Washing our hands of bad customer service

A recent story on NPR talked about the challenge hospitals face getting employees to wash their hands as often as they should. The article says:

“…studies show that only about 40 percent of health care workers in the United States wash their hands as often as they should.”

Yet, washing hands reduces the potential for infection, something that causes 100,000 deaths every year in the US health care system.

Washing your hands is one of those things that is so basic it should be automatic (for all of us). And for health care workers,the risks and rewards make it even more critical.

And it remains a challenge.

If it’s hard to get people to do simple things that can prevent illness and death, how can we possibly get employees to do other things that have a less tangible benefit? How can we hope to have employees remembering to smile, be polite, greet people, remember loyal customers, use their names, focus on solutions and all the other important and fundamental behaviors that help create better customer service?

People don’t die because an employee forgets to smile. But these things matter. They matter because they create a better experience for our customers.

So how does an organization successfully encourage employees to do basic things that make a difference?

Here are a few ideas (in no particular order):

1. Don’t make it hurt.

A big reason many health care workers don’t like washing their hands as often as is recommended is because it hurts. All that hand-washing removes the natural oils from their hands and makes them dry and cracked. They can be incredibly painful.

Whatever you expect your employees to do to provide top customer service for your customers, make sure it does not cause them pain or discomfort. Especially if the pain and discomfort extends beyond the work day. Develop systems and procedures that enable employees to do the right thing without adverse consequences.

2. Communicate and celebrate compliance.

In the NPR article mentioned above they discuss a hospital that installs a monitoring system for hand washing compliance. The developer of the system said it enables the hospital management to let employees know when they are not washing their hands as often as they should.

To be more effective they should do the opposite. Recognize and reward people for meeting the standards. Rather than making compliance a negative issue, turn it into a positive. People will only respond to negative stimuli if they are at risk of losing something important to them. Positively affirming their desired behavior might result in higher compliance levels.

3. Make the employees part of the solution

The employees are the people whose behavior you are trying to change. Whether it’s customer service or hand washing, we are talking about helping people develop new habits. So ask the employees what might help them establish new habits. This gives you the opportunity to surface new ideas. It can also increase employee support and buy-in.

4. Show them the money

We’re not talking about cash money. We’re talking about consequences. Help employees understand (in a very tangible and simple way) what the positive and negative outcomes are. If they don’t wash their hands, patients are at risk of getting more sick and even dying. If they do wash their hands, they have healthier patients who recover faster.

If employees treat customers poorly, customers leave and the company gets hurt. People lose jobs. If they take care of customers well they come back and buy more. The company is financially more healthy. Jobs become more secure. Paychecks can grow bigger.

Draw a line that connects behaviors with outcomes. Paint a picture and make it clear and obvious to your employees. Keep this message in front of them every day. It needs to become a natural part of their awareness like turning the lights on in the morning and off in the evening.

5. Provide frequent, visible reminders.

Behavioral economics has shown us that a frequent, visible reminder of a standard makes it more likely that standard will be met. Talking about it at a monthly meeting is not enough. Frequency and repetition help keep it on employee’s radar. Awareness promotes compliance by helping build a habit.

These are just a few of my ideas. I’d like to hear what YOU think. what can employees and managers do to ensure certain basic actions are taken often enough so customers get the service and experience they deserve?

(You can share you ideas below.)

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz