Other articles in Winter 2010
Perspectives on Client Service From ABC Senior Staff
Manager, Operations and Client Support, ABC
Customer service is a reflection on an organization’s values and behaviors, as well as on each individual who works there. Anesthesia Business Consultants (ABC) embraces the practice and culture of providing high quality service to its clients. Effective communications and interactions are critical to continue to foster the successful relationships we have with the more than 8,000 anesthesia and pain providers we do business with. Our Western Region staff offer the following thoughts that can apply to us all:
- Effective listening to our partners’ needs to ensure we address real issues, while also working proactively with our partners to maintain strong relationships and successful results.
- Managing expectations - Understanding our partners’ expectations of us, while also clearly communicating our expectations of our partners.
- Effectively using technology, while investigating powerful new tools and resources for greater efficiency internally and in our partners’ organizations.
- Operating within the philosophy of ‘truth in customer service’. We believe in working smartly and honestly to instill trust and alliance with our partners.
Supervisor, Customer Service, ABC
Do you really listen? Although we may interchange one for the other in our daily communication, there are crucial differences between listening and hearing. Hearing requires two ears whereas listening requires both ears and mind. Listening is work; brain work, and it requires both sustained and honest effort. “Frustrated”, “devalued” and “disrespected” are all terms used to express feelings when we believe that we have been heard but not listened to. When we listen we hear with thoughtful intention to act upon what we have heard. Additionally, when we actively listen; we pay close attention to the speaker’s verbal and non verbal messages. It is this kind of listening that results in successful and growing relationships.
Let’s look at some of the most common causes of non-effective listening.
- It has been said that we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that ratio. A common impediment to effective listening is that many of us have conditioned ourselves to fill in the blanks, surge to the end of a conversation and conclude a speaker’s thoughts prematurely. Doing this shuts down the speaker and closes off communication.
- Another common impediment is the non-verbal messages we send. A fundamental axiom of communication is also that we as human beings cannot communicate. The impossibility of not communicating means that we send messages even by our absence of intent. Failing to show up at an event or leaving the room suggests meanings to others. Because communication is unavoidable, it is essential that we are continually considering the unintentional messages we send. Facial expression, posture, gesture, clothing, and a host of other behaviors offer cues about our attitudes.
- Expectations require clarity of definition. In all our relationships, it is generally understood that meeting each other’s expectations is important to assure a good relationship. Can we accomplish this if we don’t understand clearly what those expectations are? For example, patients expect high quality, affordable healthcare. Do we in healthcare understand how each of our patients might define that? We may think we do, but experience has taught me that when I assume that I do, the risk of being wrong goes way up. Take the initiative and clearly define your expectations of others in your own mind, and in advance, so you are ready when appropriate to clarify them to others.
- Expectations require communication. It is also important that at some point in a relationship, that we take a moment to communicate with and educated others on how we define our expectations. Expectations go both ways, and it is equally important that both parties understand the expectations of the other. This can only happen through good communication. If we truly want to have good relationships, a valuable step is to define to the other party what our expectations of them are, in order to ensure a good outcome. With the door now open, they will often then follow and define their expectations to us. This establishes the seed-bed for a better and smoother outcome should there be an unexpected turn of events. Our individual challenge after communicating our expectations clearly is to dedicate an honest effort to truly hear and understand the expectations of the other.
- First, remember with whom you are speaking. Is it a business situation or a casual conversation? You will want to tailor how you interact to the situation. For example, if your work phone is forwarded to your cell phone, then calls should be answered as if you are in the office. Avoid answering in casual or clipped tone. This principle applies to answering communications via email and text. It can be tempting to reply casually and quickly but it can damage a business relationship if appropriate care is not taken. Customers prefer a higher level of service.
- Connect with your caller. If you are distracted by your surroundings, it will carry over into your voice. Conducting business via cell phone adds an element of convenience but convenience is only worth it if the conversation is effective. In communicating with clients or customers, it is important that they be heard. No one wants to have to repeat themselves or find out what they said was misunderstood. Take an extra moment in a crucial conversation to connect with the other person on a human level, and you will not have to spend hours figuring out how to reconnect when there is a misunderstanding.
- Be clear in the message; what exactly took place and what the impact may be. Keep the message simple but with enough detail to not leave the recipient wondering or adding in their own details because the information went unsaid.
- Remain calm, the message may cause anger or other emotions. Your role is to keep calm and not become defensive.
- Listen to what the other party has to say. One of the worst things we do in communication is to not truly hear what the other party is saying.
- Be empathetic, we can’t fool-proof everything we do and unfortunate situations do occur. Place yourself in the other person’s shoes and show you care.
- Apologize if the situation requires. In most cases, a simple “I’m sorry this happened” or “I apologize” will go a long way to demonstrate care and concern.
- And by all means respond; take responsibility for what occurred, communicate the actions you will take to correct or respond to the incident, by when, and then do it. Failure to keep your word does nothing to sustain the relationship.
Those who have acquired the talent of effective listening have advanced a long way toward more successful relationships.
Senior Vice President, ABC
Having worked in hospitals for 19 years and with physicians for 12 years, and having raised six children with my wife of 36 years, I have come to appreciate both the danger and value of expectations. Years ago as I raised my children, I came to the realization that the majority of times I felt anger in my life, it was caused by unmet expectations. I also realized much of the time those expectations were vague and undefined, or at least not communicated clearly to the other party.
We all have expectations of others. Let me suggest two principles of success tied to expectations that we should all come to know.
As we work to more clearly define our expectations and communicate them adequately to others, we may find ourselves reducing our expectations, and operating more in the realm of identifying specific responsibility and requiring the associated accountability. When we think of things in this way, we go a long way towards eliminating the frustration and anger associated with unmet expectations.
Use of Technology
Manager, Scanning Department, ABC
Technology allows us to communicate almost instantly from any location. Whether using email to send information; a cellular phone/Blackberry to text, talk or email, or creating or leaving a voicemail, or paging, these are all forms of communication. In all these cases, we are attempting to connect with another human being. It is important that we learn to apply some of the etiquette used in face-to-face conversations to find balance between technology and effective communication. A few tips:
Honesty In Customer Service
Vice President of Operations, ABC
Customer service is about developing relationships and the ability to connect with others. Most successful relationships are based on honesty and integrity. The true art and skill in a relationship revolve around how to be honest in every encounter while preserving the other party’s sense of self. In simple terms, it’s how to be tactfully honest.
The art and skill to communicate honestly come into play in holding conversations even when the news is bad or unpleasant. Few, if any of us shy away from, agonize over or gloss over delivering good news. If the news is good we welcome the opportunity to share. It’s when there is a perception that the message may cause a negative reaction, such as anger or disappointment, that it becomes uncomfortable. There is a tendency to keep the message brief and perhaps not be completely honest. Let’s face it, at some point in time you will be faced with delivering bad news. If the relationship is strong and built on a foundation of mutual honesty and respect, the conversation will serve to strengthen the relationship, if handled properly.
What are the keys to honest communication when the news is bad?
The concepts of effective listening, managing expectations, use of technology and tactful honesty in all situations are quality skills that build relationships. Customer service is measured by the extent to which each partner is willing to invest into the future in the relationship. Work hard to develop these skills; you will find they don’t always come easily, but when effectively utilized, the rewards are significant.