Customer service includes patient and family interaction during the course of treatment.

Some view customer service as all interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale and thereafter. Others refer to it as the degree of assistance and courtesy granted to those who patronize a business.

In the health care industry, customer service means patient and family interaction at the point of engagement and during the course of treatment as well as education for disease management and consultation for preventive care measures.

Consistent quality

Excellence in customer service implies that it is consistent, distinct, superior and exceeds expectations. Because environmental services (ES) is a support department that provides a clean environment in which to practice medical service, it is critically important for ES team members to consistently deliver top-quality service.

A clean and inviting environment in conjunction with an engaging professional staff makes patients and visitors feel welcome and calm. Customer service excellence is achieved by building relationships as opposed to delivering great service alone. A successful team effort that is consistent throughout the entire health care facility displays the culture of the organization.

Organizational culture is reflective of the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of the organization. The culture defines an organization’s identity and how it is perceived. It impacts every aspect of the facility. The environment shapes the work relationships, processes and interactions of staff and patients.

The mission and values are ideals that define an organization’s character and what it delivers. The identity of the organization is manifested by its core values. The value statement determines attitudes and behaviors.

It is critical that the mission, vision and behaviors are defined by the organization. Once these components are defined, leaders at all levels must model the behaviors to support the mission.

Employees will emulate the behavior that is modeled and that defines the organizational culture. It is imperative that the cultural behaviors are consistent, distinct and superior to allow a facility to exceed expectations of its patients and their guests. The culture of a health care organization as it relates to an ES department is expressed in the mission, values and culture statement in the sidebar on Page 46.

Embracing the patient

A patient’s frame of reference dictates the experience. The patient experience is shaped by past experiences, which may evoke fear, frustration, anxiety or excitement.

A health care organization’s goal is to embrace the patient and visitors, reduce anxiety, eliminate frustration and define a new experience that exceeds expectations. ES, facilities, support services and the medical staff are an integral team. The goal of the team is to define the experience.

When defining or redefining the patient experience, all points of engagement must be evaluated, starting with the physical exterior. As the client enters the campus, what perception is formed? Are the grounds manicured? Does landscaping invite a feeling of serenity?

About this series

This series of tutorial articles is a joint project of the Association for the Healthcare Environment and Health Facilities Management.

Next, it should be remembered that entries and exits are focal points and should be policed routinely to remain clean and free of debris.

Moving further into the facility, are the windows clean? Are the elevators clean? Are directions clear as the client navigates throughout facility? Cleanliness is evaluated at every point of interaction. As the patient is transported from the unit to X-ray, is the transporter friendly? Presentation is vital to the patient’s perception.

Once checked in, the patient observes other things. Did the dietary aide knock before entering the room? Does the transporter steer safely and engage in conversation? Does the ES technician have a badge with his or her name clearly displayed? Does he or she explain her role in providing a clean and safe environment? Was the patient greeted by name?

Building relationships

ES professionals must provide a clean and safe environment free from pathogens, but cleaning is only one aspect of their role. Building relationships is the overarching component to customer service excellence. When the facility is being cleaned, ES staff will engage internal and external customers. The behavior of ES staff demonstrates the culture of the department. It is critical to perform duties efficiently.

The entry into the patient room sets the tone for the entire interaction. Behavioral steps to follow upon entering the room should include:

• Asking permission to enter a patient’s room;

• Entering the room with a calming and quiet presence;

• Greeting everyone with a smile;

• Addressing the patient by name;

• Introducing yourself and explaining your role in patient care;

• Asking if assistance is needed;

• Escorting a patient or visitor to a desired location, when possible;

• Engaging in conversation according to a script to connect with the patient;

• Performing all duties with precision and attention to detail;

• Being attentive and anticipating the needs of the patient;

• Reviewing the work and inspecting the room for any concerns;

• Reporting any comments or concerns to related departments for prompt attention to the patient’s need;

• Creating positive resolutions.

If ES professionals operate under the premise that the patient is a guest in their workplace and that they are not feeling well, ES will approach their tasks in a quiet and efficient manner to minimize disruption to the patient. The patient appreciates a quiet entry, a calming presence, a coordinated outline of tasks and a prompt exit. ES is encouraged to foster a quiet environment for healing. Compassionate communication with respectful presentation and a positive attitude is best to demonstrate customer service excellence to the patient.

Achieving excellence

Customer service excellence features a number of key elements that can be used by health care staff members. They include:

Focus. The culture of the organization must remain patient-focused and attentive to patient needs. If each department concentrates on the needs of the patient, employees will strive to offer resolutions to their concerns, efficiently perform tasks to clean and sanitize the rooms, and find resources to address all concerns promptly.

Tolerance. ES staff must demonstrate the behaviors associated with their organization’s mission and vision, but the patient’s frame of reference should affect their actions.

A patient who is frustrated may not readily allow the ES technician in his or her room to clean. Patience is required to calmly educate the patient about the purpose of ES services. Patience also is necessary to address the needs of staff, patients and their guests.

Communication. Health care organizations must learn to interact effectively with patients. Systems and practices that may prove cost-effective may not provide a patient-focused environment. Automated phone systems often lead to patient frustration, increased call volume, multiple attempts to speak to a person and confusion when attempting to navigate through the prompts. Patients want access to their providers and health information in a timely manner.

ES staff can provide a link to the necessary resources for the patient. They can assist by offering to make a call, inform the nurse of a dietary request or report a need to the facility engineer. If a patient mentions being in pain, ES should communicate with the nurse so the issue is addressed promptly. As ES builds a relationship with the patient, he or she becomes more comfortable communicating with the staff and may share information with ES that requires intervention by another department. Follow-up ensures that the need was addressed.

Positive interaction. As clients engage with the staff, the ultimate goal is to achieve positive experiences. Body language and all levels of communication are important. ES staff should articulate processes clearly and create a “wow” experience. Patients remember positive interactions more than they remember names. A positive resolution to all concerns should be the goal of every health care organization.

Staff members should be empowered to connect with the patient. They should be motivated so that every interaction creates a positive experience for the patient. Allow staff members who are ingrained in the culture to develop creative ways within the organizational framework to create a “wow” experience. This interaction brings fulfillment to the staff, gives comfort to the patient and reinforces the culture of the facility. Positive interactions build positive memories that create lasting relationships.

Skill. ES staff members play a critical role in ensuring that the facility is clean. As the technician enters the room, it is imperative that the proper personal protective equipment, chemicals and processes are used to complete the tasks. Properly trained staff will confidently perform their duties and answer questions to educate the patient and medical staff on the importance of their role. The delivery of customer service excellence through ES decreases infection rates, reduces readmission rates and provides a clean environment, effectively limiting pathogen transmission in the facility and the community.

Useful tools

To help sharpen these customer service elements, ES professionals may consider utilizing a variety of tools. They include:

Leadership engagement. The development and delivery must progress seamlessly from the C-suite through middle management to front-line employees. A clear and consistent message exemplified in the actions of all leaders is vital to sustaining the culture of the organization. Educating ES staff members to understand the desired impact encourages them to internalize the behavior. The systemic approach is formed as employees emulate the behavior.

Human resources systems. Employees should be hired to maintain the culture, and educated with the essentials to motivate performance. The right staff members will elevate the patient experience within the facility. Behavior should be modeled so that the ES department is the example of excellence.

Process improvement. A model seeking continuous improvement allows the facility to exceed expectations of staff and patients consistently. The environment and the culture of the facility can influence behaviors that will determine patient perceptions and which, in turn, should align with the organization’s culture. ES staff should define the expectation and strive to exceed it in delivery and execution with each interaction.

Relationships. Customer satisfaction is based on building better relationships through each opportunity for engagement. Interactions with staff, patients, vendors and departments are critical to building an infrastructure that creates bonds and reinforces the “wow” experience. ES staff members should be ambassadors for the organization’s culture. Strong relationships with internal and external customers will also build strong relationships within the community.

Attainable excellence

Customer service excellence should be a personal and professional goal for all health care organizations.

Organizations should invest in ES staff so they may perpetuate a healthy environment for the communities they serve. 

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Applying a culture to the ES department

Applying the culture of a health care organization to an environmental services (ES) department can be fairly straightforward.

Take, for instance, a health care organization with a mission statement “to educate and to heal.” Its values statement might be to provide educational classes for overall healthful living, provide superior customer service in a patient-focused environment and offer premier health care in a state-of-the-art facility with qualified staff.

For the ES department, this culture can translate to the following:

• Explaining the department’s role in maintaining a clean and safe environment;

• Promoting, demonstrating and practicing proper hand washing as staff members enter and exit the rooms;

• Cleaning the patient room and following protocols to complete outlined tasks thoroughly;

• Acknowledging patients by name and with a smile;

• Modeling the expected behavior for the entire department between internal and external customers;

• Educating staff on proper use of chemicals, processes and equipment;

• Encouraging healthy lifestyles and behaviors that promote wellness;

• Offering continuing education classes and staff safety meetings to maintain high-quality service.