U.S. hospitals have always been a subject for surveys on customer satisfaction. Today there's an outsourced service that is changing the answers to two important survey questions: (1) as a patient, would you choose to come back to this hospital? (2) as an employee, is this hospital an employer of choice?
At Lake Pointe Medical Center, located in Rowlett, Texas, a Dallas surburb and fast-moving market, those answers are "yes."
"Going to the hospital in a highly competitive market is now on consumers' terms, not the hospital's terms," comments Eric Evans, CEO at Lake Pointe. "Consumerism requires differentiators and services that truly add value."
Delivering on that objective, Lake Pointe began using the services of Curbside, Inc. in the fourth quarter of 2007 and has seen its patient, patient family and guests, and employee satisfaction scores rise.
Required: hospital service extending beyond quality patient care
Although its mission of making each person entering and leaving a hospital feel valued and supported starts at the curbside with valet, shuttle, and parking garage services, Curbside also provides hotel-like concierge services.
"Our tagline is 'We also park cars,' but our service is more about a helping hand and warm greeting. We try to create memorable moments," states John Udelson, president and CEO of Beverly, Massachusetts-based Curbside. "We have a training program where our employees learn about some of the emotions that patients and visitors are going through and how our employees' actions and words can make an arrival and departure truly memorable."
Obviously there are a lot of companies offering parking services for businesses such as restaurants and hotels, but Udelson points out the importance of having such services geared to healthcare.
The mindset of patients as well as their families and guests when coming to a hospital is usually nervous, anxious, scared, lonely, or grieving. Then there's the weight of the illness symptoms. In addition, these people often have limited mobility, are elderly, or are chemotherapy/radiation patients and cannot park far away and walk to the hospital entrance. The valet smiles, opens a door, and provides assistance to the arriving visitor or patient.
The perception of hospital services now reaches beyond quality patient care. Even so, Evans at Lake Pointe says "concierge service and customer-focused services are still pretty unique in healthcare."
Curbside's ASK ME! Patient and Employee Concierge Service is designed to help patients focus on healing and help family and friends be able to stay there to support the patient. Patients and their families are less worried or stressed about other things not getting done because the Curbside concierge staff runs errands for them.
The errand may be something as simple as buying flowers or bringing lunch in for an expectant father so he can remain with his wife or it may be something more involved. "A lot of times emergencies come up and need to be taken care of," says Evans. "We get comment cards from families saying things like "It made my day a lot easier" and "We were surprised and thrilled at this service.'"
The concierge service also has an objective aimed at employee retention. Employees, especially nurses, work long hours and often work during the night. They use the concierge service to get things done in the daytime hours such as vehicle registration, car wash, oil changes, ordering food, purchasing a gift, etc. "It's difficult to retain doctors and nurses, and it's a big thing if we can provide services that make them feel less stressed and go home happier," says Evans.
Curbside's CEO cites several cost savings associated with employees' use of the concierge services. Because the service increases retention rates, hospitals reduce the high cost of employee turnover. More return on the investment: Having Curbside concierge staff on board eliminates employees returning late from lunch periods because of running errands and facilitates keeping employees focused on their job.
Udelson says, "Hospitals are seeking us out; they want to provide services more like hotels. Even in their own hiring efforts now, they are often hiring people with guest-services experience and hotel backgrounds."
Once a hospital and Curbside sign their outsourcing agreement, they jointly develop an operating plan for the hospital, covering such factors as hours of operation, number of doors where Curbside will provide services, and a myriad of other operational details. The amount the hospital pays is based on headcount of Curbside employees on site at the hospital. Udelson says they adjust the operating plan as necessary. Evans agrees. "The services are a work in progress, and are basically shaped by the needs of patients, guests, and employees. We continually discuss with Curbside what works and what doesn't."
Curbside employees also attend the hospital's employee training program so they can better understand how to integrate with the hospital's culture.
In addition to Curbside's existing staff, the company invariably hires people from the client hospital's region; this helps build a good image of the hospital by adding jobs in its community.
When selecting a service provider for similar customer-facing services, Lake Pointe's CEO advises other hospital executives to start by determining the hospital's goals--in other words, what it wants the "customers" to experience (even to the point of providing each patient with a newspaper daily). He says the services must be such that they can measure the customer experience objectively and should also be able to measure the hospital's extent of utilization of the services provided.
Finally, Evans says to compare service providers and see which ones are a fit with what the hospital wants to provide to its customers. Be sure the scope of services is flexible and also that the service provider has the capability to provide all components of the desired customer experience.
Lessons from Outsourcing Journal:
- The perception of hospital services now reaches beyond quality patient care. Going to the hospital in a highly-competitive market is now on consumers' terms, not the hospital's terms. Consumerism requires differentiators and services that truly add value; most hospitals do not have the resources in house to provide many such services.
- Concierge services at a hospital benefit patients, their families and guests, and also employees. The service increases employee retention rates and reduces the high cost of employee turnover. The services also eliminate employees returning late from lunch periods because of running errands and facilitates keeping employees focused on their job.
- When selecting a service provider for valet, concierge or other value-added customer-facing services, start by determining the hospital's goals--in other words, what it wants the "customers" to experience. Be sure the hospital can measure the customer experience objectively.