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Environmental services (ES) departments face several daily challenges including staffing, endless meetings and constant “surprises.”
Add to that the department’s ongoing training, and its interaction with and service to a building full of patients and visitors, and the importance of strong ES customer service can’t be stressed enough.
ES departments easily can get caught up in the many daily tasks and the number of minutes it should take to complete those tasks, and completely forget about interacting with patients, visitors and their internal customers.
Customer service steps
While each situation has its own unique characteristics, the following can provide a broad framework for improving customer service in most facilities:
1. Learn the basics. Everybody knows the importance of smiling, greeting and giving directions in a facility. But, ES professionals also should be aware of their body language and facial expressions as they are rounding to ensure positive, welcoming impressions. Slouching, looking downward and not smiling all present a negative perception to patients and visitors. ES professionals also should be conscious of the tone of their voice as they talk with staff and visitors, keeping their conversations positive and welcoming.
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ES professionals should give full attention to the person to whom they are speaking, especially when fielding a complaint — standing straight, making good eye contact and turning off pagers and phones ensure that conversations are not interrupted. Remember, it’s how ES professionals respond to a complaint that creates a first impression of the department’s level of customer service.
Because the ES department deals with many requests daily, understanding customer service is essential to its success. But it’s how the department provides solid customer service to patients, visitors and internal customers that determines its success. ES leaders and their staff members must show appreciation and concern for the service the ES department provides.
ES leaders must personify strong customer service, continually creating a positive perception for themselves and the department. In fact, ES leaders have the opportunity to exemplify customer service for the entire facility because they touch and interact with every department in the facility. Picking up debris from the floor, removing spots on the glass of entry doors and straightening chairs in the lobby and conference rooms are simple but effective ways ES professionals can show genuine concern about providing a strong first impression.
ES professionals also must think of customer service as part of their daily routine and incorporate it into their many miles of daily rounding. They need to be proactive by checking in with random clinical departments to see if there is anything they can improve. Then they should give their personal attention to the area and possibly perform an inspection with somebody from that department.
Another way ES professionals can drop in and check on an area is to follow up on project work. If a floor or carpet was cleaned recently, an ES professional can walk through the area to check the work and ask a few people how daily cleaning is going.
2. Train the staff in customer service. ES leaders should cascade their actions and passion for customer service to their managers and staff. Besides formal training and discussions at the start of each shift, ES leaders should be hearing stories directly from their staff about their successes and challenges. Real-life examples and peer discussions are the best ways for staff to understand customer service expectations. ES leaders should share their department’s complaint log with the staff so they can understand the expectations of their internal customers. They should clearly address and discuss any complaints with their staff members in the same manner in which they share successes and compliments.
ES employees should thank those who bring service issues to their attention and then address those issues. If the staff can fix an issue immediately, it increases their engagement and their buy-in to the department’s service. Teach staff to use the same positive attitude they have with the patients with their internal customers. Great service and engagement doesn’t end after staff members leave a patient room, but should be consistent in all areas the department services.
The ES staff are the front line for the department’s customer service, so it is important for ES leaders to give them the opportunity to help solve issues as they arise. They should be taught to respond with phrases like “Let me get your nurse” or “Let me call my manager.”
Another way to look at customer service is to compare it to HCAHPS and third-party survey scores. ES professionals focus so much on those scores and turning a “sometimes” into an “always,” or a “fair” into a “very good,” that it’s easy to become too focused on the numbers and forget about personal interactions with patients and customers. Too often, ES leaders will focus blindly on an issue and quickly solve the complaint while missing the reason the service lapse happened in the first place.
When thinking about customer service, ES professionals should always be positive, always follow up and always show concern for the people the ES department serves. They should teach their staffs to ask themselves: How often are we providing excellent service to our customers? Did we handle that complaint in the best way possible? Do we understand how to avoid that complaint going forward? Did we do everything we could to solve the problem? Do we have all the information as to why the lapse in service happened?
3. Develop a system for handling complaints. Service issues and lapses will occur, but as complaints or concerns come to ES leaders, they should understand that each situation is unique. They should be patient and take the time to investigate complaints rather than just sending someone to do a quick fix that won’t last long. ES leaders should never blindly send staff members into an area. Instead, they should take the time to clearly explain the issue and the task that’s going to fix the issue, giving step-by-step instructions.
Making excuses and casting blame won’t help to solve an issue. ES professionals should keep the conversation positive and focus on the problem and solution without complaining. They should also realize that if an issue comes up in one area of the facility, it’s probably a problem in another area as well.
ES professionals also should meet with the leader of the clinical department or the person who called in the complaint to discuss solutions. They should talk about why the service was missed. Perhaps the area is seeing more patients and volumes are increasing. Or it may have been an extraordinary day where there was an event or it was just unusually busy. Or the ES staff member simply may have missed the task because his or her assignment wasn’t written clearly.
Professionals need to take ownership and responsibility for an issue and respond positively. For example, if an area or a restroom is consistently out of paper supplies due to higher volumes, the ES professional may want to look into adding an extra dispenser or increasing frequency to the area. Then he or she should clearly and positively report the plans to the clinical department head.
Besides meeting with the leader of the clinical department and rounding in the area, ES leaders may consider attending the first few minutes of that department’s staff meeting. Their presence will show their concern and also will provide an opportunity to hear directly from internal customers to understand their expectations clearly.
ES leaders should start their part of the meeting by thanking everyone for inviting them and describing what they have done so far to address complaints in their department. When opening up the discussion to questions, ES leaders should listen actively to the mood and tone of the customers so their expectations can be understood. ES leaders should take notes and act on their concerns.
As difficult as it is, ES professionals should never take complaints personally. A strong ES professional needs to be able to accept a mistake or the lapse in service, learn from it and move forward. A complaint should be viewed as a learning opportunity rather than an attack.
After attending meetings and implementing solutions to an issue comes the most important part — follow-up and service recovery. Putting a reminder on a calendar to walk through the area is a great way for ES professionals to stay on top of an issue and make an unannounced visit to the area where ES was struggling. It also shows that the concern is genuine and provides an opportunity for the ES professional to see if the solutions are working.
Better customer service
Customer service isn’t simply fixing an issue quickly. Finding out why the issue occurred is the real key to improving the service of an ES department.
Keeping a proactive attitude and uncovering the root causes of issues will help any ES department develop stronger, better customer service skills.
Paul Picciurro, CHESP, is director of environmental services for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare–Franklin (Wis.) Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ES and clinical departments partner to improve service levels
The environmental services (ES) department at a large hospital was receiving several complaints from the physical therapy (PT) department, ranging from being out of paper supplies to poor dusting and vacuuming. The PT department was experiencing heavy patient traffic and seeing up to 100 patients per day.
After touring PT, the ES manager saw a number of issues that needed attention. For instance, the paper towel dispensers by the handwashing sink were a smaller and older variety. With more than 20 employees in the department, it was easy to see why they never had enough paper towels. A larger roll dispenser was installed by the sink, and the daytime schedule was adjusted so an ES employee could go through the PT department and service the dispensers, the trash and the restrooms.
The vacuuming was poor throughout the area, so ES and PT leaders negotiated that PT staff would move their equipment (i.e., treadmills, tables, stationary bikes) once a month so ES employees could vacuum the area. With the high volume of patients, the carpet was scheduled to be cleaned three times per year.
Monthly rounding was scheduled with the leaders of both departments, and the ES leader rounded the area once a week for two months to evaluate the changes to the cleaning schedule.
After the new dispensers were installed and the cleaning schedule and frequencies adjusted, the ES manager attended the PT department’s monthly staff meeting. The manager explained the changes that were in place and asked the staff what more ES could do to improve its service.
PT staff all shared an area of cubicles that was cramped with little desk space and poor storage. Purses, bags and other personal items were stored on the floor, so ES had to work around all of these items.
The ES manager was able to negotiate that PT staff would clear their desks once a week so ES could thoroughly clean the desk surfaces. On another day, once a week, PT staff would clean the floors so ES could thoroughly vacuum the area. The carpet in the cubicle area was scheduled to be cleaned two times a year.
The PT area measured 4,000 sq. ft. and included an occupational therapy area, with a mock-up of a grocery store, porch steps to a home and even a car mounted to the wall so patients could practice safely entering and exiting a vehicle. ES staff machine-scrubbed the floor of the grocery store area, had the porch steps cleaned and painted and even washed and waxed the car.
After about 60 days, the complaints stopped and rounding was moved from once a week to once a month. The ES leader took the time to investigate the issues, reworking the cleaning schedule and adjusting frequencies and project work.