January 2011
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In This Issue
Customer Service Goes Global
In the Best Practices...
Q & A: Telephone Tactics - Helping Underperformers Make Callers Feel Welcome
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Hello again, and welcome to the winter edition of our Benchmark Newsletter.  We know you'll enjoy our lead article, which describes a unique experience and a most enjoyable professional challenge.

The welcome we received in the Middle East was warm and hospitable, and we sensed a commitment to patient satisfaction that equals efforts we've seen across the United States.

Here's our wish for the new year - that all of us, the next time we see a foreign-educated nurse or doctor, will make them feel as comfortable in our country as they made us feel in theirs.

- The SullivanLuallin Team

CUSTOMER SERVICE GOES GLOBAL...or at least to Saudi Arabia!
By Meryl Luallin

Focusing on the patient experience isn't unique to the USA.  Recently we returned from a fascinating engagement in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where we worked with a leading health system over a two week period.

It all began with an e-mail from a client we had worked with in Manhattan several years ago.  He had a new position as the Chief Executive Officer at a large integrated delivery system in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.  He called to say that he wanted to bring "American-style customer service training" to his hospital and medical groups, and asked if we'd be interested in helping achieve his goals.

Do camels have humps?  It was a no brainer!

Over the course of the 14 days we were in Saudi Arabia, we delivered a variety of seminars addressing patient satisfaction, staff engagement and physician-patient communication.  Part of the goal was to enable the Saudis to carry on the effort after our departure so we also conducted "train-the-trainer" workshops.  During the latter part of the engagement, we implemented the structure the group will need to maintain the momentum of their service quality initiative.  This included creating a Service Council, appointing service team leaders, scheduling regular service level assessments (satisfaction surveys) and other accountability measures.

And guess what? We'll return later this year to consult with the group and guide them further on their path to achieving the highest patient satisfaction levels in the Middle East.

Thoughts and observations on the experience

  •  It's a very long journey - three plane rides totaling 18 hours, but so worth it for the adventure
  • Saudis are wonderful people and very hospitable toward Americans
  • It takes only a few days to get over seeing more than 80% of the females totally veiled in black.  We learned it is a cultural characteristic, and the woman's choice.  (Mostly a modesty issue - not an oppression issue)
  • Saudi food is delicious and NOT primarily goat's eyes and camel intestines as we had feared!
  • Among the restaurants and other stores we saw were Chili's, Pizza Hut, McDonald's (no McRib on the menu!), Applebee's, KFC, Subway, IKEA, and of course, Starbucks!

After the wonderful experience we had, we've concluded that the Saudi people are pretty much the same as Americans, wanting the same success and happiness for themselves and their families.  And now they also want top-quality customer service from their healthcare providers.

In the Best Practices...

Unfortunately these days more often than not when patients approach the counter for check-in, they are asked to present a photo ID and their insurance card.  This drive toward depersonalization hit its lowest point when one Sullivan/Luallin "mystery" patient called a practice to schedule an appointment.  The receptionist answered courteously enough, but when the patient said, "I'd like to make an appointment," the response was a terse "Social?"


When asked to clarify, the clerk with an irritated sigh in her voice, replied, "Social Security number." 


How do "Best Practices" warm up the initial encounter at the front desk?  Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group (CA) insists that their employees, especially those at the registration and reception counters, introduce themselves.  Atop the computer terminal at each work station perches a small sign with the name of the employee on duty.  In some departments, at the close of the interaction with the patient, the staff member hands the patient a slip of paper noting the employee's name and the statement, "If I can be of further assistance, please let me know."  By putting a name with a smiling face, Sharp Rees-Stealy ensures that the brief encounter is a warm one.

Q & A: Telephone Tactics - Helping Underperformers Make Callers Feel Welcome


I called my office yesterday on my way back from an offsite meeting and was appalled at how the phone was answered.  The receptionist sounded rushed and irritated by the phone interruption!  Any suggestions?

If you experienced poor phone courtesy, you're probably not alone.  Since the telephone is the portal to your practice, how callers are treated sets the tone for the whole visit.  Try this.

First develop scripts for your receptionists to use in a variety of situations including appointment scheduling or confirmation, giving basic information about your practice's services, handling complaints and so forth.  (For a few sample scripts contact us at inquiry@sullivan-luallin.com.)

Then make "mystery calls" at different times of the day using either an outside professional mystery caller or a "friend" of the practice.  Use a checklist to assess the operators' phone etiquette and share the results with the staff.  (In private with any individual who didn't measure up!)

A brush-up phone workshop, (SullivanLuallin's Five-Star Phone Techniques webinar, for example) can ensure that all of your staff members have the skills to ensure that every caller feels like a VIP!

Have a question you'd like our team to answer? Email us!

SullivanLuallin specializes in patient satisfaction services, and is the premier healthcare customer service consulting firm in the nation. For over 25 years, we've helped physician practices implement Customer Service Initiatives that produce immediate improvement and ongoing results. Clients come to us for on-site and web-based Customer Service training, Shadow Coaching for low-scoring physicians, Mystery Patient/Mystery Caller assessments, and Customer Satisfaction surveys.

Dr. Alt