not something that can be mandated. Rather, it’s a shift that involves engaging staff fully in the objective of consistently providing service in a manner that addresses customer needs with compassion, kindness, and respect.
How do you know where you and your organization stand?
There are several ways to find out.
- Walk through your office to see firsthand what the office culture is like on any given day.
- Monitor and analyze not only observations by organizational staff but also customer perspectives.
- Analyze complaints, grievances and appeals, and satisfaction surveys.
- Arrange interviews with consumers, family members, and other stakeholders to get feedback.
- Train supervisors to monitor, including what to look for and how to respond when they observe things out of alignment.
- Use mystery shoppers. See yourself as others see you.
The first crucial step is recognizing the problem exists. Second, understand there’s no one slam-dunk solution. Common barriers can make it difficult for people in the healthcare field to demonstrate their caring nature. Some feel overwhelmed or lack sufficient training. Others feel burned out. Some focus so much on others they often experience a very real disorder, Compassion Fatigue, which can affect the way they interact with people. Understanding the common barriers, why they occur, and how to overcome them will go a long way in fostering an organizational culture of compassion.
Once you have assessed and understand there may be a problem, it’s also important to use a compassionate approach in resolving the issue. Be genuine in your interaction with staff. Rather than emphasizing that there is a problem, look for ways to create and incentivize positive change. Most importantly, gather the information in a way that honors and respects your team and the current culture. Improvement opportunities should be celebrated, not penalized.
As healthcare leaders, we must become guides who empower staff, listen and learn, and most importantly, shift practice. Once you’ve made a decision about the shift you want to make, the following steps will help solidify the shift into practice:
- Make a plan.
- Get team buy-in.
- Measure the shift.
- Get excited about the shift and show your enthusiasm to keep momentum going.
- Keep it alive by continuously practicing, advocating for, and nurturing the shift.
None of us will hit the mark every single time, but it’s something we must strive towards. By raising the bar on how we interact with customers – at the organizational level, and an individual level – we can improve the overall experience of customers and know that we’re demonstrating to these customers the caring and compassion that drove us to this profession in the first place.