Often, customer service is described simply as the degree to which the recipients of the service are satisfied with its level and quality. However, this description does not reflect values and character; nor does it depict a culture that supports front-line staff in a way that leads to exceptional customer service.

Building a great customer-service culture begins and ends with leadership development opportunities for front-line employees. Everyone has leadership capabilities, and our job as departmental leaders is to help develop these qualities. This enables them to work from a position of strength — maintaining confidence, engagement and morale. When time is devoted to developing front-line staff, a powerful transition begins to take shape that becomes the core of a superb customer-service culture.

Identifying key focus areas with staff, empowering them and rewarding ownership will instill performance consistency and allow for meaningful customer engagement. A basic understanding of this concept should be infused into staff as early as the interview process. Describe the expectation and exhibit behavior that confirms the practice. Also, talk to staff about positive behaviors that can influence satisfaction — attitudes, words, vocal tone, body language and other actions associated with behaviors.

Transparency with front-line staff about what is expected develops trust, respect and an environment in which they can thrive.

Continuous monitoring by using employee scorecards, combined with team building allows for routine feedback that helps to maintain continuity for the entire group. Measure performance by using metrics applicable to the team, sharing in the failures and successes of the department. Including the results as a component of performance appraisals emphasizes accountability and a commitment to exceed expectations. It also encourages front-line staff to offer productive feedback and increases opportunities to demonstrate their leadership qualities.

Balanced support from departmental leaders is essential. This support should include clear expectations, accountability and a failure- tolerant management approach that consistently increases departmental standards and adapts to various learning styles. This drives positive results and encourages leadership qualities to emerge.

Front-line employees deserve managers who foster development, and customers deserve to interact with trained leaders. If a culture of collaborative decision-making is embraced, front-line staff will build effective relationships that sustain extraordinary customer service.

Tom Mattice, CHESP, is assistant director of patient support services–environmental services, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

AHE Insights

Practice guidance available

Practice Guidance for Healthcare Environmental Cleaning, second edition, helps to define and advance the professionals responsible for care of the health care environment to ensure high-quality outcomes and healthy communities. This manual provides evidence-based research, guidance and recommended practices that should be considered for inclusion in health care environmental services departments. Because each facility has its own needs, this resource has been designed to enhance an existing program. For more information, visit www.ahe.org/ahe/learn/tools_and_resources/publications.shtml.

Certified Healthcare Environmental Services Technician Certificate

This certification focuses on critical areas of competency for front-line technicians, including infection prevention, quality of care, patient outcomes and experience. For more information, visit www.ahe.org/ahe/lead/CHEST/chest_home.shtml.

Environmental Sustainability Certificate Program

AHE has launched a certification to acknowledge the environmental and ecological sustainability efforts of environmental services departments. For more information, go to www.ahe.org/ahe/lead/environmental_sustainability_ certificate_program.shtml.