Customer service is a primary objective in health care and excellence in customer service is dictated by the visitor experience.

Aesthetics is not enough. A serene, landscaped, clean and vibrant health care facility is welcoming, but today's consumers demand more. As visitors enter our facilities, they want to know that they are not just a number. Relationships are vital to maintain and expand the organization's patient base.

Visitors expect to be received warmly. A welcome accompanied by a smile is the standard. To achieve excellence, facilities must exceed that standard. A concierge experience is the new benchmark. Environmental services associates should address patients by name, stating, "It is a pleasure to serve you today." Always end each encounter with a patient by saying, "Thank you for choosing our hospital." Recognizing that patients have a choice is the first step to valuing that they have chosen your organization.

Engaging patients and family members or their loved ones is part of the fabric of a facility. Engagement at every level and throughout their stay in the building is a value-added service. If excellence in customer service is demonstrated effectively from the top down, leadership can reshape the culture of the organization.

Employees who engage each other will engage the visitor, which is the foundation of excellence. If the visitor is waiting in the lobby, every person who enters should make eye contact and smile. As the visitor is admitted into another hospital area, it is important that he or she is made to feel welcomed.

Connect with patients by asking about their families, their travel plans or their success with their care plans. Identifying with the emotions of the patient will allow employees to manage the patient's experience. Attention to detail is vital.

If language is a barrier, employees should seek ways to communicate effectively prior to the visitor's arrival. Providers engaging with patients should know the reason for their appointment, their health challenges and their opportunities for a better quality of life.

Patients want to ask questions and verify that they are in a clean and safe environment. Staff should wash their hands in front of the patient, clean the rooms between each patient, obtain clean gloves while the patient is present and be sure not to touch contaminated services with clean gloves. Staff should expeditiously perform their duties and help patients proceed to the next part of their journey within the facility.

As health care organizations seek to gain market share, it is essential that our facilities and each integral part of the patient experience exceed expectations. Evaluate the experience, measure the relationship, refine processes, resolve concerns and correct mistakes. Know the patient's name, anticipate his or her needs, be an advocate and deliver an amazing experience.

If the patient's encounter is memorable, relationships are formed and he or she is likely to return to the provider, department and facility.

By Monique Scott-Spaulding, an authorized franchise owner at Jani-King of Baton Rouge, La., and co-chairwoman of the AHE 2013 education and knowledge management committee.

AHE insight

Valuable resources available

AHE is the membership organization of choice for a wide variety of professionals caring for the health care environment. Here are a few of the many resources that AHE offers.

• EXCHANGE 2013. Attend the industry's premier conference and trade show at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Sept. 15–18. New ideas for this year include a poster presentation session and an educational focus. More information is available at

•Employee Engagement: Myth Busters. Examining both myth and reality, our experts take you on a hunt for the truth to uncover what works and what doesn't in the world of employee engagement. Attend this valuable webinar, which is free for AHE members and $139 for nonmembers. It's available on June 13 at 11 a.m. CST. For more, go to

• AHE Seal of Review and Recognition Program. Designed to be a comprehensive review and formalized recognition process that promotes quality and safety, this program allows a company's or organization's cleaning procedures, in-service training or programs to receive AHE's seal for content excellence. For more information on the program, go to