In a recent issue of a business journal, there was an interview with Colleen Barrett, the former President and Corporate Secretary of Southwest Airlines. It is an excellent article, and I wanted to share three statements made by her that are applicable to any business of any size.
1. “We’re in the customer-service business; we happen to offer air transportation.”
I love this statement and feel that embracing its true meaning will set your business apart from other businesses. For any business, including your healthcare practices, you know how this can make a huge difference in your practice and the word of mouth referrals you receive.
For example, in your practice, you always ask people how they found you. More and more, you’re hearing Jane Doe told you to come here because you really listen to people and John Smith told you if I came here I wouldn’t have to wait for hours in the waiting room.
More often than not, the biggest complaint (unsolicited of course) you hear from patients about other practices is that they are herded through, they do not feel listened to and they have to wait for a long time to see someone for five minutes if they are lucky. (Hint, when patients complain about another business or practice, what can you do that is different and better?)
2. “You consider your employees to be your number one customer, your passengers your second and your shareholders your third. If you give great customer service to your employees as leaders, they will in turn provide it to their customers, who are the passengers. And the reward will be there for your shareholders.”
If you have staff, you know they can make or break your practice. It is important to empower your staff to ”own” their job if you will. While Southwest gives employees a percentage in the company (employees own 13-14% of company stock and share in profits), there are other ways to encourage staff ”ownership” of their jobs.
Other things you can do is to listen to staff members and implement ideas they have that would work. For example, the person at your front desk is going to know more about the flow up there than you will. She/he will know where the breakdowns are, and how to best meet patient/client needs. The same thing with your back office person. While you are in the room seeing the patients, she/he is juggling what is happening in the back office, and may have some excellent idea how things might work a bit smoother.
At the very least, just like you listen to your patients; pay special attention and listen to your staff.
3. “We’re very, very disciplined about hiring and we’re very, very disciplined about mentoring and coaching. We’re a very forgiving company in terms of good honest mistakes, but we’re not at all forgiving about attitude and behavior and demeanor.”
This is so important, and so difficult. Hiring the right person is an art as much as it is a skill. It is important that you follow some best practices and bring on the person who you feel is best, and then work with them to become the best they can be. On the other hand, if you find they have an attitude or exhibit behavior that is not consistent with your office culture; then it is best they move on.
Southwest Airlines is known for being a very different kind of airline to fly with and to work for. These three key ideas shared by Ms. Barrett give us a glimpse into why. How can you take this information and use it in your business?