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How to get started with service recovery in healthcare

Across industries, customer service is a nonnegotiable for driving satisfaction and brand loyalty. Consumers’ expectations for 5-star treatment and a seamless, frictionless experience have never been greater. This trend has made its way into the healthcare space: Patients demand excellent customer service at every step of their journey to care.

But healthcare has higher stakes than traditional consumer industries. And customer service in healthcare is more important than ever to the overall patient experience. Customer service also impacts how patients connect with their doctors, how highly they rate the organization, and how likely they are to return for future care. Healthcare experiences are emotional. People feel uniquely vulnerable when they’re in a hospital, doctor’s office, or clinic. What may seem like a minor frustration to some feels like a major setback to others and erodes patients’ trust in your organization as well as its ability to provide safe, high-quality care. After all, if you can’t get the small things right, how can they feel comfortable putting their health—or a loved one’s health—in your hands?  

But even when you miss the mark, service recovery is possible and can set things right. New digital tools help organizations course-correct in real time or near-real time, transforming less-than-positive experiences into powerful opportunities to win patients back and drive patient loyalty. 

What is service recovery in healthcare?

In the business world, service recovery is the process of turning a dissatisfied customer into a happy, loyal customer. Service recovery in healthcare isn’t necessarily about happiness; it's about rectifying what isn’t working and gaining the confidence of patients. It’s making things right when a patient feels their needs haven’t been met. But identifying and fixing service gaps takes a rock-solid service recovery plan that helps you understand unhappy patients and their pain points. Only then can you turn negative sentiment around.  

Why is service recovery critical to patient loyalty?

The digital age makes real- or near-real-time service recovery a reality. Listening to patients across the continuum of care lets you implement service recovery as soon as you identify an issue. 

Digital technologies—like Press Ganey’s iRound—have revolutionized traditional rounding practices. Given the complexities in care processes and touchpoints today, digital tools are critical for engaging patients and streamlining operations to lift extra burden on staff. Inputting responses captured during rounds provides a transparent, 360° view of what’s happening at the bedside and the status of a patient’s care plan. Instant alerts on service recovery issues, real-time reporting capabilities, and a closed-loop ticketing system help caregivers quickly spot any PX or safety concerns during rounds, then resolve them at the speed of now.   

But issues can also surface outside the episode of care. Today, patients share feedback via reviews on Google, Healthgrades, Facebook, WebMD, and many other platforms. Keeping a finger on the pulse of what patients are saying web-wide lets you identify unhappy customers, and responding to negative reviews gives patients what they’re looking for: a chance to be heard. You’ll often then see patient sentiment do a 180: The problem is solved, the patient is satisfied, and, most importantly, the patient feels their concerns were listened to and their needs were addressed.  

Beyond service recovery, responding to online reviews shows prospective patients that patient feedback matters—it doesn’t disappear into a vacuum.  

What are some service recovery examples in healthcare? 

Service recovery can be applied to multiple scenarios—some more serious than others. 

Some specific examples of when you might need service recovery include:  

  • The doctor is running late 
  • A patient’s appointment is moved 
  • Gaps in customer service at the front office or bedside 
  • Test results aren’t prompt or accurate  
  • Room cleanliness doesn’t meet a patient’s standards  
  • Belongings are misplaced or stolen 
  • Food isn’t up to par (cold, tastes bad, arrives late, etc.) 
  • Any experiences that unintentionally embarrass, anger, or disappoint a patient or a member of their family 

Having a game plan for rapidly responding to and resolving issues with service recovery is essential for improving patient satisfaction, developing trust, protecting your brand reputation online, and earning long-term patient loyalty.  

How to implement service recovery strategies in healthcare

When preventative steps aren’t enough, some tried-and-true tactics and strategic best practices can give your organization the edge. 

  1. Acknowledge patients’ concerns. The first step is to listen to patients and find out exactly what went wrong. Then, respond with empathy and make patients feel heard. Using an AI-powered solution like Press Ganey’s NarrativeDx allows you to dive deeper into patient feedback to get a clearer picture of how patients feel at different moments and surface wider PX trends. 
  2. Learn from mistakes to prevent them in the future. An organized incident documentation system will ensure the past doesn’t repeat itself. Encouraging staff to share both service recovery successes and failures in a nonpunitive environment will help everyone improve service recovery efforts—at the individual level and organizational level. 
  3. Lean on the whole team. Service recovery isn’t just for front-of-house workers. Bring in the entire team to discuss how to effectively address service incidents. Share data and insights in a digestible way to prioritize needs. 
  4. Embed accountability into your organization’s DNA. The best way to reinforce accountability and transparency within your teams is to make it part of your organization’s culture. Encourage honest feedback from employees and provide them with spaces to report mistakes. The ripple effect of embedding accountability into healthcare impacts every area, from patient intake to the bedside.

When patients feel their concerns are managed during care, they’re more apt to provide positive feedback to staff. Patients are able to hold both a feeling of dissatisfaction about their experience and gratitude toward caregivers at the same time. The more they feel they can voice their concerns—and that they’re being heard—the more likely service recovery will be remembered and valued when patients provide feedback about their experience. 

Developing a solid service recovery strategy is neither about avoiding missteps nor simply responding to mistakes—though those are important too. Service recovery also means continuously improving the experience of care by learning from the past and evolving everyday behaviors to meet patients’ needs and exceed their expectations.

Mobilizing your entire team with service recovery strategies and leveraging cutting-edge patient feedback solutions can take your organization from reactive to proactive—and help you drive substantial PX improvements as a result. When it comes right down to it, you can’t please everyone, and having to deal with an unhappy patient or member of their family is an inevitable part of working in healthcare. But how swiftly and completely you can recover from service missteps will dictate how effectively you change a negative experience into a positive one. Speak with a Press Ganey patient experience expert to learn more about improving your service recovery strategy.

About the author

Joan oversees the Experience solutions team in Strategic Consulting, partnering with clients for more than 15 years in consumer experience for the health and wellness space. Joan is known for driving innovation and engagement across large, multi-faceted organizations, and bringing valuable consumer experience ideas to fruition through the alignment of ideas, people, and processes. Joan’s passion is to transform the healthcare experience for both staff and patients. Prior to joining Press Ganey, Joan was chief experience officer at Yale New Haven Health System.

Profile Photo of Joan Kelly, EdD, M.S.Ed, MBA