The Why and How of Connecting with Clients

2012 by Frances

My daughter and her husband recently celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary. To celebrate their first three anniversaries, they had dinner at an upscale steak house in Atlanta. There, the staff always takes the time to become familiar with the evening’s reservation list and not only greets them by name but also adds a nice “welcome back” or a “happy anniversary” to boot. It’s clear that this restaurant’s practice of treating people with warmth and dignity is a consistent one. Several months ago, my daughter made a reservation there to celebrate the birthday of a relative. To no one’s surprise, the staff welcomed him with a warm “Happy Birthday Mr. Hall” upon his arrival.

For their fourth anniversary, they decided to try another restaurant. This experience made them appreciate their old standby that much more. The quality and cost of their meal were about the same, but the warmth and the service they received most definitely was NOT. Though the restaurant knew the dinner was a special occasion for them, no one greeted them by name or recognized their anniversary. The kitchen might have prepared the Kobe beef to exquisite perfection, but the absence of either friendly hellos or acknowledgement of their special occasion made it impossible for this dining experience to live up to their first three anniversary celebrations.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with leadership coaching, especially leadership coaching in health care? The answer is A LOT!

The importance of building positive relationships with our clients and customers cannot be overemphasized. This is especially so in health care, where patient satisfaction surveys play such an important role in the financial well being of health care institutions. Today it is essential that nurses and other health care professionals make sure their clients do not leave their facilities feeling they had been “treated just like just a number.”

As nurses we know that the best way to prevent lawsuits (next to providing care according to approved standards and following policy and procedure) is to have a good relationship with our clients. When clients feel connected to their providers, they are more likely to forgive the occasional mishap. Mistakes and mix-ups occur in every job setting – a nurse might administer the incorrect medication to a client or a restaurant’s staff might serve the wrong dessert to a customer. In any case, if you are connected with your clients and customers, an atmosphere of loyalty and forgiveness likely will temper the consequences of a mistake to the caregiver or service provider.

So, how can you connect with your clients? There are some very simple and valuable ways to enhance your client relationships:

1. Call your client by name. In health care, we know that the first of the “five rights” is to identify the “right client.” Of course we do this with armband ID’s. But if we call the client by name, we not only further reduce the chances of a potentially catastrophic mistake, we also add dignity to the client’s care and help build that all-important personal connection.

2. Make direct eye contact. Looking the client in the eye helps you assess your client more thoroughly, of course. But it also enhances your personal presence with the client. It is this latter outcome that is so essential in building the personal connection you want to create with your client.

3. Acknowledge return visits. Let the client know you are aware that his or her current visit to your facility is a return visit, if this is the case. Sometimes we get so busy with our delivery of care that we forget that the client has a choice to go to a different hospital or health care provider. Let your client know you appreciate his or her loyalty to your facility.

4. Mirror client requests. As you listen to your client’s requests, ask for clarification or repeat back to the client what you heard to be sure you clearly understand what the client wants – just like an excellent server in a restaurant will often very subtly repeat back to you your food order. Remember the days of nursing school when you learned to repeat back telephone orders to be sure you correctly understood them? Attentive, active listening makes the client feel heard and is essential in establishing a personal connection.

5. Respond to complaints with action and gratitude. If a client brings a problem to your attention, let the client know what you are doing to rectify the problem, and follow up with the client after the corrective action has been taken, asking him or her whether there is anything else you can do for the client. And thank the client for alerting you to the situation! Making the client feel listened to and treating the client with dignity will go a long way toward making him or her feel connected with you and with your institution.

If we will begin each day with the thought (and renew the thought periodically throughout the day) that our clients deserve to be treated with dignity and worth, we will greatly enhance our clients’ experiences in our facilities. Moreover, we will enrich our own experiences as we take advantage of each day’s opportunity to make someone’s life a little bit better. It’s that simple.

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