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Healthcare finance leaders can find inspiration from three service businesses that have identified keys to keeping their customers happy.

What do an online shoe and apparel retailer, a specialty grocery chain, and a luxury hotelier have to do with patient satisfaction at a healthcare organization?

Quite a lot!

These businesses consistently achieve remarkably high customer satisfaction ratings. Though these industries are varied and vastly different from health care, these unwavering supporters of service adhere to the fundamental best practices of guest care that are relevant and translatable to any organization that provides goods and/or services to a competitive marketplace.

Patients have choices, and their role in the selection and payment of their health care continues to expand. Helping to increase patient satisfaction-especially when dealing with billing issues-can help improve retention rates, accelerate payment, and ensure your organization is financially healthy.

Let's take a look at some best practices used by these service leaders and how their approaches might be applied to your billing department.

Zappos.com

If you know anyone who has ever bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.com, they've likely given the company's customer-centric policies rave reviews. Here are the linchpins of Zappos' approach to customer service.

Creating a culture of customer advocacy.As CEO Tony Hsieh said, "If we get the culture right, then everything else, including the customer service, will fall into place." Zappos knows happy employees offer better customer service, are more likely to stay with the company, and become the most supportive advocates to help recruit great talent. 

Connecting with customers. The company has built relationships with customers by using social media to share information and stay connected. It has fearlessly embraced the latest communications tools, from Twitter and Facebook to blogs and YouTube, to become a presence in consumers' daily lives. 

Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is a California-based, privately held grocery store chain that has managed to create a recognized, beloved brand while maintaining a "mom-and-pop" feel at each location.

A quirky personality is the key component of Trader Joe's ability to attract and keep happy customers.  Since the company's early years, Trader Joe's has been known as the grocery store with personality. There's a friendly, accessible feel to the brand that is noticeable in the store's decor, through the humorous The Fearless Flyer direct mailers, and via conversational interactions with staff members. Though the company's founder, Joe Coulombe, sold the chain in 1979, his family contends he still "owns the cult." 

The Ritz-Carlton

Many luxury hotel chains focus on customer service, yet The Ritz-Carlton stands out as a leader in its industry. The company is a two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and since 2000, its Leadership Center has been a hub for executives of diverse corporations to learn The Ritz-Carlton's tried-and-true principles of service excellence. 

The Ritz-Carlton employs 38,000 people in its 77 hotels worldwide. Frontline staff go through 300 hours of training in their first year of employment and 120 hours in subsequent years. This intensive culture of kindness works, as attested in rave reviews from travelers, as well as in reports from business publications. Here are two ways the Ritz-Carlton has accomplished this feat.

Paying attention to detail. Guests at any Ritz-Carlton location are treated to a high standard of detailed, personalized service. From offering a child toys to play with while his parents check in to surprising a couple celebrating an anniversary with a free cake, The Ritz-Carlton staff is trained to observe, listen, and respond graciously. This approach inspires lifelong customer loyalty and unabashed praise.

Handling mistakes. Even in a culture of superior service, an organization with 77 locations across the globe is going to face its share of missteps each day. The Ritz-Carlton has a wise strategy for facing mistakes: acknowledge, apologize, and make it right. Employees are empowered to immediately make amends if a guest experiences an error. Even when an error can't be corrected, the staff may respond by offering a free breakfast or leaving a basket of gourmet goodies in the room.

Three Strategies to Adapt

How can revenue cycle leaders apply these strategies for improving customer service within their billing departments? Consider the commonalities among these three customer service superstars.

Ensure your culture is focused on great service. Great customer service should be at the heart of your organization; it should never be applied as an afterthought. If your aim is to improve patient billing processes, put together a cross-functional team to document the patient experience-from the initial encounter through final billing and payment. For example, is your patient statement designed to improve readability and support your patient satisfaction goals? How are patients informed about your billing policies? Are there opportunities to improve awareness and educate patients about your billing processes, available payment options, and tips for reading and understanding their statement?

Value and educate your employees. Best practices for customer service happen from the inside out-and this starts by valuing your employees. The patient billing team is a critical component of your organization. Provide your employees with the right training to ensure they are well-versed on existing patient billing policies and procedures to eliminate confusion and help patients navigate the system.

Provide open, direct, and frequent communications with customers. Whether face to face, online, in print, or via social media, there is no veil between customers and staff members who can make the difference. This practice is especially important for healthcare organizations communicating with patients regarding their financial responsibilities. Providing direct, clear, and frequent communications can help eliminate confusion, improve patient satisfaction, and promote prompt payment.

How does your organization stack up to these standards? Even if these principles aren't fully integrated throughout your hospital or practice, you can make them happen in your billing department. Perhaps by doing so, you'll be the service inspiration for your organization.


Want to learn more about improving your patient billing processes? Emdeon Patient Connect is a comprehensive suite of patient billing and payment solutions that can improve patient satisfaction while accelerating cash flow by automating key processes and expanding payment collection channels. Call 877.EMDEON.6 (866.363.3666) to expedite patient receivables cash flow at your organization.

References

Aho, K., The 2011 Customer Service Hall of Fame, MSN Money, May 27, 2011. 

Bell, S., Puttin' on the Ritz, CRM magazine, May 2001. 

Chapman, M., Learn From the Best: 5-Star Customer Service Lessons From Ritz-Carlton, Results Revolution, Jan. 14, 2011. 

Holtz, S., Zappos Sticks to Its Values in Communicating Customer Database Breach, Social Media Today, Jan. 19, 2012. 

J.D. Power and Associates Reports: Hotel Guests Are Considerably Less Satisfied in 2008, Primarily Due to Issues with Amenities and Guest Room Features, J.D. Power and Associates, July 29, 2008. 

Kane, L., Customer Satisfaction is Key: The Top 10 Companies With Great Customer Service, LearnVest, Nov. 24, 2010. 

Kowitt, B., Meet the Original Joe, CNNMoney, Aug. 23, 2010. 

Porterfield, A., 9 Companies Doing Social Media Right and Why, Social Media Examiner, April 12, 2011. 

Twitter Is Not About Marketing, It's About Engagement, Tweet Magazine, July 19, 2011. 
 

 

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012