What I Learned In The Hospital

Yesterday I was at our local hospital attending some presentations on different aspects of the hospital’s operations. One of the people spoke about the processes the hospital follows to ensure good customer service. Because there are so many steps and people involved in scheduling a patient’s test, handling their arrival at the front desk, directing them to the proper part of the hospital and then administering the test, there are many opportunities for patients to be upset or frustrated.

The hospital has a whole process set up for each face to face interaction which include a greeting, mention of employee’s name, confirmation of details of visit, pointing out the restrooms and a number of other things I don’t recall. They have an acronym 7-8 characters long that they use to remember all the steps.

The woman who is in charge monitoring customer service followed patients through the process for about a week and conducted some phone surveys as well.

It was interesting to learn that a frequent complaint across the different areas was that people were laughing. One person was upset by people laughing in a backroom and talking about breakfast as she was checking in. Another didn’t like the fact people were laughing in the halls. This is understandable as people going into the hospital would be anxious about any sign that staff wasn’t serious and focused on their jobs.

Arts organizations can probably get away with a lot more cheerfulness in front of clients in the course of their duties, but like any business, would also need to reflect an attentive and efficient demeanor.

One practice the customer service director noticed impacted each patient’s visible level of comfort was when staff did what she termed “managing up” as they passed a patient on to another person. The way she used the term seemed to deviate from the standard definition. It might be more accurate to say they were managing patient expectations.

Essentially, as a patient was handed over to someone else, the escort would introduce the new person and say something complimentary – “she is really friendly,” “he is the best radiologist in the state,” “her nursing team is very attentive.” The hospital encouraged the staff to do this in order to assuage the concerns of patients who were probably anxious about just being in the building even if they felt fine.

I mention all this because one thing she noticed was that the doctors were horrendous employing any of the gestures which are pretty much mandated for the rest of the staff, including simply introducing themselves by name. Obviously, some were extremely personable, but on the whole the general staff was better at remembering to “manage up” than the doctors were when they handed a patient on to technicians or nursing staff.

I started wondering if the same might be true of an arts organization. I would wager that the lower echelons of staff in arts organizations are better at saying complimentary things about their supervisors than executive administration are when they pass clients/customers back to staff for assistance.

There is a lot of focus on the importance of the box office and house staff as a first line of contact for customers and training them to comport themselves well. But rarely do we talk about the importance of other parts of the organization bolstering the image of these areas.

Advertising will talk about how great the performers are, but does anyone else in the organization publicly comment on the quality of the front of house staff? A lot of service oriented companies like airlines and hotels will have advertising which feature friendly, energetic faces eager to make your experience comfortable. But rarely do you see an arts organization emphasize their service as a selling point.

I wonder how much greater the satisfaction of audiences will be if you were to comment, “This is Michael our box office manager, he is a crackerjack at troubleshooting these complicated problems.” or “This is my favorite usher, Mabel, she’ll make sure you find the rest of your party.” (It probably wouldn’t hurt employee and volunteer relations either)

One last thing I learned during my visit to the hospital: A hospital may be really generous making a donation to your organization, but you are only doing half your job if you are just talking to the people who can write you a check. You can enter into a mutually beneficial relationship if you cultivate a relationship with the physician recruitment staff.

Doctors may be primarily concerned with the state of the hospital facilities, but their families are going to be the ones living in your community. They don’t care about how many stents the cardiac unit implanted last year and the mortality rate, but they do care about what activities are available in the community.

The families have a strong influence on whether the doctors stay in the community so the hospital has a vested interest in making sure the families are happy. Our local hospital actually sponsors date nights where they will babysit the kids while the parents go off and do whatever they want until 11 pm. The more amenities the physician recruitment staff knows about, the better for everyone.

While we were on break, one of the hospital staff commented she just learned that the local museum had summer arts classes. Another commented she never knew that and the first observed that a lot of times different organizations have their summer arts camps the same week and she wished they would spread them out.

It just so happened someone called me that afternoon to say they were thinking of starting up a summer arts camp and I saw the directors of the museum at lunch today. I advised both to make sure the recruitment staff knew about their summer plans and try to arrangement them so they didn’t overlap the same weeks.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “What I Learned In The Hospital”

  1. Hi, very interesting thoughts. With respect to the summer arts camps–I generally didn’t send my children to art, music, math or science camps. Why? My husband and I both work. We have plenty of income. What we don’t have is the flexibility to leave the kids off at 9 AM and pick them up at 11 AM, or 1 PM, or even 3 PM. (and spend the rest of the day off of work, and do it for one or two or three weeks of the summer). So the kids were in boring all day summer care with no arts or music or science to spice it up. Because those programs are only for stay at home Moms, not working Moms. Is this the message the organizations wanted to send me? I doubt it. But there were just no options for people who had to be at work by 8 and couldn’t leave before 5. Not one. None of the programs offered “extended care” or whatever at a higher cost.


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