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Embrace the social side of customer service

November 13th, 2012

by Nancy Cawley Jean

There are some companies who just do it right when it comes to social media. One of those companies is Zappos, and it certainly hasn't gone unnoticed. So many stories and blog posts have been written about its social media efforts, from sticking to its core values to handling a crisis in the public eye.

So what can a hospital learn from Zappos' masterful use of social media as a branding tool? The biggest lesson is to stay true to our brand.

If you're a hospital, your business is healthcare. Your social media efforts should focus on that. That doesn't mean you can't have a personality, though. Be kind, be personable and leave the corporate speak for the C-suite.

For almost all of us, our mission statement has something to do with improving health. I'm going to bet that excellent patient care is part of your mission as well. What better way to improve customer service than personal connections through social media?

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Using SOCIAL as a guide, here are some ways to use social networks for customer service purposes. The examples below are actual occurrences I have encountered in my role.

- Search for mentions of your hospital and respond. If someone tweets, "I waited for five hours in the emergency department and was never seen," it's important to respond appropriately.

Let them know you've heard their concerns and offer an explanation as to why that might be the case. "I'm sorry to hear that. As the only Level I trauma center in the region we sometimes have a long wait, and we're sorry about that."

Suggest they contact a patient liaison with their concern and provide the phone number. Owning up to the problem can go a long way in helping change an individual's opinion of your hospital.

- Offer assistance. When someone tweets, "I'm late for my appointment because I can't find a parking place," tweet back and offer to call the office for them to explain why they're late and send them a link to a map of the campus to help them with parking.

If someone says "I'm lost in the hospital," tweet back quickly with a "Can I help you find something?" The appreciation you receive will go far in building brand loyalty.

- Communicate regularly with your patient liaison. Be sure you have a system in place to relay complaints so they can be addressed in a timely manner. What happens on a weekend when you receive a complaint--is there someone available who can address it?

Social is 24/7--it doesn't take time off for weekends, and neither should you.

- Investigate complaints working with your patient liaison. Make them aware of any and all complaints you come across in your social networks.

We recently had a patient who posted a Facebook status update in great detail about her condition and what she felt was less than adequate care. The post was sent to the patient liaison, who immediately called the clinical manager on the unit to go and speak with the woman to see how her stay could be made better and address her concerns.

Having a system in place and an ongoing relationship with your patient liaison is crucial for effective customer service. The patient liaison must be on board with your social media efforts and understand the power and importance of social media in the customer service role.

- Ask questions. When someone complains about your hospital, feel free to ask them what we could have done differently for them to make their experience a more positive one.

For a tweet that says, "This hospital is the worst," respond directly. "I'm sorry to hear that--how could we have made it better for you?" Don't be defensive, and let them know that their opinion is important and that you're listening.

- Learn from your experiences and from others. Remember what has worked and what hasn't, and change your approach accordingly. And it's also important to read trade blogs to stay up to date with all the changes going on.

It's equally important to connect with other hospitals. Follow other hospitals to see what they're doing and how they're addressing their own customer service issues. Reach out to them and establish a relationship. We're a friendly bunch of people, and most of us are always willing to listen, share and offer thoughts.

And that's how being SOCIAL can help you enhance your customer service efforts. What are you doing in the customer service arena through social networks?

Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island, managing social media for five hospitals and a women's medicine practice.

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