How HBI is helping one organization communicate with empathy, internally and externally.
“Word of mouth says that our staff don’t treat each other very well. And we’re slowly losing patients to competitors.”
This is what one client said to us over a year ago. And we’ve heard similar statements from so many other organizations across the country since then. Staff lack patience, empathy, and understanding with one another. Interdepartmental relationships are weak as staff lack the tools they need to communicate effectively. Patients decide to go elsewhere because of the same lack of patience and understanding that they receive from staff.
Empathy Can Be Taught
“I never thought empathy was something that could be taught. Thank you for changing my mind.”
“Very practical information. Will be able to use this in all areas of life. Home, work, and other.“
“This class was the best class at [the organization] that I’ve ever taken. I was engaged and the trainers’ synergy between each other was great, entertaining, and extremely informative.”
As we worked with frontline staff onsite, we received testimonials like these. Staff began to enhance their communication skills, empathize with one another as well as patients and family members, and build relationships not just with coworkers, but with everyone they interacted with in their lives. They accomplished this by participating in engaging, interactive, and customized face-to-face workshops created and delivered by HBI.
To ensure that the workshop solution we crafted for this organization would hit the mark, we first had to know what customer service challenges existed there. Before launching into content development, the HBI team set out to assess and understand the customer service landscape at the organization. Training solutions are rarely one-size-fits all – we had to create content that would affect change with the most pressing customer service issues experienced by staff.
Understanding The Customer Service Landscape
To understand the staff perception of the quality of customer service they provide to one another and to patients/families, we asked 850 patient-facing revenue cycle employees to complete a short survey. In this survey, we asked them to tell us about some of their daily challenges, state how frequently they think they provide “excellent” customer service, and how often they feel their colleagues are deserving of empathy and respect. The daily challenges were things we’ve heard before:
- “Dealing with irate customers and trying to keep them calm”
- “Families are often rude and upset and take it out on front-line staff”
- “Feel rushed at front desk, which makes it hard to provide friendly customer service”
We knew we couldn’t add to the already strenuous work load of staff. We couldn’t tell them to stop one process and start another. We had to give them tools that they could use to enhance communication in difficult, high stress interactions that didn’t take more time.
We were pleased at the level of self-awareness of the staff. Their honest survey responses showed us that they need tools to help them build relationships both externally and interdepartmentally, while also helping them navigate effective, empathetic, and respectful communication in high stress situations.
We also conducted a secret shopper phone call analysis to gain insight into the level of customer service received by a potential patient or family member. We made over 100 phone calls to various departments at the organization and assessed each call on five elements:
- Phone Access
- Courtesy & Professionalism
- Inquiry & Resolution
- Empathy & Caring
- Likelihood of Recommendation
While callers were easily able to reach a live representative, and could speak without interruption, many felt that the representative did not care about them. In fact, several testimonials shared these sentiments like these, “It felt as if staff rushed through the call,” and “she just wanted to get off the phone.” With an Empathy & Caring score of just 56%, we knew we needed to structure the content of the face-to-face workshop to focus on teaching staff how to have empathetic communication with patients and family members in their high stress environment. The results of our studies were eye-opening to leaders, and to the 850 staff who are now receiving the customer service training we created for them.
While just under half of our secret shoppers didn’t feel cared for, we know that’s not the heart of this organization. It takes great heart, great care, to work in healthcare. Our challenge was to create engaging learning content that gave the staff useful tools they could use to tap into that heart, that empathy, without sacrificing productivity or over sympathizing. Tools that are realistic; tools that show them that they may not always be able to solve the issue or come to the phone right away, but they can still provide empathetic customer service by moving the issue one step closer to resolution, or simply asking the caller if it would be alright if they were placed on a brief hold so the representative may be able to give them her full attention upon her return to the line.
Lessons to Apply to Everyday Life
Our goal is to provide tools that allow staff to tap in to that heart, to show empathy and respect for each other, for patients and family members, for everyone in their lives, always. Improved customer service doesn’t just mean a better patient experience. It means better relationships among coworkers, higher performing teams, fewer errors, less denials, less rework, more revenue, and the ability for the organization to invest even more in the community it serves. We are proud to help organizations bring empathy into their cultures. We are excited to have this positive impact on the patients, family members, and staff. And we look forward to receiving more feedback from participants of our Customer Service training like these:
- “This was a very helpful class and it made me look at things differently and made me realize that other people go through the same situations as myself in all the different areas of [the organization]”
- “Great environment and stories. It felt personalized.”
- “It was a very good lesson to learn and apply to everyday life.”
- “This was a great class and I would recommend it to anyone in the customer service field.”
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