Wanted: Good Customer Service Skills

Hemera | Thinkstock + iStockphoto

My hospital has won all kinds of awards for customer service–and we are continuously told that nurses are essential to patient satisfaction. Because the reality is that patients see healthcare as a product they are buying–and they want their money’s worth. They want a good value.

Recently I applied for a per diem job which listed “good customer service skills” ahead of all the other qualifications they wanted from an RN. Hospitals want good nurses that not only provide perfect care, but ones that smile while doing so. On the other hand, nursing blogs and message boards are buzzing with nurses who think customer service is secondary to safe care–and that the two have a hard time meshing. Why is that?

Well, take for instance the patient who is NPO either pre or post OP, but demands to be fed. Throw in the family members who not only refuse to leave the bedside of the patient waaaaayyyy after visiting hours are finished for whatever reason, but also state that the nurses and docs are “starving” the patient by keeping them NPO. And even with education, the patient and family members don’t get the big picture. Many hospitals expect nurses to find a way to make people happy in these kinds of situations, and yet we nurses just see the priority: patient safety at whatever the cost–even to the point of angering patients and family members.

Having a background in retail, I was told that the “customer is always right.” Now we are told as nurses that our patients are customers and that we need to provide excellent service so they will maintain loyalty to our hospitals.

Patient=customer=patient is always right?

While I am all for safe, quality care given in combo with kindness and compassion, it seems like a stretch to expect the retail model of customer service to fit hospital needs. I mean really, the patient is NOT always right. They just don’t have the knowledge and training to be so.

Hospitals have an answer to the problem: “customer service reps” who wander the halls trying to mediate comfort issues so patients feel like they are getting “good service” or their “money’s worth.” Meanwhile the nurses are taking away warm blankets given by customer service reps to febrile patients, wrestling away complimentary milkshakes from NPO patients, and insisting family members leave during invasive procedures even though they were told they could “stay continuously with the patient because of the new 24 hr visitation policy.”

I’ll admit, as a recent patient in a hospital I LOVED the customer service rep who checked in on me–it DID make a positive impact on my view of the hospital. So, I can see the point. But can we as nurses really mesh safety with this kind of thing and why does it always have to be a fight between the two?

Yes, I understand the hospital business means big money, I understand that health-care is ultimately about dollar signs in our country today, yet my nursing practice dictates safety. As a licensed registered nurse, I am NOT all about making money for my hospital. But I do work for the hospital: they sign my paycheck.

While I do tend to bend over backwards for my patients to make sure they are “happy” with their overall experience, what I am really about, as an RN, is keeping people alive. If this means withholding milkshakes and warm blankets, well, I’m there. And yes, I will try to do it with a smile.

Like us on Facebook and join the Scrubs Family