The health care world has been rocked in many ways by COVID-19. As a result of the new virus, patients and families have become hypervigilant about hospital cleanliness, hand washing, appointment protocols, and more. They want to know what to expect before, during, and after their visit.
While challenges are inevitable, service recovery – the process of making things right after something goes wrong – is critical to ensuring loyalty, trust, emotional connection, and safety. Service recovery should not be seen as a standalone initiative activated only when things get challenging. It’s something that should already be part of an organization’s experience design strategy. And when things do get challenging, organizations also must pursue experience resilience: commitment to the experience that was designed before the challenge existed.
Regardless of what model your health system follows – AIDET, ICARE, LEAD, HEART, GIFT* or another that’s unique to you – there are three strategies that can help your organization maintain its standards and deliver exceptional patient experiences despite any new issues related to the COVID-19 era.
Three Tips for Great Experiences Now and Ongoing
#1: Practice empathy amid health care delivery transformation. COVID-19 has changed health care delivery substantially. Telehealth is on the rise, and family and guest visits are limited. Appointment protocol includes more steps than before. Safety and quality have additional nuances. These industrywide changes bring new obstacles and can leave patients and families feeling frustrated or confused. When troubleshooting, irrespective of who is at fault, defuse the situation by listening to the patient or family member, identifying the issue, and sincerely apologizing for not meeting their expectations. Acknowledge the inconvenience. Avoid being in a rush. Show emotion (this is even more important when wearing a mask that conceals part of the face). These are all key parts to making the patient and family feel heard. Health care experiences, especially as a result of COVID-19, involve heightened emotions and vulnerability, so de-escalation and avoiding blame (toward the patient, team member, or department) is the best course of action.
#2: Be ready to respond. With growing concerns about safety in health care settings, patients and families have greater expectations for cleanliness and accommodations. It may be impossible to resolve every issue that arises, but address each situation with honestly and clarity. Use must-haves – actions that directly address the issue at hand, such as rescheduling an appointment or allowing a patient to wait for their appointment in their car. Leverage any available good-to-haves too. For example, you could provide compensation for a patient’s inconvenience, such as a food voucher or parking validation. Considerate acts that require little or no cost to your health system can provide great relief to patients and families, who will see you as going above and beyond for them. Additionally, you should document recurring concerns, address them in team huddles, and equip your team with effective solutions for when they arise again.
#3: Educate and empower team members. To ensure a timely, effective response to COVID-related care challenges, we must educate and empower front-line employees. These workers are the first to hear about issues that arise, and they are well positioned to address them appropriately. Training should focus on quick decision-making, de-escalation techniques designed to calm patients and families upset about new rules or recommendations, compensation options, empathy building, and more. Flagging issues to upper management can be a lengthy process that can increase frustration, so every employee should be given the responsibility, resources, and authority to address patient and family member concerns. Front-line teams need to have the knowledge and confidence to make real-time decisions to create the optimal patient experience.
Inevitably, mistakes will happen. Issues will arise. It’s how you address challenges in the moment that dictates how patients and families perceive your organization. In addition to shaping the stories people tell about our organization, experience resilience helps us meet the needs of those we serve. It ensures that we do not add stress to an innately stressful experience or compromise anyone’s safety and health, while still adhering to the high standards we’ve set for ourselves – whether we’re in a crisis or not.
How are you currently addressing service recovery and experience resilience in your organization? Let’s chat.
* AIDET: Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank You
ICARE: Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect, and Enthusiasm
LEAD: Listen, Empathize, Apologize, and Do the Right Thing
HEART: Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Respond, and Thank
GIFT: Gather, I’m Sorry, Feedback, and Thank