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David Lloyd

Founder, MTM Services

The Customer is Always Right: Customer Service for Survival

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“Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job.”

— Anonymous

Over the years, behavioral health providers have made great strides to improve and adapt their services based on their clients’ needs. These changes have occurred by working to increase agencies’ organizational capacity, improving same-day access protocols and raising the bar on the expectations around staff engagement. However, many provider organizations never consider revolutionizing the customer experience. A focus on excellent customer services is paramount to supporting recovery. But what does it actually mean to be the Disney, Ritz Carlton or Amazon Prime of customer service in a post-health care reform era?


Understand What Customers Want

“The customer’s perception is your reality.”

— Kate Zabriskie, President & CEO at Business Training Works, Inc.

To provide world-class customer service, you must begin with an honest consideration of how a client perceives and experiences the quality of your services. Ask yourself, “If I were to walk through our door today, would I receive the quality of care I’d expect from my own primary care physician or dentist?” In any service setting, the bottom line remains customers simply want to engage in a trusting relationship while being treated with dignity and respect.

But what does this look like in a community behavioral health center? Having worked with hundreds of providers throughout the United States, I’ve seen firsthand what it takes for an organization to improve their customer service skills — examining things like backfilling appointments, implementing appointment reminder calls, increasing accessibility and managing no-shows. Looking at this list alone, you can see why it’s easy for an organization to quickly realize that every staff member matters in the overall customer experience. Everyone’s behavior and attitude reinforces great customer service. If leadership teams, clinicians and administration staff examine their care delivery consistently through the payer or client’s eyes, services improve. Bottom line: Customers that receive timely treatment with the upmost respect and care keep coming back and more actively participate in care.


Know How to Improve

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” —Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon

How do you begin to implement customer service improvements within your organization? First, take a look at both your internal and external services. Internally, how does your organization ensure all staff act with high quality customer service in mind — both by proving quality services for customers and interacting well with other staff members? Does your organization have customer service-based key performance indicators for all staff? Do you evaluate your staff on their customer service abilities as part of their review? It’s the interaction and work that occurs between staff members that improve customer experience.

Beyond staff-to-staff interactions, process flows must always keep the customer’s perspective in mind. For example, many intake and diagnostic assessment models can contribute to higher levels of disengagement represented by ongoing rates of no-shows and cancellations. But by simply adjusting your intake and diagnostic assessment to be more customer-focused, you can easily turn those numbers around. I always remind organizations, when we ask questions, the clients indicate in focus groups that they are helping us, and when we listen, they indicate we are helping them.

Ultimately, improving customer services is a process of helping organizations to stop primarily focusing on serving the ‘system’ and, instead, primarily focusing on caring for the individual that the system was originally designed to serve.


Tap Into Customer Services Resources

“Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —Damon Richards, Business Consultant

On one of my National Council webinars, “How to Be the Nordstrom of Healthcare: Customer Service for Survival,” I discussed in greater depth the considerations behavioral health organizations must examine when looking to improve their services. There are several other resources available that can help your team improve their customer services practices. Check out the National Council’s “Behavioral Health Centers of Excellence: The Future of Health” whitepaper, which details why customer service should be one of your top priorities. Check out the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions’ eSolutions article “Customer Service: The Priority in Person-Centered Care,” which spotlights other organizations use of customer feedback, provides tips for assessing customer service using the five senses and includes a customer service action plan template.

Or, better yet, join me at NatCon15 and attend my session, “Disney and Ritz Carlton Customer Service Tailored for Your Organization,” visit MTM’s Genius Bar or attend one of the many other outstanding workshops.




Is your organization in the process of setting new standards of excellence around customer service? Share your story in the comments section of this blog. As always, feel free to contact the National Council to inquire about our customer service consulting opportunities.