If wanting happy customers and an engaged staff was enough – everyone would have them. Instead, customer complaints are common and nearly 75% of employees are reportedly disengaged. What can you do to get customer service right? We found a great source of customer service tips from a health care professional in metro Detroit. 

 Meet Kristen Maike, PT WCS. She’s the Supervisor of the Adult Physical and Occupational Therapy Clinic at Beaumont Health System. Kristen is a service super-star – a board-certified clinical specialist in women’s health with a concentration in pelvic health. Working in a highly sensitive arena, she’s taken great care to create an environment that inspires both her employees and her customers to succeed. Here are three customer service tips based on Kristen’s approach:

#1. Go beyond listening.

Kristen’s approach to listening combines empathy with whole-self solution-finding. She listens for the underlying reasons that a patient may not be getting better.  Health and wellbeing depends on many variables. When stress at work, money issues or a relationship problem impacts the patient’s health, Kristen goes beyond listening and refers patients with confidence to other sources. That confidence comes from a collaborative effort.

Her highly skilled group has built a community of other health care professionals that include counselors and therapists who can aid in the patient’s ultimate success. “It sounds cliché, but it’s true. When you build a team of connectors and collaborators, customers feel better cared for and supported,” Kristen said, “Realize that you’re not an island.”

What about you?

·       In your industry, what does it look like to go beyond listening?

·       What collaborative efforts do you use to solve your customers underlying issues?  

·        How can you take listening to the next level?

#2. Break down boundaries.

Every organization has rules to follow. “Certain regulations need to be followed to be legal and ethical,” Kristen said, “Then there are those rules – that we created – that can be bent when it becomes a barrier to delivering the best possible service to our patients.”

To break down boundaries, Kristen encourages her team to be creative by exploring possibilities. When a staff member says, “We have to do this because it’s the rule.” She reminds them, “We made the rule. We can change the rule.”

A case in point:

On a day she was scheduled to work in her West Bloomfield, Michigan office, Kristen had a dilemma. Her customer was driving a long distance for outpatient treatment. Kristen wanted to help her secure a comfortable, affordable hotel room but the nearby choices were limited.    

What did Kristen do?

She changed her schedule so she could see her patient at the hospital location – making it possible for her to stay at a nice hotel that better met her needs. “I knew that her treatment would be more successful if I made sure she was comfortable,” Kristen said, “She was very appreciative.”

A simple change in “the way you do things” can make a world of difference to the customer experience. Kristen’s focus is to maximize her patient’s treatment and outcome.  First, she actively listened in a way that gave her a full picture of the patient’s needs. Then she took the extra effort to break down a boundary to give her patient a more worthwhile experience.

What about you?

·       Can you identify rules that were put in place for internal convenience, but may be a barrier to customer satisfaction?

·       Have you talked with your staff about which rules are required and which ones are flexible?

·       In what ways can you break down boundaries to improve the customer experience?

#3. Engage with your staff.

As a supervisor, Kristen treats her staff as well as she expects them to treat patients. She says, “When they are happy and supported, then our patients will feel happy and supported.”

How does she create a happy and supportive workplace?

She’s created strong, personal connections with her team. “I’m their supervisor AND we’re colleagues,” Kristen said, “I have more responsibility, but we’re colleagues. I truly feel that way.” Kristen understands that, like customers, her colleagues have needs. So, she’s creative with them, the same way they are with customers.

For example:

Kristen didn’t want anyone on staff to miss out on their kids’ activities. The problem was they had a strict structure that made taking time off stressful for everybody – the staff, the front-office, and the patient.

By revising the way patients and staff were scheduled, they’ve made it easier and less burdensome for colleagues to take time to be with their family when they need to – in a way that no longer disrupted patient appointments. A staff member can now get blocked off the schedule ahead of time.  That way patients aren’t given a spot and then made to move, and the front desk doesn’t’ have to take valuable time to reschedule those appointments.  

The result? “The staff is hardworking and gives it their all,” Kristen said, “They feel supported and want to make the clinic successful.”  

What about you?

·       In what ways do you engage with your staff and show that you value them?

·       Are there stressful internal policies that could be improved with some creative problem solving?

·        What can you do to create an even happier and more supportive workplace environment?

Bottom line?

It’s all about finding solutions. “I say it to my kids, myself and my staff,” Kristen said, “There’s always a solution. But, if you lock yourself into one thing, and that doesn’t work, then you’ll feel like there’s no solution.” When you step back to look at the big picture, you’ll be better equipped to come up with a solution.


Written by Marilyn Suttle, conference speaker, trainer, and bestselling author who works with organizations to ensure a strong customer focus and successful leadership teams. Reach out to Marilyn by email at: Marilyn@MarilynSuttle.com

Resources to support your service excellence:

Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest is known as the business bible – a blueprint for client service success.

Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty is filled with activities you can do with your staff to keep customer loyalty strong.

The Customer Service Roadmap is an in-house customer service training program designed for employees who have front line customer contact, face-to-face, telephone, email, chat, forums, etc. It’s a series of short, bite-sized courses focused on developing 7 core customer service skills.

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