Customer Service Challenge for Nurses
By Diane M. Goodman, MSN-C, APRN, CCRN, CNRN
There is no quicker method to increase anxiety among a group of nurses than to inform them they are scheduled for mandatory meetings related to improving customer service. Mumbling, side conversations and uneasy looks rapidly replace the typical caffeine-driven eagerness to "get on with their day" that demonstrates the work of nursing on a busy hospital unit.
Why are nurses so provoked by words that are commonplace in business and industry? Most nurses, when queried, find the need for coaching on customer service to be insulting or, even worse, unnecessary. When did the concept of customer service become inflammatory? Have nurses always felt this way or has the tension increased over recent years?
Nurses strongly feel the need to be autonomous and be allowed to "do their jobs," whether that be rapidly triaging a critically ill patient in the emergency department, or soothing a confused geriatric patient on a med/surg unit. The less interference in this role, they believe, the better. How could anyone else possibly know what the nurse does, or tell them how to do their work "better" or "differently" to manipulate numbers related to patient satisfaction?
What nurses have yet to realize is that true customer service need not be an opponent. When befriended, customer service allows the nurse to showcase her role and skill, and to bond more closely with the patient's extended family members, who may have witnessed few of her best nursing actions. A lengthy assessment of vital signs, skin temperature, functionality and patient progress may have taken place hours before the family awakened at home. How would they recognize the trust and caring exhibited by the nurse as she discussed the patient's discomfort if they hadn't been near the bedside?
In comparison, would Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt expect fans to understand the scope of their charitable work if publicists were not available to provide photos, sound bytes and, ultimately, constant exposure to the world? Nurses need to learn how to accept being stars in their own world and toot their own horns while keeping busy "saving lives." The most charitable act of kindness could easily go unrecognized in a busy, routine hospital environment.
How often do we see nurses postpone dinner or an urgent need for a bathroom break to grab a pain medication for a patient who is in pain? That's customer service at its finest, and the act should be applauded and recognized. Unfortunately, it usually isn't, because the star of this action/drama is off to the next patient, and the precision has become an expectation, not seen as a professional or personal sacrifice.
Nurses have had a tough time understanding that a hospital environment is a business community. We desperately need to showcase our "stars," while providing reassurance that saving lives and customer service do not have to be adversarial. Only when this message is perceived accurately by nurses will we see customer satisfaction scores soar. Heroes do walk among us, quietly and busily doing their best work, usually in supporting roles.
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