Exceeding client service expectations through collaboration

by: Jim Donovan, COO

Exceeding client service expectations through collaborationAt Corizon Health, 2017 is the year of exceeding expectations – an ambitious goal.

American Express’s annual Global Customer Service Barometer survey consistently finds that only 62 percent of customers believe companies meet their expectations and only 5 percent of companies exceed the expectations of their customers. In other words, 33 percent of companies fail to meet, much less exceed, client service expectations.

To be clear, this is a survey of U.S. consumers and not correctional administrators. Imagine how impactful exceeding expectations would be for those whose morale and expectations may have been hammered by bureaucracy, limited budgets and lack of recognition.

Ironically, the 2014 version of the survey found the top-ranking (29 percent) characteristic of companies who exceed expectations is “delivering promised value at the right price.” I find it incredible that a large percentage of our clients may perceive us as having exceeded expectations just by delivering the healthcare program we promised in our proposals and contracts.

But as Karey has made clear, meeting the terms of our contracts is not our definition of exceeding expectations; our goal is to add value over and above what we have promised in our contracts.

Consistent with the foregoing, client satisfaction research  reveals two fundamentals to exceeding expectations are anticipation (anticipating a client’s needs, ideally before the customer actually is aware of the need), and response (appropriately responding when problems arise). Neither is possible without strong collaboration within our client teams and across departments.

We all know that interdisciplinary collaboration in patient care leads to better outcomes, and organizational collaboration enhances innovation and efficiency. That same approach to collaboration when it comes to client relations is similarly valuable. Creating a collaborative environment, however, is easier said than done.

In his book Collaboration, Morten T. Hansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of the Center for Corporate Transformation, identified the following barriers to collaboration. Let’s think about how they apply in our organization, and how we might overcome them to exceed expectations.

Not-Invented-Here Barrier: Not Willing to Reach Out to Others. This barrier occurs when communication stays within a group/silo and people are not willing to reach out to others maybe because they fear they will be perceived as weak. To be collaborative, we must be willing to say, “I don’t know,” to be open-minded to new approaches, and to admit when we need assistance.

Hoarding Barrier: Not Willing to Provide Help. There may be several reasons people hold back information or don’t cooperate, including pride, competition between departments or locations, fear of losing power or influence, or the perception that collaboration requires too much time or effort. Collaboration occurs by recognizing a shared goal, trusting co-workers, and acknowledging contributions.

Search Barrier: Not Able to Find What You Are Looking For. In an organization as geographically diverse as Corizon, collaboration often occurs virtually or through the telephone. It is essential we’re all comfortable in a remote and virtual working world. This is not always easy inside a secure facility where much of our work involves confidential health information. Our leadership team is actively engaged in finding ways to share information and engage with our site team members who may not have access to email. If we trust our colleagues, this barrier should disappear.

The flip side of the search-barrier coin is that too much information may also hurt collaboration. For example, I recognize our MyCorizon website has become packed with information, yielding pages of hits on keyword searches.

Transfer Barrier: Not Able to Work with People You Don’t Know Well. In my view, this is one of the greatest challenges we must overcome to exceed expectations and it’s on each of us to address. We can only exceed our clients’ expectations by working together and that requires trust, respect and a shared mission of excellence. If we ignore the contribution of co-workers because they are in a different location, a different job classification, have a different educational background, or are of a different gender, race, ethnicity, or religious background – or any of the vast number of other ways we find to divide ourselves – we have missed the opportunity to gain different insights into the challenges we face.

Transfer barriers also occur when we identify more with the facility at which we work and don’t view ourselves as part of Corizon. Regardless of where we are in our careers, each of us has a responsibility to ourselves, our patients, our clients, and our company to do our best work.

Through collaborating, we can leverage the collective genius of our team’s observations, not just our own. This might be in the form of a best practice, a new technology to address duplicative time-consuming processes, or a way to share resources and do more for less.

Collaboration also allows us to respond appropriately when issues arise. Research has found that customer satisfaction is not based on the speed of the response as much as it is on the appropriateness of the response. For example, I am much less satisfied with the customer service line that promptly picks up my call but leads me through a series of menu items, hold times, and call transfers to eventually reach a person qualified to help me. I am more satisfied waiting for a callback if I know the person who will call me back will be fully capable of resolving my issue.

While our client issues are typically much more complex than those handled through toll-free customer service lines, the basic premise is the same: Our clients want the person – or team of people – with the knowledge and ability to fully address their issue rapidly engaged and working as quickly as possible on a solution. Without collaboration, we too often try to address an issue within the silo of a department or a location, resulting in unnecessary delays in achieving a satisfactory outcome. With collaboration, we apply our strongest skills, solve problems appropriately, and impress our clients.