Union General Hospital Improves Customer Service

April 2012
National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center)

Union General Hospital in Farmerville, LA, took part in a Customer Service Training as part of the Delta Rural Hospital Performance Improvement (RHPI) Program. Customer Service Excellence has found its way to the forefront of a hospital's business plan as a necessary tool for survival and growth. It is vital and can be"The Difference Maker" in whether a person chooses one provider over another - yet it is an area in which few if any, health care personnel have had training. It is our goal to provide this training to the majority, if not all, hospital employees and heighten awareness of the role each staff member plays in the image one has of the organization. This program is designed to sharpen the customer service skills of employees, as well as teaching them new techniques for handling difficult patients or visitors and how to make a positive, differentiable impression which will yield word-of-mouth endorsement, customer loyalty, business retention and growth. Also, respect and interpersonal relations between co-workers will be emphasized as important to the work environment and the public's perception of the organization.

Objectives of this consultation:

  • Secure CEO commitment and support for including customer service excellence (CSE) as an integral part of the hospital's business and marketing plan and to provide employees with the skills and the environment for the success of the CSE initiative
  • Gain understanding and support from management team
  • Achieve attendance at all training sessions by a high majority of hospital employees
  • Provide informative and stimulating training classes
  • Allow time for discussion and role playing sessions
  • Gain employee feedback
  • Implement monitoring and evaluation methods during "off week" training times
  • Provide feedback to classes
  • Complete eight training modules during four classes per employee x multi sessions bi-weekly per schedule
  • Recognize achievements of participants with graduation event
  • Review methods of sustainability with CEO and designated, or all, managers, as the CEO prefers
  • Follow-up call(s) by Consultant beyond project period with offer of encouragement and assistance for sustainability of the CSE priority

Three days of workshop review and discussions were held with 20 Managers. Classes were held with managers so their own skills would be sharpened; then after the training, so they would have time to reflect and plan methods to support their teams in the ensuing weeks of staff training. Feedback from the Management Group was very positive with a commitment to lead by example and to provide encouragement for their departmental staffs.

Five classes were held for staff training. At the completion of the courses, employees were asked to share their impressions and ratings of the program, as well as to provide recommendations for keeping Customer Service Excellence at the forefront of the organization's daily operations.

In an interview with RHPI Project Staff Member, Rhonda Barcus, the CEO of Union General Hospital, Evalyn Ormond and the Human Resource Director, Sheri Cooper-Taylor, discussed the project's outcomes and future direction.

Q: What is your hospital's current status with regard to implementing the recommendations made during this project?

A: We implemented a Customer Service Committee and continue to come up with a wealth of ideas. Our Customer Service motto is "Keep A Smile in Your Voice". With our Committee, we change out five of the non-management employees every quarter and there are five members that are permanent this training has bled over to the public and there has been a lot of positive feedback from the public.

Our employees are more focused because they realize it is a no-tolerance policy around courtesy. We established a reward and recognition program and the blue gift bags have been a huge success. When a new patient is admitted to the hospital, Evalyn (CEO) personally visits the patient and gives them a blue gift bag. The gift bag consists of toiletry items and a card that has contact information for Evalyn. The patients tell board members about the wonderful customer service and other hospitals are calling for ideas.

We recognize employee actions that result in exceptional feedback so there are cards at each department for going above and beyond and the employees get a prize. If the employee is mentioned in patient satisfaction, they receive a star and three stars can be cashed in for a big prize. The staffs really like the recognition and are really into it. As part of their recognition for excellent customer service, the employee is also announced over the intercom the "shining star". They get upset if they don't get recognized.

Our Board understands that excellent customer service affects payment as well. The Governing Board was initially addressed by Evalyn (CEO) and educated on the new Medicare billing system tied to patient satisfaction. Since then these issues are on the agenda at every governing board meeting.

As visitors, patients or family members enter our hospital lobby they will see a framed sign that reads, "Thank you for choosing Union General Hospital Our Customers are important to us". In the hospital cafeteria, you will find "Our Commitment to Excellence" banner hanging. Each department is represented on this banner. To show their full commitment to great customer service we ask every employee including physicians and board members to sign the banner. The hospital has purchased every employee a customer service t-shirt that is worn every Friday.

Q: What were the expected outcomes of this project?

  • Inclusion of Customer Service Excellence as a part of Hospital's Business & Marketing Plan
  • Build awareness of the value of Customer Service Excellence as a determining factor in one's choice of a health care provider; and, gain employee understanding of the difference each staff member can make in the perception and experience of Hospital's patients and visitors
  • Implement patient satisfaction monitoring system, and recognition program
  • Gain improvement in customer satisfaction, improve teamwork, and communications
  • Gain word-of-mouth referrals

Q: What are the expected next steps towards adopting your consultants' recommendations? Is there a sustainability plan?

A: We have added five customer service training courses to our employee Carelearning. Upon hire and annually employees are required to complete all courses of Carelearning. The hospital has purchased Customer Service videos that are shown to employees upon hire.

Q: Is there anything your hospital would do differently if you were able to repeat this experience?

A: Not at all.

The overall impact of the project:

  • Good feedback from community
  • Staff are engaged
  • Board is supportive
  • Increased number of letter to the editor in newspaper