Patient satisfaction scores produced by research tools such as the Press Ganey Survey from Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, Ind., play a key role in the sustainability of any hospital’s business model. At best, without strong scores, a hospital may find its long-range strategic planning hamstrung. At worst, hospitals with consistently anemic ratings may find the viability of the very enterprise in jeopardy.
Earlier this decade, Saratoga Care decided to do something about its own lackluster scores, which Education Director Sue Malinowski says typically ranged from the 40th to the 50th percentile, as compared to other healthcare organizations nationwide.
After earmarking customer service as a top priority, the healthcare organization developed several initiatives designed to improve its customer service culture, including regular, ongoing customer service training focused on the various aspects of customer service that positively impact Saratoga Care's national percentile ranking for patient satisfaction, as measured by Press Ganey.
Little things, the Saratoga education department determined, could make a big difference on the organization's Press Ganey patient satisfaction meter—like doing a better job of communicating discharge instructions, keeping patients better informed when a delay in service was occurring, and using certain "caring" words when interacting with patients.
The brief, action-packed courses the team developed to address these areas come in two forms: live, action-packed half-hour presentations that are given multiple times on all shifts, and half-hour-long online courses, to accommodate those who are unable to attend a live presentation or who prefer computer-based learning. All staff are required to take at least three such courses each year.
Among the courses developed to date?
- "Building Your Tomorrow," which provides an overview of current and future hospital construction projects, as well as their anticipated impact on patient care. During the course, employees take ownership in the projects by being encouraged to brainstorm ways—within the scope of their respective jobs—to help minimize disruptions to patients.
- "Relationship-Based Care," which takes an evidence-based approach to interacting with patients and addresses interactions with staff at all levels, from support staff to healthcare providers. Included in the course is a humorous, homemade educational video that features employees in all roles—both behind the camera and in front of it.
- "Strive for 5," which gives staff an in-depth look at the Press Ganey survey process and illustrates how to move patient scores from 4's to 5's by focusing on the areas that are most important to patients.
Training recently spoke with Malinowski, Saratoga VP of HR Jeffrey Methven, and Education Specialist Prudence McCarthy about the program, its impact, and their tips for success.
Training: What are the results of the program thus far?
Malinowski: Our national percentile ranking for customer satisfaction increased from the 40th and 50th percentiles back in 2002 to the 89th percentile nationwide in 2007—based, in large part, on the success of these training programs.
There's also a big shift in awareness attributable to the training. Before, a lot of people didn't understand the Press Ganey process. They didn't know what the scores meant; how the process worked; or even what the questions were that patients were being asked. By showing them the material; helping them to understand the criteria our customers are ranking us against; and demonstrating how every individual, regardless of job role, impacts our scores, we were able to give them insight into the survey and show them how to shine.
Training: What tips can you offer to others interested in implementing something similar?
- Hire the right people. Exemplary customer service begins with identifying and hiring high-performing individuals who demonstrate a proven track record for customer service. To that end, we transitioned to a behavioral-based hiring model. Under this model, we hire for behavior and attitude over technical competency whenever possible.
- Recognize desirable behaviors. If you don't have a recognition program in place to recognize and reward desirable customer service behaviors, all the teaching and preaching you do will be for naught. We put a significant reward and recognition system in place to recognize those who exemplify desirable customer service behaviors. Our "Who Made Your Day Card" program is one example. It's a peer-to-peer, employee-to-patient and employee-to-physician recognition process that allows employees, patients and physicians to recognize direct and indirect caregivers for going above and beyond. Last year alone, we received more than 5,000 of these cards.
- Link customer service to your bottom line. We have worked very hard to correlate our bottom line and profit margin to customer satisfaction and to show employees how they can impact our bottom line by providing exemplary customer service. One way we do this is holding quarterly forums where our senior leaders address all employees and show them how we are doing financially and what new benefits we are able to offer as a result of a strong bottom line. All this is tied into our customer service results, so that everyone can see how customer service contributes to the overall health of the organization.
- Involve staff in developing the program. The more you involve staff in training, the more they'll feel listened to and involved. So we came up with a concept where we asked staff from all levels for their assistance. For instance, for some of our programs we developed humorous homemade videos featuring employees. We asked folks from our engineering department to help with filming, others to help with scriptwriting, and others to act in the videos. Trainees really enjoy seeing their colleagues in these 10- to 15-minute videos and get more out of them because of the personal connection they feel to the "actors." Staff who took part in the videos' creation like the fact that they are directly making an impact on the quality of customer service we provide.
- Provide actionable takeaways. Our staff has a lot going on, but we wanted all trainees to take away a handful of things from the courses that they could go back to their worksite and immediately apply. So each course outlines four to five goals or objectives for trainees to try out immediately. These might include scripted words to use with patients or tips and strategies for working with patients who might be difficult.
Saratoga Care Inc. is a healthcare services organization headquartered in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. In 2008, it placed 111th on Training magazine's Top 125 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human capital development.