Developing Innovative Customer-service Initiatives

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It could be the smiling greeter who welcomes patients into the facility, or the glasses of lemon water and the tray of cookies keeping them company in the waiting room. Perhaps the wide variety of magazines will make all the difference, or the new carpet.

Radiological Associates of Sacramento (RAS) in California knows that the little things matter when it comes to the patient experience, and the multisite imaging group takes the details very seriously. In fact, the practice has set up a dedicated customer-service committee, consisting of operational managers and marketing personnel, to ensure that it stays in tune with its patients’ wants and needs. Phone, in-office, and online customer-service surveys all play roles.

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“On the higher-end modalities, like PET imaging and MRI, we see that the physician or a combination of the patient and the physician made the choice to come to RAS, but when you look at breast imaging, we see that the patient is making the decision. As a result of the analysis, we market our breast-health services directly to patients, whereas we market most of our other services to physicians.”

--Kelly Balaam

“It has always been a primary concern for us to deliver exceptional customer service,” Kelly Balaam, RAS manager of marketing services, explains. “The objective is to have patients come in and not feel like they are in a health care setting. We want them to feel comfortable—at ease—and to have an enjoyable experience. Everything in our strategy is to make that so for them.”

Established in 1917, RAS operates 24 centers in the four-county greater Sacramento region. The practice employs more than 1,000 workers, including approximately 75 physicians.

Describing the wow factor that she hopes to create, Balaam says that RAS aims for a hotel-lobby environment, rather than that of a sterilized radiology or radiation-oncology center. Above all else, staff members work to meet patients’ demands from a health care perspective; nevertheless, a secondary goal is to appeal to their sense of style and expression. Balaam believes that this emotional layer leads to better outcomes for patients, as they feel more relaxed in a friendly, inviting setting.

Shaping the Wow

The ideas for refreshments, enhanced reading material, and greeters came through patient suggestions from annual customer-satisfaction surveys, which RAS has administered for the past nine years. Preparation for the project, which the practice conducts in April, generally takes two months. Traditionally, patients have filled out a paper form following their exams and handed them over to their technologists. Results are later scanned electronically, and participants’ names are entered to win a raffle prize (generally a large-screen or flat-panel television).

Recently, RAS added a phone-survey component, in order to measure whether phone responses were different from in-center responses. During phone surveys, participants were not informed about the raffle prize until the end. Still, responses exactly mirrored those from the paper survey, Balaam says.

All in all, RAS receives between 10,000 and 12,000 comments, which marketing staff must manually review to make sure bubbles are filled out correctly. “We literally touch every comment,” Balaam says, adding that for open-ended handwritten comments, RAS staff members retype each comment for use in reports. Responses are overwhelmingly positive, Balaam says, but when RAS receives constructive criticism, the group strives to resolve the issue by entering the comment into its complaint-system database and discussing it with the staff involved.

With questions asking participants to describe and rate a center’s scheduling process, cleanliness, front-office staff, and wait time, the form has evolved since its benchmark first year, which mainly glanced at the big picture. “We still look at overall patient satisfaction, but we break it down by areas, as well, so that we can measure them against each other and see if there’s a gap in our customer service,” Balaam notes.

One of the newer aspects of the questionnaire is a section focused on how the patient ended up at the center. Who chose RAS: the patient, the physician, or both? This year, 24% said they made the decision, 52% attributed it to the physician, and 23.7% said both were involved, according to Balaam.

“The interesting takeaway isn’t so much the bottom-line return rate for those, but how that relates to the modality. That’s where the results