Clinical Customer Service Coordinators Daniel Gorham and Rebecca Trexler
In the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Hopkins Children’s, a family waited anxiously as day turned to night. They worried that their child’s surgery, scheduled for that morning, would be canceled or the surgeons would leave for home. PICU Clinical Customer Service Coordinator Rebecca Trexler consulted with the unit’s charge nurse and then reassured the parents that the surgery would still take place. She added that it is common for operating rooms to get backed up and that someone would be in to talk with them.
“We wanted above all to address the family’s concerns, to let them know we heard them and cared about them,” says Trexler.
Trexler is a member of a new Service Excellence program in the Department of Nursing Administration at Johns Hopkins, designed to help ensure that patients and families experience 5-star customer service. Launched last summer, the Clinical Customer Service Coordinator (CCSC) program is a component of Hopkins’ patient- and family-centered approach to care. With CCSC colleagues already in adult units, Trexler and Daniel Gorham in the pediatric emergency department (ED) were the first to join Hopkins Children’s, beginning their service in November 2010. Additional customer service coordinators are being hired and trained to join remaining pediatric inpatient units, including the neonatal intensive care unit, by the summer.
“We provide the best medical care in the world at Johns Hopkins, so now we’re going to provide the best customer experience, too,” says Carren Heinser, Service Excellence training and recruitment coordinator in Nursing Administration, who screens prospective customer service representatives. “Patients and families are our guests and should be treated that way, from the moment of admission. So we look for highly-motivated people who have a proven track record of going above and beyond to help others.”
In their trademark navy-blue jackets and tan attire, customer service coordinators like Trexler could easily have stepped off a cruise ship or a Walt Disney lot. “Like Disney, we are on stage all day and all week here at Johns Hopkins,” says Heinser. “We have a vested interest in making sure that all the staff whom patients and families have contact with, including those at front desks or in clerical posts throughout the hospital, are their own ‘directors of first impressions’.”
Trexler begins each weekday visiting her PICU families to see how their night was or if there’s anything she can do for them, like bringing a bleary-eyed parent a cup of coffee, or helping a family whose child was admitted to the PICU overnight understand how their day might unfold. As the day progresses, she might sit with siblings in the surgical waiting room while their mother is with their brother in pre-op, or sit with a patient’s frightened father, while he awaits the arrival of his wife “I enjoy meeting families and talking with them,” says Trexler. “It gives parents someone else to talk with, and someone else to whom they can express concerns.”
“Rebecca rounds with the medical team so she really gets to know our patients and what families are dealing with,” says PICU Nurse Manager Claire Beers. “She helps families with all the non-clinical issues that arise, which frees nurses and helps them stay at the bedside. I love the role.”
In the ED during the 11 a.m.-7 p.m. shift, the ED’s busiest, Gorham helps one family find parking and others connect with their insurance company. His attitude is “We can fix it that.” A former customer service representative in the health insurance industry, “I know all the ins and outs of getting benefits information for my ED customers who need it,” he says. “If one of our docs wants a child to have follow-up care in the community, for example, I can help the family find a doc who will accept their insurance.”
In his crisp attire, Gorham is a standout in the ED waiting room, and he eagerly makes himself known to families. When a mother complained to him that an intake coordinator had asked her for private medical information while another patron stood nearby, Daniel passed the information on to the intake coordinator’s supervisor, who implemented a new procedure to keep such conversations out of public earshot. “Our goal in the ED is to solve problems, not simply catch them,” Gorham says.
“In my time at Hopkins, I’ve learned that patience is paramount in a place like the ED, where families are under tremendous stress,” he says. “I simply forget about myself and focus on my families. I listen and try to identify the problem, then I set out to do whatever I can to help and comfort.”
The developing emphasis on guest services will be carried over into the new clinical buildings at Johns Hopkins - the Sheikh Zayed Tower for adults and the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center - when they open to patients in the spring of 2012. The changeover, however, has already begun.
“It’s not the new building and all its nice amenities that are going to bring about a change in patients’ experience,” Heinser says, “It’s a change in staff’s behavior coupled with appropriate training and having the right people in the right positions.”
The early feedback is positive. “We’re receiving letters of appreciation from grateful patients and families,” she adds. “This is just the beginning of a cultural change that patients and families are going to notice.”
Shelley Tiemann has. Her son Sam had a liver transplant at Hopkins Children’s in January of 2010, and returned last December for a second one. In a letter of appreciation, Tiemann wrote: “I have to say the very best addition to Hopkins was a customer service coordinator, Rebecca Trexler, whom we met when Sam was there recently. She was absolutely amazing. It seemed like she was there to help me pick up the pieces when I felt like everything was falling apart. She went above and beyond.”