Great customer service—Achieving it needs to be an organizational approach in which the whole strategy and culture are focused on including “service” in every part of daily operations, services, and consumer interactions. As organizations move to a more competitive health and human service environment, service matters—just as it already does in nearly every other industry. Reaching more consumers, obtaining more referrals and contracts, and achieving better outcomes will all depend on mastering this organizational skill.
For more this month on making this approach part of your organization’s strategy, we reached out to Mark Cotterman, Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction and Marketing, and Dr. Melissa Richards, Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations, at The Columbus Organization.
The Columbus Organization provides consumer-centered care coordination services to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The company serves 11,000 consumers across eight states and 315 counties, including 250,000 direct consumer contacts annually. The company also provides professional clinical staffing and quality improvement services to facilities and community providers that serve these individuals.
Mr. Cotterman laid out the five-part “peace of mind” solution that drives The Columbus Organization culture and strategy:
- An escalating call response system—All consumers have an assurance that they will get a call back immediately, with the goal that their issue is resolved with that call back; however, calls will “escalate” through the chain of command until answered if necessary.
- Exceed the minimum required contact—The minimum required contact is “what’s best for the consumer” and exceeding the minimum requirement has the bonus of increasing consumer satisfaction.
- All great care is about great employees—Care coordination staff are trained using a dedicated learning and development function which includes in person training and mentoring and a high-level learning management system.
- Person-centered planning—The organization uses the LifeCourse™ process which analyzes consumers’ lives within structural, social, and cultural contexts and puts the consumer at the center of the plan.
- Measure and act on consumer satisfaction levels—The organization measures customer satisfaction minimally twice a year.
Mr. Cotterman further explained the organization’s approach to putting customer service at the center of strategy:
Our vision and our tagline drive what we do. Our tagline, and the one that appears quite prominently in our work is: “Because everyone deserves a more meaningful life.”
We do a fair amount of strategic planning because in order to do what we need to do in a challenging environment, we need to think strategically with a consumer-centric focus. Our vision is to provide each consumer we serve a more meaningful life – as seen through the eyes of those consumers. My background is in marketing and satisfying the needs of consumers, and the customer in my world drives everything that you do. If they don’t, you shouldn’t be doing it. Our strategic objective is to provide superior customer service. We do that through our “peace of mind solution”. The Life CourseTM process guides our planning and then we spend a lot of time talking about the strategies we need to undertake to go above and beyond the expectations to keep the consumers healthy and happy. It’s a human services business, bottom line. If you aren’t doing this, you have failed in your reason for being a business.
Chances are, if your organization has followed a strategic path to put the consumer at the center of your services, and done so with a customer service culture and mindset, then you are serving a population that is better informed, more proactive in their health, and healthier—and all for less cost. But how would you know? Dr. Richards, who oversees quality compliance and outcomes, says satisfaction surveys are a primary way for measuring how well the care coordination and customer service efforts are working. She explained:
We send out satisfaction surveys at least twice a year. We send them to guardians, or other agencies that supply support. We do believe the meaningful life concept goes beyond the people we are paid to support. Our brand is that everyone should have a meaningful life, so we measure ourselves against that standard.
The Columbus Organization uses a 10-question, Likert-type scale that is anonymous, but also has an option to include their name. Dr. Richards explained that each survey addresses six general domains:
- Has the organization done enough to understand the customer and what they want? Did the organization take the time to get to know and listen to the consumer?
- Is the organization competent? How knowledgeable and helpful is the organization? Did the organization help the consumer in the areas the consumer wanted help in?
- Is the organization reliable and credible? Does staff keep their appointments? Do they do what they say they will do?
- Is the organization responsive? Can consumers reach the organization 24/7? Do consumers feel they can get ahold of the organization and get quick answers?
- Do consumers know how to reach the organization?
- Do staff show courtesy, respect, and generally politeness? Does staff treat the consumer as an individual and a person with a disability, versus “thinking” they know the consumer?
Dr. Richards explained that The Columbus Organization analyzes responses so that they can identify deficiencies and make corrections. She explained:
This is not just an academic exercise. We evaluate the service, we amend it, then we reevaluate. We go around and around. We’ve also added outcomes measures to those surveys asking people where they live, do they have a choice of where they live or work, or the goals they sets? Do they feel safe, and have friends and supports that aren’t paid to support them? If they don’t, they might like us but the reality is we aren’t achieving our mission.
Mr. Cotterman also pointed out the importance of net promoter scores, which The Columbus Organization is exploring for their company. He explained:
In this space, the consumers who make choices get a lot of recommendations from other people, families, or advocacy groups. You ask who they trust, where they would go for care, and will those people recommend The Columbus Organization. It’s important in the future to capture that, in some kind of net promotion score, since we get a lot of business that way. It’s really all about do they trust you to take care of them.