We live in an age of elevated customer demands and expectations. In a world where so much is available instantaneously, or nearly instantaneously, it is a challenge to develop customer service policies and procedures that allow us to engage the customer consistently with excellent results. Any treatment agency operating in today’s socioeconomic climate must address customer engagement or risk reduced close ratios and increased early program terminations. Make no mistake about it, clients and patients are agency customers, even if they are mandated into treatment by law, insurance providers, or family members.
The first rule of customer engagement is to determine the needs of the customer and develop a process in which those customer needs are met by the agency. Each agency will have a unique set of customer needs depending upon the population it serves, the location of the agency, and the services offered by the agency. Because there are so many variables in defining customer needs, many agency leaders will make an educated guess based upon their personal experience and staff input. Perhaps a better way to determine customer needs is to go directly to the source and ask the customer. It is a simple matter to develop a brief review form or survey and ask a potential customer what their needs are when they’re considering enrollment in a treatment agency. Once the data is gathered it must be sifted, sorted, and prioritized in order to drive the customer engagement process. Because an agency cannot be all things to all people, it is important to consider the preferred customer’s needs over all others.
Once a comprehensive list of customer needs is developed and prioritized, the real work starts. Processes must be constructed that will satisfy the customer’s needs and at the same time fulfill the needs of the agency. This sounds simple enough, but in practical application it is quite difficult to align visceral customer needs with the mission of the agency.
The agency’s mission is to find as the way employees will behave on a daily basis in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the agency. Those goals and objectives are derived from the agency’s vision, which is where the agency would like to be positioned 3 to 5 years down the road. For example an agency’s vision may be “To be the best recognized source for quality mental and behavioral health treatment within the state.” This vision statement does not suggest to employees how they should behave within the workplace or with customers in order to achieve that vision. A mission statement is then developed that gives guidance to employees, and rallies employee efforts within a unified and directed approach. For example, a mission statement may read something like this, “Our Agency’s employees will at all times behave with professionalism and candor, while working compassionately with clients and patients to provide clarity of treatment objectives and treatment methodology.”
The agency now has a well-defined customer demographic, a prioritized list of customer needs within that demographic, and a series of guiding behaviors when working with customers and employees. The final component to creating consistent customer engagement is found within leadership. Agency leadership must continually reinforce the boundaries and expectations outlined within the mission statement. Additionally, leadership must give employees the power to make decisions that are in the best interest of both the customer and the agency.
Because any treatment agency cannot appropriately serve any customer that walks through the doors, it is important to have a screening process in place that identifies the preferred customer. The preferred customer will be engaged at the agency because the agency is designed to satisfy their needs. Conversely, a customer that simply does not fit well within the agency will not be engaged because the agency is not necessarily addressing their needs. Leadership must train employees on the importance of screening and appropriately referring people that do not fit within the agency’s treatment model.
Consistency is a primary key to success when developing customer engagement. Employee training and employee leadership are requirements to create consistency within the agency. Leadership must continually remind employees of the behaviors within the mission, and of the policies and procedures in place to create a vital customer experience.
Many agencies have good, solid, and functional policies in place to engage customers at an adequate level to provide services. What sets apart the high-performing agency is the fact that the customer is notified of the agency’s mission and expectations of service, and they are also informed of the complaint procedure so they can be heard if the agency does not live up to its promises. In addition, the agency will have a system in place to measure performance and appropriate customer service, and the results of these quality measures will be shared with employees.
While notifying customers of the agency mission and what their expectations of the agency should be is an excellent practice, full customer engagement also requires that the agency informs the customer of the agency’s expectations of the customer’s behavior and performance. In doing so, there is a foundation of respect and communication that is formed from the beginning of the customer relationship. The customer will feel more invested in the treatment agency because they will feel a sense of importance and security.
There is a lot that goes into the customer engagement equation. Within a treatment agency setting, customer engagement is further complicated because the clients and patients may not be functioning at an acceptable cognitive level. This is a supporting reason why training and leadership is so important within an agency that values customer engagement. It is recommended that an executive or manager the named as the responsible party for customer service systems. The policies and procedures, surveys, and performance results would fall within the scope of this individual’s job description. Additionally, disciplinary action and rewards for both employees and customers would fall within the scope of this individual’s job description
Measurements of performance are not enough to drive performance. There must be consequences for negative performance and there must be rewards for positive performance. This is a complicated matter because consequences and rewards should be individualized for the person receiving the disciplinary action or the reward. This is a supporting argument to name an executive or manager in charge of customer service.
High-performing treatment agencies will also name an executive or manager to be responsible for cheerleading efforts within the agency. When a customer or employee is observed behaving in a way that is in full alignment with the agency mission, the cheerleading executive would make a point to show appreciation toward the individual. Moreover, the cheerleading executive would be sure to share the story of the individual amongst the other customers and employees.
Despite the agency’s and the employee’s best efforts, inevitably some customers will not be happy with the services they are receiving. These unhappy customers are opportunities to discover where the agency may be lacking in its processes and procedures, or where the agency failed to screen out an individual that is not in alignment with the agency’s preferred customer base. Having a complaint system in place will allow the agency leadership to analyze and evaluate where changes may need to take place.
Another tremendous opportunity to identify agency strengths and agency weaknesses can be found in performing exit surveys. Each customer exiting the treatment agency should be surveyed with the intention of finding out if the employees and the agency are living up to their promises.
All of the survey and other quality assurance data must be reviewed on a regular basis. Changes to the customer engagement model should be made in a controlled and measurable fashion so that the policies, training, and communication can be optimized toward customer engagement.
While customer engagement and the relationship between the customer and the agency is of paramount importance within a high-performing treatment agency, obviously, it is not the only thing that matters. More information on managing the various aspects of a high-performing treatment agency can be found at www.locatetreatmentwv.com or at www.serenescenemgazine.com.