David Quiqley, M.S.W, PHR, Board-Certified Coach David Quiqley, M.S.W, PHR, Board-Certified Coach

By David Quigley

While running errands recently I had the opportunity to be in and out of several local businesses. I was greeted as I entered the bank, then the tire shop, again in the coffee shop, and the convenience store. This is a common experience nowadays, as most businesses make it a point to greet customers as a routine part of their sales or service approach. In your personal experience, is that personal greeting effective, or not?

I’ve spent much of my career in customer service, focusing the past several years in the healthcare world (where customer service is referred to as “patient satisfaction” or “patient experience”). In high-performing healthcare organizations there is an evidence-based practice which, in my view, other businesses (including retail) could emulate to up their games significantly. I refer to this approach as “connect, then sell (or serve, or provide care).” Let me explain.

A colleague referred me to an article titled “Connect, Then Lead” which, among other things, documents the merits of making a genuine human connection before proceeding with the business at hand.1 This approach can have many benefits, including:

  • Reinforce the importance of the relationship between staff and leader
  • Move away from “command and control” leadership to more of a “collaboration and communication” style, thus increasing involvement, engagement, and productivity
  • Develop staff members’ thinking from renter to owner mentality

One of the key ideas I took away from this article is the opportunity to expand the concepts beyond a leadership model to a broader customer service model:

  • Connect, then sell (in a retail setting)
  • Connect, then serve (in a service setting)
  • Connect, then provide care (in healthcare)

Here’s a great example. In the tire shop, they hollered my name from across the showroom: “Mr. Quigley your car is ready!” It was polite and effective. Yet, how much more pleasing would my experience as a customer have been if the technician had “closed the gap” by walking across the room to me, making eye contact, and telling me, “Mr. Quigley, your tire service is complete and you can get back on the road safely and with confidence again.”

This technique of closing the gap, making eye contact, and using key words is something my physician’s office does well. They look me in the eye, greet me warmly, then walk with me—not ahead of me—down the hallway to the exam room. This approach is intended to acknowledge the person, make a connection, and inform with relevant information, all of which is aimed at building trust and reducing anxiety.

Patient experience survey data has proven that these simple steps make a difference in customer satisfaction (i.e., patient experience). National surveys and research demonstrate that, in addition to clinical competence, patients (healthcare customers) appreciate compassion, empathy, and being treated as individuals. These practices, when carried out sincerely and effectively, raise the level of service that the patient/ customer experiences. Thus the “connect first” concept has merit.

I really, really enjoy, appreciate and am alert for good customer service. I tip accordingly, give compliments, and send notes of appreciation when appropriate. So I would be a huge fan of other industries embracing the “patient/customer centered care” model that my doctor’s office team has learned to execute so well.

1Cuddy, Amy J.C., Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger. “Connect, Then Lead.” Harvard Business Review 91, nos. 7/8 (July–August 2013): 54–61.