November 2009 Issue

Customer Satisfaction — Key to Consulting Success
By Becky Dorner, RD, LD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 11 No. 11 P. 22

It was a Monday afternoon when my cell phone rang as I was stuck in traffic trying to get back to my office. The caller was a nursing home administrator who was a prospective client for my company. She was unhappy with her current dietitian, and her main complaint went something like this: “She sits in her office all day, writes up long reports, and then leaves. She doesn’t communicate with our DON [director of nursing] or other staff. We want someone who will work with us as part of our team.”

It was not the first time I’d heard this complaint. Of course, I told her that our dietitians work as part of the healthcare team. We cannot work alone, and it’s vital that we establish positive working relationships with every team member. That’s not always easy to do when you are in the facility only one day per week (or less), but it is a challenge that we must meet.

If you were a customer at your place of employment, what would be most important to you? If you had a loved one who was a customer at your place of employment, what would be most important to you? What is most important to you as a professional?

Customer satisfaction may be defined as the fulfillment of a need or want, contentment, a source or means of enjoyment, or gratification. To increase our value to the customer, we must satisfy the customer beyond his or her expectations. Why? Increased customer satisfaction drives the demand for our services, which increases recognition by our peers and supervisors, which drives salary increases, and which potentially means more work, better pay, and enhanced job satisfaction. In other words, happy customers increase our perceived value, income, and job security.

Customers today have higher expectations than ever before. Simply keeping up with the day to day is not enough. Customers want us to identify potential problems, bring viable solutions, and implement strategies that work. They want us to keep them informed by providing them with new and important information. They want us to ask what their needs are and what’s important to them and then fulfill those needs. Customers want more than someone who maintains things; they expect immediate solutions to their problems and concerns.

So how do we keep our customers satisfied? Follow these five steps.

Step 1: Identify your customers.
Clearly define who your customers are. In long-term care, our customers include not only the residents but also the families, staff, supervisors, community, and government (surveyors and ombudsmen). The answer to the question “Who are my customers?” should be “Anyone who isn’t me.”

Step 2: Understand your customers’ needs.
The customer’s ultimate question is always “What’s in it for me?” To answer this question, you must view your service or product through the customer’s eyes. Ask your customers why they continue to use your product or service. Do you save them time? Money? Hassle? Do you improve their health? Reduce their need for more expensive procedures? Do you improve their quality of life? What is it that you do that is of benefit to your customers and how?

Step 3: Actively assess customer satisfaction by obtaining customer feedback.
Know where you stand currently and what you need to do to improve. Always stay a step ahead of the competition and what customers want and value by continuously asking for feedback and improving on services through either formal or informal satisfaction surveys. You can use verbal questions, written questionnaires, face-to-face or phone interviews, etc. Determine what your customers value and then ask the right questions to elicit the right feedback.

Plan your survey well and be sure to use a standard format (eg, yes/no questions or a scale of 1 to 5). Gather your information so you can move to the next step. The “Client Satisfaction Survey” sidebar provides examples of questions that may be used to determine customer satisfaction related to dietetic services.

Step 4: Evaluate and utilize feedback to monitor and maximize customer satisfaction.
Listen to your customers and then apply what they tell you and make improvements. Involve your whole team in the improvement process. Call a meeting with key staff from dietary, nursing, and ancillary departments. Include some key residents, families, and your administrator and discuss the results of your customer satisfaction surveys. Set some goals on what you want to do to improve. Make a plan of action and assign responsibilities. Everyone should be focused on one thing: pleasing the customer. It takes a plan and effort to provide staff training, motivation, supervision and monitoring, and rewards based on customer satisfaction results.

Step 5. Perform ongoing monitoring of customer satisfaction.
Gather information regularly. Identify key customers and speak with them on a regular basis. Ask basic questions and obtain feedback on how you are doing. Make adjustments to your services as needed to keep customers satisfied. Constant quality improvement is the goal.

Summary
Know what your customers want and provide it well. Devote yourself to constant improvement. Be visible with your customers. Keep reminding them of the value you offer by answering the “What’s in it for me?” question for them. Knowing and serving your customers well will guarantee your success.

— Becky Dorner, RD, LD, is a speaker and an author who provides publications, presentations, and consulting services to enhance the quality of care for the nation’s older adults. Visit www.beckydorner.com for free articles, newsletters, and information.

This article was excerpted from the presentation “Creating Demands for Our Services: Customer Satisfaction Is Key,” © 2009 Becky Dorner & Associates, Inc.

customer satisfaction

ADVERTORIAL