By: Rick Joslin, Senior Advisor, Healthcare Strategy
For decades, organizations in all industries have been reaching out to customers to gather feedback so they can support some internal function. This could be to:
- Gauge customer satisfaction
- Measure employee engagement
- See how well a product or service has met expectations
- Identify gaps or issues in processes, or to
- Develop ideas for product or service direction.
Almost always, there is an external force driving this effort, and rarely are healthcare service departments using this tool for themselves. Yet, this kind of survey information could be supremely helpful if properly utilized within healthcare service departments, and it’s crucial to understand possible benefits.
The Current Landscape Within Healthcare Service Departments
As always, healthcare service departments are being asked to reduce budgets wherever they can. At the same time, these departments are also being asked to do more with less, forcing leadership into a situation where they must make decisions that could lead to burnout or mistakes. Add onto these burdens the common perception that service departments are “necessary burdens” on the organization’s goals and objectives, and it’s easy to see why most departments really don’t want to change.
The Benefits of Surveys in Healthcare Organizations
1. You Can Accurately Gauge Your Team’s Customer-Facing Performance
Many years ago, CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) began using patient survey results as a complimentary metric on how well the organization is doing regarding patient care. Many healthcare departments – such as human resources, nursing, and administration— routinely survey their customers to gauge how well they accomplish their mission, though not all make use of the results received. A recognized example is that it’s common for Information Systems\Information Technology (IS/IT) departments to send a survey on almost every interaction to ensure the solution provided did, in fact, resolve the issue.
And this can be very insightful. Reaching out to your customers is the only way to know (not guess) how your team is performing their mission compared to how they are supposed to be performing it. The first and most obvious benefit of this is an honest assessment of your team’s performance. This allows you to develop improvement objectives at both a departmental and individual level. It can also help you identify gaps between expectations and actual performance, as well as potential training needs for your staff.
2. You Can Improve Overall Department Performance
Surveys will also provide evidence of service agreement attainment. Some examples of conditions where a survey could identify if your team met their service level expectations (SLEs) are:
- Your department has a published service level expectation to respond to reported issues in patient rooms within 15 minutes.
- Your department has a service level expectation to provide a notification of receipt for each service request.
- Your department has a policy stating that for each service request submitted by an organizational employee, that employee will be notified of the disposition (cancellation, delay, or completion) of their service request.
- Your department wants to gather feedback on the perception of responsiveness to service requests, such as acceptable response and completion time frames.
One benefit stemming from the usage and analysis of service level agreements is the how perceptions of your maintenance department will change. Being open about your goals, giving staff the chance to tell you how well you did, and having that feedback be used and applied to effect change will quickly place your department at the forefront of service and change. It is common for perceptions to change to the point where your team is sought out, considered a leader in customer service, and a partner in patient satisfaction.
3. You Can Inform Performance Reviews and Training
Another benefit is that survey programs give excellent feedback for performance reviews. Using surveys to gauge how well your staff met expectations of professionalism, courteousness, and skill will help you engage in change through education, training, and leadership. Did the maintenance staff keep the requester informed of the progress on their request? Did they leave the workspace as clean or cleaner than when they arrived? Was the issue resolved the first time? Were you satisfied with the performance of the team member? These provide feedback not obtained by any other means.
4. You Can Help Maintain Quality Management Programs
In today’s healthcare landscape, regulatory agencies are moving toward quality management programs as an expectation for providing services to patients. Some accrediting agencies, such as DNV, require an organization to implement, execute, and maintain a quality management system. A requirement within an ISO 9001:2015 compliant program is the need to “obtain customer feedback relating to products and services, including customer complaints” (8.2.1(c)). Using surveys as part of the routine service process provides the means to collect and analyze customer feedback, then define needed improvements within the service offerings.
How to Put a Survey Program into Practice
So, with all the benefits possible from conducting surveys, why are maintenance departments (HTM, HFM) reluctant to incorporate them? Across the hundreds of organizations that I’ve worked with, I’ve found that it’s most often a lack of understanding; first, of the benefits their department can reap from surveys and second, the amount of effort needed to start and manage a program.
Putting a survey program into practice generally includes six simple steps:
1. Decide to Implement Surveys
This is the most obvious step, and it will simply require conversation and decision-making with the right stakeholders.
2. Define the Goals of Your Program
Objectives like increasing customer satisfaction, reducing repeat calls, increasing responsiveness to patient-focused issues, improving staff customer service levels, and meeting regulatory requirements are all excellent goals for a survey program. Part of the second step is also to define what you want to measure or change (but you will determine how that is done in a later step). These two are the hardest steps to take and complete.
3. Identify What Will Be on Your Surveys
Questions pertaining to responsiveness, ease of submitting requests, professionalism of the maintenance staff, and if the job was done the first time are all applicable questions. You can also use surveys to help resolve specific issues by asking about temperature or airflow issues, whether patients or visitors were directly affected, or how often light bulbs burn out. However, be careful with “graded” responses. A common mistake is to give a scale of 1 to 5 for a question like “How satisfied were you with our service?”. Doing this makes determining if a customer was satisfied or not difficult: does a 4 (slightly satisfied) count? What choice(s) equal satisfied? Is anything but a 5 not satisfied? It is recommended that most questions have a yes, no, or not applicable responses. A customer is either satisfied or not, and that is really all that matters. This also makes step 5 easier.
Figure 1: Having too many choices (left) means analysis is based on subjective review. Simple Yes/No choices are clear and objective.
4. Use the Surveys
Once you have the survey(s) developed you must USE THEM! It’s often this fourth step where most programs flounder. Like our IT departments, every encounter with a customer is an opportunity to gauge their satisfaction. If a requester enters five requests in a week, then give them five surveys; each request is a different issue, with different expectations. Tie surveys to the originating record (the service request) so you know exactly what the failed expectation was. Too often, the service department takes a “we don’t want to burden the requester,” approach, and that mindset will end your survey program before it begins. In the prior example, it’s likely only three surveys will get responses, meaning the impact is not as significant as you may think.
5. Develop Analytics
Performing the fifth step is the hardest to get going, but quite easy to maintain. Developing analytics for the results of your surveys requires an understanding of the first two steps combined with the knowledge needed to create the analytic objects. A capable program will include exception- and condition-based analytics, real-time data visualization, email distribution of results, and parameter-based capabilities. All these are needed to achieve the ultimate goal of departmental improvement, and they will seldom change much over time.
Figure 2: Survey Completion Percentage Last 12-months (Rolling)
Figure 3: Satisfaction Percentage Last 12-months (Rolling)
6. Effect Change
The absolute hardest step is the sixth: effecting change. Steps one through five are designed to give leadership the data they need to make changes that result in growth. If, for example, a trend emerges showing that maintenance staff do not effectively communicate with the requester, then change must be made to resolve that. Similarly, if surveys indicate service level expectations are consistently not met, then changes must be made to correct that. If no change takes place, then the program is a failure and the perceptions of your customers will not change.
I’ve said this to many customers over the years: if you’re not going to act on the data, don’t collect it. Doing so wastes precious resources that could be used elsewhere.
If you want to talk about how Accruent’s TMS program (or any of our other world-class programs) can support and execute a survey program for your organization, please reach out to us. We’d love the opportunity to show you what is possible with our healthcare-specific CMMS program. TMS has a native Survey module that allows you to design organizational-specific survey questionnaires, automates the sending, tracking, and receipt of survey invitations, and robust analytic capabilities that provide great insight into those results.
About the author:
Rick Joslin is Senior Advisor, Healthcare Strategy with Accruent with 35+ years in maintenance management. He focuses on supporting customers’ continuous improvement, driving operational efficiency, and ensuring regulatory compliance by assisting customers in developing implemented solutions to unique and changing business needs.