Improving Customer Service In HealthcareThrough Better Cultural Sensitivity

March 5, 2013 at 2:05 pm 3 comments

People who receive healthcare services are customers. Because today’s patients are consumers and have a choice about where to go for care, there is increasing competition for their business. It’s important to not only maintain current customers, but attract new ones. That’s where good customer service comes in.  But part of the effort comes from identifying who, exactly, the customers are, as well as how best to service their needs.

The customers in a healthcare facility’s community are increasingly diverse. Meeting expectations is tricky in the best of times, but add in cultural differences and providing good customer service can be even more challenging. People in different cultures have different expectations as to what great customer service is. And meeting this challenge can make the difference between keeping customers or losing them.

ethnic womanCultural competency in the care of patients is required by The Joint Commission and other accrediting agencies. In addition, the introduction in 2008 of HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey scores have stressed the need for improved customer service. HCAHPS surveys collect and publicly report patients/customers perspectives on their care experience with providers and office staff. CMS implements financial incentives for hospitals that participate in the survey, and as of October 2012 use HCAHPS as a key component to calculate value-based incentive payments.

What does this mean to the average hospital? While improved clinical outcomes will determine 70% of incentive payments, patient satisfaction scores will determine the remaining 30% of incentive payments. This means hospitals with low HCAHPS scores could be financially penalized. Obviously, it is in the hospital’s best interest to make patients happy through a great care experience, while at the same time improving health outcomes during the hospital stay and after discharge. Isn’t this the epitomy of patient-centered care?

What Matters Most to Healthcare Customers (In No Particular Order):

  • Empathy
  • Courtesy and respect
  • Good customer service
  • Responsiveness of hospital staff /Management control
  • Information / To be empowered
  • Explanations in easy to understand terms from Doctors and Nurses
  • Pain relief
  • Clean rooms and bathrooms
  • Information when they leave

These are, in fact, the basic elements that HCAHPS are tracking. Some items listed such as clean rooms and a quiet atmosphere can be improved by administrative policies and protocols. But the rest require ongoing personal effort by everyone at the facility incorporating good customer service.

In order to  really meet and exceed the expectations of customers from diverse communities, it is important to learn and practice the basic principles of customer service:

  1. Be respectful, courteous and polite
  2. Make the customer feel welcome
  3. Give your undivided attention and time when interacting with customers
  4. Learn about the cultures in the communities you serve
  5. Develop excellent communication skills with patients and families to bridge language and cultural barriers
  6. Keep your cool and practice stress management
  7. Appreciate the value of the customer’s time
  8. Develop excellent communication skills with co-workers
  9. Be dependable/ credible
  10. Make the extra effort

These are the basic elements of attracting and keeping patients as customers through better cultural understanding, and improving HCAHPS scores at the same time. These 10 principles will let patients know you care, that they are not just another number, and that their business is invaluable. Customers have a choice about where to go, and when you practice good customer service, their choice will be with you.

How can YOUR facility do more to retain and create new patients, and do so using cultural sensitivity?

A general orientation training program for healthcare staff regarding improving customer service skills  is now available at Envision, IncWe are currently researching to create a new program on Cultural Sensitivity in Healthcare and are always open to suggestions for training needs. Please email me at

Entry filed under: cultural diversity, cultural sensitivity, customer service, health care, patient-centered care, staff education. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sky Angebote  |  August 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It
    is the little changes which will make the most
    important changes. Thanks for sharing!

  • 2. Orange County Chiropractor  |  April 14, 2014 at 4:16 am

    You shared very helpful advice thanks for sharing.

  • 3. Wyatt Hunter  |  July 3, 2014 at 6:28 am


    Thanks for sharing superb article about Improving Customer Service In HealthcareThrough Better Cultural Sensitivity. This is very useful information for online review readers. Keep it up such a nice posting like this.

    Wyatt Hunter,
    Billing Gurus.


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