Chapter 8

Action Oriented Planning


Customer Service



This section looks at the basic methods of planning. More specifically:

The basic assumptions and values of an organization.

How to write a mission statement.

The long-term and strategic planning of an organization.

The year-to-year operational and budgeting plans (short term planning).

Planning is critical to all organizations. It helps you examine where you are now with your programs and funding while planning for the future. Planning is not a luxury that organizations can spend some time on every 5 years. The systematic planning cycle presented in this section will help save endless difficulties that organizations regularly face because they have no overview of where they are going. Once a system is in place to plan, the process can work much faster and smoother than may be faced by organizations that plan only during a crisis situation.

When plans work out, they should be celebrated. When plans must be adapted to meet unexpected events or needs, they should be celebrated as well because you know what parts of the plan can be postponed to meet the new circumstances. That is the beauty of an effective plan -- new circumstances do not destroy your planning; they just revise them and everyone still has a sense of control over what is happening.

I have a wonderful sense of completion and satisfaction when a project is well done or a report is submitted on time as scheduled. This satisfying feeling of completion probably stems from ancient beliefs and rituals surrounding the adage exhorting that we must "plan the work and work the plan". Many of us are probably well used to the experience of planning for three scenarios where financial assumptions include a budget increase of 5%; a reduction of 5%; or no change along with details of how quality services will be maintained or even enhanced. I find that making the planning process even more challenging is the mid-course correction occasioned by shifts in government policy, union pressures and a host of other factors. Despite the external forces that appear to tear your neat plan into tatters, there are the internal factors that suddenly emerge to make you forget about the plan's details altogether or that seriously create a "big" hole.  It goes something like this, " I don't know how to tell you but I have accepted a job elsewhere." I think the new planning paradigm is plan/change/plan/change/!

Larry Lewis

When you were a child you planned your life around the school year and summer vacation. Your school year started in September and finished in August (like having a fiscal year end August 31). You knew what major events would happen during the year and had some idea of what your family would do for each one. Here is a brief calendar of what your year might have looked like.   

Sept                            Oct                            Nov                               Dec                            Jan                            Feb

School starts        Halloween                zoo field trip        report card & holidays     New Year's Party        Valentine's Day

Mar                            Apr                            May                                Jun                            Jul                            Aug

March break        your birthday            Mother's Day        Father's Day, end of school    Summer holidays,

                                                                                                                                    odd jobs for neighbors    2-week hiking trip

Your long-term plan was to finish school in the next 11 years. Your strategic plan may have been to read your favorite comic books without using a dictionary in the next 2 years. Your plan for this year was to be the best reader in your class and to receive two of your favorite books for your birthday.

As an adult with children your year may also begin in September but it will look a little different. Your long-term plan may be to have a larger home for your family in the next 8 years. Your strategic plan may be to finish your university degree in the next 3 years. Your yearly plan (included in this calendar) is to make your first investment for your retirement.

Sept                            Oct                            Nov                               Dec                            Jan                            Feb

School starts        Halloween                zoo field trip        report card & holidays     New Year's Party        Valentine's Day

care insurance due    strategic plan    operational plan    shareholders’ report        party at work                program review

Mar                            Apr                            May                                Jun                            Jul                            Aug

March break        your birthday            Mother's Day        Father's Day, end of school    Summer holidays,

year end            AGM                    staff retreat            semi-annual reports            catch up at work        2-week hike with family

What you have when you look at your calendar is your yearly events. What is not on the calendar are the unexpected things like weather difficulties, car breaking down, surprise birthday party, winning a prize, your health improving (or not), or your child giving you an expected gift after a particularly difficult day at work.

It is useful to have a yearly calendar of repetitive events, meetings and planning processes. Just as many people plan their year around the school calendar (September to August), organizations have a general rhythm to their meetings, planning processes, budgeting, etc. When this is highlighted on a calendar, people are better able to make short-term plans that fit into the overall calendar.

For example, a department calendar should include:

Regular department meetings, committee and planning sessions (e.g., spring budget planning for next year, review of strategic/long-term plan, and short-term operational planning).

Regular review of policies and organization's programs and special projects.

Annual report schedule.

Performance reviews for managers and staff and negotiation of labor contracts, if applicable.

Departmental self-evaluation, training, and new staff orientation.

Vacation schedule.

Seeing some different types of yearly plans leads us into long-term, strategic, yearly and daily planning. This section helps you examine each of these areas in the order they should be done. If you only plan on a day-to-day basis, it will be daily crises that decide where you are going and not your organization's well thought out plan.

The Way to Plan

Planning saves you time, energy and a lot of frustration. Planning is something an organization is always doing. Planning is something that parents are always doing. It does not stop after you have written out your first plan, it continues forever and it can be fun! You can also use this format for personal planning. The mission statement in this case will be your overall purpose in life. The way to plan for an organization looks like this:

Six Step Planning Cycle

1.Write out your organization's basic assumptions and values.

2.Write your mission statement (the purpose of your work).

3.Write out your organization's long-term plan (where you plan to be in 5-10 years).

4.Write out your organizations' strategic plan (your top priorities for the next 5 years).

5.Write out your organization's operational (yearly) plan including budget.

6.Review, change and evaluate # 1-5 every year before writing out a new operational plan and budget.

You will see that almost all the points begin with "write out". Planning is a way to think on paper and to make sure that everyone agrees with what you are doing and how you plan to do it. Without written plans, you do things in your head and what you think everyone is doing may be very different from what they think they are doing.

Communication is the most important way to get things done in an organization. Without a written plan, your communication is almost doomed to fail quickly. You may have heard of the saying: "We never seem to have enough time to do it right the first time (planning), but we always seem to find time to do it again." Good planning means you spend less time doing things over again and less time going from one crisis to another.

Different people within an organization do the planning. It is up to the senior management and Board of Directors with help from consumers and staff to do steps # 1-5. Different committees may be involved in steps #4-6. The staff gets most involved, usually, in step 5, but should be involved in giving committees and senior management help with all steps.

If you have difficulty understanding the different steps of this planning cycle, read on. Each step is explained in greater detail. Let's begin with a brief example of what one "make believe" hospital drafted for some of its planning cycle documents.

Everyone's Favorite Hospital

Our basic assumptions and values include:

All our patients/clients have value and we meet their needs beyond their own expectations.

When people are upset with our service, we must do what we can to satisfy them -- if we cannot meet their needs, we will refer them to someone who may better help them.

Our hospital will make a contribution to our community so that we are all healthier, safer and happier.

Our mission is to provide a welcoming place for all our patients/clients where they can receive excellent service that meets their health care needs beyond their present expectations.

Our long-term plan (5-10 years) includes:

To be accessible to our patients/clients 7 days/week, 24 hours a day.

To be such a welcoming place that our clients prefer to receive the services they need from us, even if it means driving out of their way.

To have a quality management system that includes the input of our patients/clients.

Our strategic plan (priorities over the next five years) includes:

To have a dynamic staff with varying backgrounds and abilities to reflect our commitment to our diverse community.

To nurture ongoing relationships with our most loyal patients/clients so that one day they may actively participate in our quality management system.

To identify site renovation priorities.

Note: a strategic plan may be divided into one, three and five year plans to further divide the priorities.

Our operational plan includes:

To communicate more regularly with our patients/clients through a newsletter and open-house meetings starting immediately on the first Thursday night of odd-numbered months with our first newsletter mailed out and distributed within 60 days.

To identify patients/clients with long-standing interest in our hospital and community.

To recruit two committee members with renovation experience to the Site Committee by the end of this month; to identify a process for site renovation priorities.

The Basic Assumptions and Values of an Organization

Whenever a group of people come together to begin or continue to plan for an organization, they must begin with their own assumptions and values. They must discuss and find out what beliefs they have in common and which ones are different.

With my interest in the behavioral sciences, I sit on a behavior management committee. It’s aim is to ensure that staff are well equipped with knowledge, skills and understanding so that if an outburst of aggressive behavior occurs, even in subtle ways, they know how to diffuse it as quickly as possible as opposed to having a group trained to grab the arms and legs of someone in order to immobilize them. That is not how we want to deal with aggressive behavior.

Larry Lewis

For example, imagine that the board has a retreat to do long-term planning. They are the board for a community health center providing services to a specific, identifiable group of people. When they discuss their own assumptions they find that some members of the board believe that the people they serve are hard working, enthusiastic, and active members of their community. Other members of the board believe that their clients are incapable of working hard because of who they are and they need the charity of the board and the health center.

You can imagine that the programs and services proposed by the first group of board members would be seen as unacceptable by the second set. The second group of board members would consider the client population incapable of some of the action-oriented and demanding programs proposed by the first group. You can see from this simple example that assumptions and values do have a fundamental impact on the very work of the board.

You may find this an unrealistic example. However, over and over again in organizations there are people whose basic assumptions about life, about work, and about their clients are completely opposed to those of other people in the organization. They usually do not know that there is a basic difference in their assumptions. Most people would believe that everyone has the same assumptions and beliefs. If they see a difference, they often ignore it.

Have you ever heard staff say something like: "These are really wonderful people we work with, they just can't seem to get up in the morning." Or perhaps your organization has put an ad in the newspaper advertising for a new job. The ad asks for people who are energetic, creative and with relevant job experience. When you hire the person you find that they do not always dress the way you would like them to or arrive on time. Creative people are often not concerned with punctuality since they will work as long as it takes to do the job. You have asked for creativity, but your hidden assumption was that you wanted someone who does things the same way everyone else in the organization does them.

Take a moment and ask yourself what your basic assumptions and values are in the following areas and compare your answers with those of the people you work with to identify similarities and differences:

1.Life in general -- Are you an optimist or a pessimist? How do you categorize your clients? Do you enjoy working for your clients?

2.Religion/spirituality -- Are your beliefs similar to those of the other people you work with? Do your beliefs help you to understand (versus judge) the people you work with? What other impacts do your beliefs have on your work, decisions and behaviors?

3.Politics -- Who do you believe really controls the work of your organization? How does change happen politically in your organization? Who holds power in the world?

4.Your work styles -- Do you work in similar ways to the other people in your organization (not likely)? How do you adapt to other people's styles? How do you help them accept your style?

5.Your beliefs about similar organizations -- does your competition provide high quality services and products? Do they fill a need your organization does not? Why would someone go to them instead of to you? Why would some of your clients switch to them? Why would some of their clients switch to you?

6.Do your services address: the multicultural diversity in your community, people with physical and other challenges, people with a range of economic backgrounds, older and younger people, people with more or less power, and people with more or less education, because it is the correct thing to do or because it is politically correct?

7.Other questions.

Compare your answers with the people you work with. Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? Why? How can you work better together understanding your similarities and differences?

How to Write a Mission Statement

You should not write or rewrite your mission statement until you understand what your basic assumptions and most important values are. Once you understand your own assumptions and values you need to compare them with those of the other people on the board, senior management and others with whom you work. Without this foundation of common or understood assumptions and values, your mission statement will not work.

A mission statement is a short one or two sentence statement that says what you do as an organization (or service, team, program, clinic), for whom, and why. You describe who will receive the service, why they need the service and what you do (will do) to meet that need.

After you have written a very good mission statement, all board decisions should be compared with your mission statement to make sure that new ideas and plans fit in with your purpose. If something new does not fit in, you either: a) avoid doing it or b) rewrite your mission statement so it includes this new idea or plan.

The second way, rewriting your mission statement, is serious. You must make sure that the people who are receiving services from you want this new idea or plan and that they will support it. New services, no matter how good, will not work if people do not want them, especially if they are not in your original mission statement.


The following is an example of the mission statement of an Emergency Department:

To meet the urgent medical needs of all people living or visiting our area using the highest standards of emergency medical practice as defined by the World Health Organization and practiced by compassionate caregivers within a welcoming, efficient environment.

The following is an example of a mission statement that will not work.

To provide our services to whomever wants them. (This mission statement does not state specifically enough who will be the clients, why they would go to this health care organization nor how the organization will uniquely meet their clients' needs.)

Long-Term and Strategic Planning

There is a difference between long-term and strategic planning. Long-term planning gives an organization an idea of where it will be in 5-10 years. It is a broad summary of what people would like to see happen to the organization and the people it serves over the next 5-10 years. For example, suppose your mission is to provide English as a Second Language to staff members who are recent immigrants. This long-term goal must be broken down in the strategic plan into manageable actions that the organization takes over the next 5 years.

Strategic planning, therefore, is more specific and usually concentrates on a few major areas of concern. The plan usually helps an organization come up with ideas of what must be done in the next five years with special attention to three to five service areas.

As another example, an educational organization may have a long-term plan to help unemployed people with less than a grade 12 education finish high school and find work. Ten years from now they hope to have helped 1,000 people get their education and find work. The strategic plan looks at helping three main groups of people who, today, are having particular difficulty finishing school: young mothers, recent immigrants who do not speak or write English very well and young, male drop-out students. The strategic plan looks at helping these three groups particularly for the next 5 years, but will also allow other people who find out about the program to get help.

You can see from the above example why it is so important to have basic assumptions and values and a mission statement before you can begin to do long-term planning and strategic planning. What if many of the board members had difficulty with the idea of helping single mothers, recent immigrants or young, male dropouts? They would have done a lot of planning, but when it came down to the strategic plan for the organization they would probably not say very much about what they felt. At this point it would be difficult for them to lose face in front of other people. They would agree to the plan but would not commit their energy to making it work.

To write strategic plans the board, or a special planning committee, should begin with their assumptions and values, the mission statement and long-term goals of the organization and then:

1.Get as much information about what people in their community, their staff and volunteers and other board members think the organization should do or continue to do. They could use meetings, focus groups, questionnaires or telephone calls to find out what other people think. They could research what similar organizations are doing in other communities. They could find out if their funders (private and public) are satisfied with their plans or their past activities.

2.Review any older strategic plans to make sure what they are now planning is consistent with previous decisions. If new plans are not consistent with previous strategic plans, they must decide which new priorities they will follow and whether they are consistent with their mission statement and long-term goals. Again, if the strategic plans are not consistent with the mission statement and long-term goals, the board must begin a complete organizational review of where they want the organization to go before they accept a shorter-term strategic plan.

3.Review the long-term and strategic plans every year so that an organization does not have to re-invent the wheel every time. If last year's plan still meets the needs of the clients and there are no new services being requested, then stick with a good plan. Do not review the plans too quickly, however, because the organization might miss a wonderful opportunity to improve what they do and how they do it.

4.Once there is enough information, the board needs to examine all the possibilities; determine if there are other ideas that may have been missed; and list the ideas in order of priority. The priorities will depend on the organization's budget, their energy and what the clients think is most important. Some people use the following guidelines to decide on priorities:

Top Priority:What is most important to do now?

2nd Priority:What is important to do in the next year or two?

3rd Priority:What is important to do in the next 3-5 years?

4th Priority:What would be nice to do if we get unexpected money or resources?

5.Draft out the plan and get people inside and outside the organization to give their ideas, criticisms and suggestions.

6.Rewrite the plan, taking into consideration all the comments collected. Note: Some organizations draft a plan knowing that is exactly what they intend to use. They ask for ideas from the staff and clients only to get their support rather than their ideas. This technique works only once or twice before people lose trust in the organization.

7.The board approves the plan and uses it to make all further decisions. Like the mission statement, if new ideas and services do not fit the plan, the new ideas cannot be done or the plan must be changed.

Operational Planning and Budgeting

Operational planning and budgeting are yearly exercises that every organization must go through to stay in control of what they are doing. The operational plan is simply the method an organization decides to use to reach its yearly goals. It operationalizes the strategic plan. The budget planning is the financial side of planning that tells the organization what is, or is not, possible to do in the next year.

Specific committees usually do operational planning. For example, the Community Relations Committee uses the long-term and strategic plans to look at what community information events will take place. The Evaluation Committee decides how to measure overall patient satisfaction.

The steps to take, and who takes them, usually include the following:

1.The board decides on the long-term and strategic plans for the organization. Their report goes to the various standing and ad-hoc committees. The people involved in the committees may include board members, staff, volunteers, and clients.

2.The committees review their activities from the past year to see what went well, what could be done better and what should not continue to happen this year. The committees then review the long-term and strategic plans approved by the board and decide on what is possible for the coming year. They draft specific objectives that will help the organization do what they promised to do in their long-term and strategic plans. They also draft a budget, using last year's information as a starting point, and send their ideas and recommendations to senior management. (Note: not all new objectives cost more money.)

3.Senior management reviews last year's income and expenses. Based on what money will be available in the coming year, they review each committee's report and budget and make recommendations. They send their comments back to the committees.

4.The committees review and modify their plans and bring them, through the chair, to senior management for approval.

Let's look at a brief example of how one goal may be prepared by a board and its committees.

Long-Term Goal: To be a safe place where young people feel welcomed and able to contribute to their community.

Strategic Plan

1. To have a dynamic, self-directed core of local youth who have designed a successful stay-in-school or career-path program (within 3 years).

Operational Plan & Budget

Program Committee: Begin Friday evening openings within current staff schedules (immediately).

No additional cost

Work with youth for a Youth Focus weekend meeting to plan future directions of program (by mid-summer).


Personnel Committee: begin specific receptionist instruction on how to respond to, welcome and receive youth callers and drop-ins (within 1 month).

No additional cost

Public Relations Committee: begin low level media coverage of Friday night openings through popular radio, TV, and local schools (within 3 months).

No additional cost

Fund-Raising Committee: apply to City Council and province for project funding.

No additional cost if added to other grant proposals.

Goals and Objectives

The previous few pages introduced the ideas of goals and objectives. The following information will help you to understand and practice these skills.

The board generally decides on the goals of the organization and what should be done, where and by when. The staff generally change those goals into practical objectives of who, what, where, when, why, and how things will be done. The staff also decides, with management approval, what the standards of success will be so that both staff and management can evaluate the success of achieving any of the goals.

A goal is something people want to see happen, such as the goals of improved client satisfaction, better health and safety at work, job satisfaction, or a more loving family. For example:

Board: "One of our organizational goals is to increase the level of client satisfaction with our services."

An objective is a statement of the specific results one wants to achieve. After the board has set the goals it is often a work group, with staff suggestions, that writes out the objectives. The staff then decides how to meet the objective.

Objectives describe what the specific result will look like, when it will happen and what is needed to make the objective happen. In writing objectives one also looks at what can cause the objective to not happen. Objectives must be realistic yet challenging. The group of people working on them must agree and commit to making them work.

Committee: "To increase client satisfaction with our services this year we will, by July 1: (a) decrease the time we respond to a patient complaint to within one day, (b) start at least one new program request listed on last year's client satisfaction survey, and (c) invite a loyal customer from the community to sit on the Evaluation committee."

The committee usually writes out the "what, when, where and why" of an objective.


1.Sue and Jim will get training on our new patient documentation software in May to help them speed up our service by the July 1st deadline.

2.Joan will review medication errors in May and prepare a one-page report for staff.

3.We will decrease the time to wait for an appointment to within 30 minutes of the scheduled appointment."

The staff usually decides on the "who and how" of an objective.

Objectives Checklist

To write objectives that are practical and useful it is important that they meet what some people call the S.M.A.R.T. test:





Time-lines to complete objective

Objectives must be written so that it is absolutely clear to everyone whether the objective has been met or not met.

The following chart shows examples of unacceptable objectives rewritten to meet the S.M.A.R.T test.

Unacceptable Objective

Wastage of unit supplies should be minimized.

Acceptable Objective

To reduce wastage of unit supplies by 25% by next July 1, by forming a work group of staff and management.

Unacceptable Objective

To fund a community education program.

Acceptable Objective

To secure 100% funding for a community education program by June of next year by approaching (1) senior management, (2) business and service clubs and (3) pharmaceutical reps.

Unacceptable Objective

To provide staff development.

Acceptable Objective

To implement 6 half-hour workshops for staff members over the next year on topics chosen by the staff at the departmental meetings in November.

Exercise #1

Writing Objectives

1.Write down 3 of your organization's annual goals: (or substitute general goals you might have for your committee, department, clinic, team or program).

2.Now write one or more specific objectives (to help you achieve each goal for yourself), your committee, department, clinic, team or your organization, using the S.M.A.R.T. criteria.

Evaluating Success

Internal Evaluations

An internal evaluation is designed to find out whether you did what you said you would, in the time you gave yourself to do it, on budget, and what you learned from the work. The following sample chart may help you evaluate each specific objective.

Objective                   Done                     Partly Done                          Not Done                          On Budget                            Comments

External Evaluations

When you ask your community to review your services, you may choose to use an evaluation tool. The questions you need to answer may include:

1.Does what we do help or not help you?

2.What do you like about what we do?

3.What do you not like about what we do?

4.What would you suggest we do differently?

5.Can you suggest any ways that other people in the community could help us make our programs and services better?

6.Do you recommend our organization to other people? Why or why not?

Action Plans

One of the easiest ways to plan your work priorities and help schedule that work is to use Action Plans. Have colleagues, supervisors and/or staff participate in dividing the work.

What Is The Task?                    Who Will Do It?                    By When?                    How To Evaluate Success?


Planning is a constantly changing cycle that provides direction and specific detail about what is to be done, by whom, by when and how. It includes an evaluation step to ensure successes are celebrated, gaps are identified and addressed and that we learn from our mistakes. When plans must be adapted to meet unexpected events or needs, you still have control over the planning process and its resulting actions. That is the beauty of an effective plan—new circumstances do not destroy your planning; you revise them and still maintain a sense of control over what is happening.

Most people either over plan (with not enough time to actually implement the plan), or more likely, do not plan enough. Effective planning saves you time, energy and a lot of frustration.

There is a six-step cascading planning process:

1.Planning is only successful and rewarding when you have a basic set of assumptions and values to use as the cornerstone for all decision making and planning.

2.A mission statement outlines the purpose of your work to provide focus for what it is you will, and will not do. An organization without a mission statement is like a boat without a rudder—you drift aimlessly in whatever direction the current takes you.

3.The long-term plan (looking 5-10 years into the future) provides you with the basic elements of a plan—the core areas in which you want to work.

4.The strategic plan gives you the top priorities for the next five years based on your ten-year plan.

5.The annual operational plan (including the budget) is not about deciding what to do as much as how you will do what is in your strategic plan. An effective operational plan also leaves room for the unexpected events and time-draining day-to-day operational issues of the organization. Whenever you work with people there are human resource opportunities and difficulties. When you work with technology, there are breakdowns, upgrades and whole new systems to add over time. You only have to remember the Y2K problem to know how a strategic and operational plan must be revised because of changing circumstances.

6.Review, change and evaluate steps 1-5 before writing a new operational plan and budget.

This book is about providing practical leadership within your area of responsibility. Planning is the vehicle that provides your leadership with direction and principled focus so that you can enhance your abilities as a fair, firm and predictable role model for others to follow.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Bauer, J.C. (1995). Statistical analysis for decision makers in healthcare: Understanding and evaluating critical information in a competitive market. Concord, ON: Richard Irwin.

Bradford, R. W., Duncan, P., & Tarcy, B. (1999). Simplified strategic planning: A no-nonsense guide for busy people who want results fast! St. Worcester, MA: Chandler House.

Bryson, J.M. (1995). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Carver, J. (1990). Boards that make a difference: A new design for leadership in non-profit and public organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Drucker, P.F. (1990). Managing the non-profit organization: Practices and principles. New York: Harper-Collins.

Fogg, C.D. (1994). Team-based strategic planning: A complete guide to structuring, facilitating and implementing the process. New York: AMACOM.

Schwartz, P. (1996). The art of the long view: Planning for the future in an uncertain world. New York: Doubleday.

van Bommel, H. (1993). Learn for yourself: Time management and organizing your work. Scarborough, ON: Professional Skills Development.

Customer Service


Who Are Your Customers?

This seems to be a simple question but without a written answer everyone in an organization could design their own answer to "who are your clients/customers". For example, you probably have internal and external clients. External clients include those people who buy or use your services and/or products. They may also include your local community (its people and organizations), your suppliers and sometimes even your own competition. Internal clients may include your upper management or executive, other departments, or people in other branches of your organization located in other buildings or even other cities. If you are part of a clinical consultation team in a hospital, your clients will certainly include the patients and families for whom you care. They will also include the services and programs that refer patients to you for your input.

During this section we will use the word client. In your organization, clients could be people coming to buy or use a product or service, for example, health care. They could be students, patients, clients, suppliers, or any other label that fits your specific client group. They could also be people within your organization who use your services. The word client is somewhat incomplete to describe patients and families who are vulnerable in their needs for “service” or care. It does not describe the nature of the relationship between provider of care and receiver of care. This relationship between health professional and patient is one of vulnerability and trust. The professional enters in to a relationship that has features of a covenant or promise to fulfill a role and provide care according to certain principles. This is a higher calling than simply providing service to a client based on a contract. Although the word client is limited in the health care setting, it can provide some insight into the service aspects of the health profession.

What Does "Service Beyond Expectations" Mean?

Quite simply, the sub-title for this unit "Service beyond Expectations" is how effective client service organizations work with their clients. It is based on common sense manners and courtesy, professional attitudes and a genuine willingness to make all people feel welcome to your organization. Treating clients as if they were guests in your home will help gain a greater sense of control. This sense of control will help them deal with any of their fears, anxiety and/or needs.

Client service is not about being someone you are not. You are not expected to be in perfect humor all the time, treat everyone as if they were royalty, be a stand-up comedian or a wise old monk. You are expected to be respectful, kind and considerate of the needs of your clients and of the other people you work with. You are expected to treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself.

Should an organization expect you to behave respectfully and considerately 100% of the time? Is 95% of the time good enough? 85% of the time? Two-thirds of the time?

A few facts:

If 95% of all the phone calls that came to a university teaching hospital were answered professionally, without problems, there would still be 12,500 patients, visitors or other hospital staff (5%) who would not receive the service they want each year.

If services were 99% perfect in North America, clients would still face:

200,000 incorrect drug prescriptions.

No heat or electricity 15 minutes every day.

Drinking water that is unsafe 4 days every year.

2 plane crashes every day at Vancouver International Airport.

Organizations should expect and reward 100% effort from their staff to meet the needs of every client. You may not always get that 100% but settling for anything less could mean serious harm to your reputation.

One last statistic based on research by the Technical Assistance Research Program in Washington, D.C. (1985): 96% of unhappy customers do not report their unhappiness. For every complaint an organization receives there are 26 others (6 serious) that go unreported. Everyone who uses your organization, however, tells at least 10 other people about the service they received if they are unhappy about it, and tell 5 people if they are happy about the service. That is 5 to 10 people who find out how other people think you treat clients, how you orient new staff, how you answer your telephones, how you give directions to others, and how you treat each other. That is 5 to 10 other people who decide whether or not they will come to your organization to receive service or, perhaps, to work. What would those other people say about you?

There is a great Hermann cartoon that shows how some people think about service organizations in general. A client is waiting in line for service. There is a sign over the waiting line giving instructions to the client. It says: "Wait here to be tolerated." Ask yourself about the last time you went somewhere to buy a product or service or ask a question at the information desk of a hospital. Did you feel tolerated or welcomed? What do you think people think of the service in your area or department?

Guests Over for the Weekend

Imagine that you receiving a very important guest for the weekend. You do not know the person, but you have agreed to put them up for the weekend as a favor to a close friend. You know very little about the person except that they have come from outside the country and will probably be a little anxious about the new surroundings and the new people.

Exercise #1

Write out the answers to these questions:

1.What do you do to prepare your home before your guest arrives?

2.What do you tell your family or the people you live with, to prepare them for the guest?

3.What do you do if your guest does not speak English?

4.What do you do if your guest cannot eat the food you have prepared (for religious or dietary reasons)?

5.How do you make your guest comfortable in their room?

6.How do you help your company feel at home over the next three days?

7.On the second day of the weekend you find that you cannot spend as much time with your guest as you would like. What do you do so that the guest does not feel lonely?

8.You are now an expert at providing your guest with a comfortable, safe environment. How do you translate those qualities of taking care of a guest into taking care of your clients? What characteristics are similar? What characteristics do not apply and why?

9.Treating someone as a valued houseguest is an ideal form of client service. What do you need to do at work to make your client-service skills similar to how you would treat a houseguest?

Customer service is not difficult when you do it for yourself first. Helping others usually makes us feel better so when we acknowledge that we do it for ourselves first, we are more likely to continue doing it. One day I was standing by the elevator in our hospital lobby. I have a rule that if someone looks at me, I will say hello. A gentleman in his early 60s was standing by the elevator too. He looked at me and I said, “Good morning, sir. How are you today?” His body language switched from stiff and defensive to slouched and relieved. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have been visiting my wife on the cardiac floor for several weeks now. Aside from the nurses taking care of her, you are the first person to speak to me in all that time. Thank you.” I had made his hospital experience less isolating and frightening. He made my hospital experience that day more joyful and energizing. We gave each other a gift and it took no extra time from his day or mine..

Harry van Bommel

Basic Customer Service Rules

The following is a summary of the basic rules of client service.

Your purpose at work is to give your client service beyond their expectations.

Rule #1: Use Common Sense in All Situations. If you are not sure what common sense applies in a specific situation, ask someone who does or read the appropriate policy or procedure in your organization.

Rule #2: Treat Everyone Like a Valued Client. If you supply services to other people in your organization, then they are your clients. Treat them with the same respect and common sense you would treat the people who come to your organization as valued clients.

Rule #3: Put Yourself in The Shoes of Your Clients. Client service is not difficult to provide if you put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Remember what it feels like to go to other organizations and be treated exceptionally well or very poorly. Model those organizations that do it well. There are no other general rules.

Customer Expectations

Now that we have the general rules for service beyond expectations, what are the realistic expectations of our clients? Your role is to meet these needs, and whenever possible, provide service that goes beyond these basic expectations. The following is a general list of reasonable expectations.

To feel welcomed

To receive timely service

To feel comfortable and safe

To get orderly and efficient service

To be understood

To be appreciated

To be recognized and remembered

To be treated with respect

To be treated as a valued individual

To be treated honestly and fairly

To belong

To feel in control

Basic Ingredients of Service

Once you understand general expectations of your clients you need to examine the specifics of your service. Does your service meet these basic ingredients of client satisfaction?

1.Your service is of high quality and available at a reasonable price.

2.You have an added value (e.g., better price than competitor, higher quality, better services, quicker service, etc.) that meets a client need or want.

3.You include methods to measure improvements in client satisfaction.

4.Your training programs or on-the-job apprenticeships help managers and staff improve their client-service skills.

5.You have a long-term goal of keeping clients so satisfied that they continue to refer your services and keep using them themselves.

6.You have an understanding that a client satisfied one day may easily be dissatisfied another day with the same service. Assume that people's satisfaction changes in order to avoid becoming inflexible in what you provide your clients.

What should you do if your services do not have all these ingredients? A few suggestions:

1.Identify what is within your power to change to provide service beyond expectations.

2.Identify what you can bring to your colleagues in your own area or other areas as suggested improvements to your service.

3.Identify any problems to your supervisor with at least one (or more) suggested solutions of improving your client service.

First Contact

We have been told for years that you only get one chance to make a good impression. This is especially true in our highly competitive market place. If people do not like the service they get from your organization they can usually find a competitor nearby who may treat them the way they like. This is as true for retail stores as it is for social services, schools, hospitals or professional service organizations. Even if you have a captive audience (e.g., an emergency admission to a hospital), the people you serve will tell other people what they liked about your services and what they did not like. No retail or service organization in the 1990s has completely captive clients.

Within organizations there are departments that serve the needs of people within the organization. For example, education departments, print shops, secretarial pools, cafeteria and human resources all provide service within the organization. Their good reputation depends on providing service beyond expectations and their effectiveness depends on a good working relationship with other departments.

Some tips about what to do when you first meet a client.

Introduce Yourself

Give your name (slowly and clearly) and the department you are from (if it is not obvious).

Know Their Name

Repeat the person's name so they know that you see them as a person rather than another client.

Show Respect

Use Mr./Mrs./Ms, etc. rather than their first name, or "dear", "sweety", or "honey". If they give you permission to use their first name, do so.


You cannot be expected to smile all the time but a smile when you first meet someone is a wonderful way to say "welcome" or to reassure them of your personal concern for them.

Greet Them

Say "Good Morning", "Hello" etc., to show that they are welcomed to your area or department.


People who come to your organization (depending on the service you provide) may often be afraid of what will happen (e.g., in hospitals, service garages, and large stores). They sometimes act rude, inconsiderate or as if your whole purpose in life was to serve them before anyone else. If you anticipate their needs and respond before they ask you for something you will exceed their expectations. In return, they are more likely to treat you with more respect and consideration.

Understand Needs

People have basic needs: physical safety and comfort, a need to belong, and a need to feel worthy. Understanding these needs will help you know what tasks to do first. Obviously someone with great physical problems needs your help before someone who wants a chat to feel like they belong. All needs are important, however, and should be taken care of the best way you can under the limitations of time and resources.

Resolve Complaints

Remain calm. Stop, look and listen to what is going on. Accept that anger is normal when people are afraid or frustrated. You do not need to take verbal or physical abuse but you do need to understand that clients or other staff may be under a great deal of stress (just as you are some days). Accept responsibility to do something: refer to someone else, ask questions, restate problem in other words, agree on solutions.

Communication Tips

Once you have established a working relationship with a new client, new staff member or new departments you need to build on that relationship with effective communication skills. The following are some communication tips designed to help you constantly improve your working relationship with external and internal clients.

Body Language and Courtesy

Hold a door open for someone or hold open an elevator door. Good old-fashioned manners tell clients and other staff a great deal about you and about your organization.

Stand if someone is standing. Sit if they are sitting.

Take things out of your hands to avoid distracting yourself or the other person.

Avoid having a desk, table or other chairs between you and the client.

Look at the other person without staring. For cultural reasons, they may prefer not to have direct eye contact with you. Do not keep looking at passers-by when you are talking with someone. It is very distracting and impolite.

Sit or stand more to one side of someone rather than directly across from the person. It is more comforting and less aggressive.

Be aware that different cultures prefer that you are closer or farther away from the other person. Different cultures also have strict rules about the use of touch. Be cautious until you know what is acceptable. A safe distance is usually slightly more than an arm's length between you and the client.

Use your voice to be encouraging, soothing, clear and welcoming. Avoid being too loud or too soft. If the other person is angry, lower your voice to encourage them to lower their voice too.

If someone appears lost, ask them if they would like directions. If possible, walk a bit of the way with them to make sure that they are all right. Get to know your organization better yourself. Find out where the different departments are, where different offices are, nearby washroom and telephone, parking arrangements, etc.

Avoid talking to others, personally or by phone, with gum or food in your mouth.

Your personal appearance also says a great deal about you. If you look and feel professional, that is the image others will have of you.

Respect a person's privacy. Knock before entering their room or office. This is especially important in hospitals where privacy is often not maintained consistently.

What to Say

Tell the person what you are going to do before you do it. Ask them if they approve of whatever action or procedure you are going to take.

The word communication means "common" language. Speak so that someone understands what you are saying. Do not use big words or jargon to people who don't understand. This could save you hours of work!

Explain to people why there is a delay. Be honest. Accept responsibility for the organization rather than blaming other staff. Try to make the person as comfortable as possible during the delay.

Tell other staff members when you have seen them do something particularly well. If they have anticipated a client's needs before being asked, congratulate them. By recognizing when people do things well, they are more likely to repeat that behavior and also to start telling other people when they do something well.

"Please and "thank you" are still among the most powerful words in the English language. Use them often and genuinely. Like holding a door open for someone, these words tell other people a great deal about yourself and about your organization.

Understanding Time

One of the biggest differences between clients and staff is our understanding of time. Staff often measures time in shifts, by our agenda books or calendars. We are often planning weeks and months in advance. A client who wants to buy a product or a patient who needs a service often thinks more in minutes and hours. Recognizing the difference in time perception will help you reduce people's frustration or anger with delays, policies and procedures.


Sometimes you will not know what to say to someone. Perhaps someone else could help them better. Refer them to someone else in your organization out of a genuine interest in helping them. People do not like to be referred because they often feel (rightly so) that they are being "dumped" on someone else. If you become more personally involved in the referral (when possible) you reduce the chances that people will feel unwelcome. For example, you may call the person you are referring the client to, to make an appointment. Then you may walk the person to their appointment (especially in large organizations where places are hard to find) and introduce them to the person they will be meeting or to their receptionist or secretary.

What Not to Say

Do not talk about clients, students, patients or families in hall ways, elevators or in public places. This happens all too often and can be very distressing to others who over hear the conversation.

Do not use phrases like:"It's a policy."

"It's just routine work."

"Don't worry. Trust me."

"This will only take a second."

"I'll be right there."

"It's not my job."

When you were last in a store, garage, hospital or restaurant and someone used these same kinds of comments how did you feel. Did you trust the person? Did you feel comforted by the knowledge that a "second" really meant "when I have time for you"? Were you happier knowing that "policy" meant you had to do it their way without explanation? Did your last blood test feel any better knowing that is was "only routine"? Did you care whose job something was when you were in a hurry, in pain or afraid?

When People Say "X", They Mean..

Whenever we talk about clients and other staff it almost sounds like it is them against us. We are all clients nearly everyday of our lives.  What is it we all want? How can we understand what other people want?

Here are some tips.

If Someone Says:They May Mean:

Listen to me.Pay attention. Understand me. Please listen to what I have to say. I'm afraid/in a hurry/frustrated, please help.

I want dependable service.I need to know you will meet your commitments. Do not tell me something will be done by 4 p.m. when you know it will not be done. I would rather wait longer as long as your stated deadline is accurate.

Give me correct information.Don't guess at the right answer. If you don't know or have to check, okay, but don't give me the wrong information.

Do you know your job?I depend on your knowledge. Please offer suggestions or practical advice.

I need consistent service.Be dependable. Treat me like the important client I am.

I expect action.Don't make me wait unnecessarily. I know you can't always meet my demands, but be as responsive as possible.

I can't hold (on the phone).I am calling long distance; or don't put me on hold again. Please ask to put me on hold and wait for my answer.

Who is your supervisor?You are not listening to me. You are not meeting my expectations. (They may also feel more in control if they talk to a supervisor or they may think they more likely to get what they want from someone who has more authority.)

Managing Complaints

There are basic techniques to help manage people's objections. Good techniques will only work if you demonstrate a genuine attitude that says: "This person has a real (legitimate, relevant, serious) objection and I can help." Otherwise your clients will sense that you are only complying with some organizational policy on how to deal with complaints. Even that is usually better than not dealing with the complaint effectively at all.

Dealing with complaints effectively often means that you keep your valuable clients and they refer their family and friends to you as well!

Listen to the specifics of the person's objections. When you are not clear about what the objection is, ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no; questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why, how, versus close-ended questions -- did, do, is, will. Do not assume you know their reason for complaining. Ask! They may surprise you with something that is easily resolved.

Who is the person you were talking with?

What can I do to help?

Where were you when this incident happened?

When could you come in to help resolve this problem?

Always provide an immediate response. This is how you can show the person you understand their situation and can empathize with their difficulty. Many lawsuits against organizations involve the person saying "No one listened to me or cared about my problem."

State your response in clear and positive terms. Tell them what you can do to help:

Refer her to Ms. Jones who can best help her best because…

Do some research into the matter and call them at 11:15 with some kind of response (always call back even to tell them you need more time).

Do not provide unnecessary information and conversation. Be positive and service oriented by sticking to the details except to make them feel comfortable with you. Ask them for their approval for any action you have suggested.

Dealing with People in Difficult Situations

Every client is different. When you recognize these differences you can provide people with excellent service while also enjoying your work more.

Let's look at four behavior styles clients often demonstrate in difficult situations that require some special attention and understanding. When we know what to do we will deal more effectively with our clients.

The Assertive Person

An assertive person knows what they want and how to get it. When you have contact with an assertive person, it is important to initially be passive and listen closely to what is said. Once you understand what is needed you should become specific and direct. Normally you do not need to ask an assertive person many questions because they make it clear what they want. Closed questions will allow you to manage the conversation. Assertive people are interested in quick and efficient results.

Assertive people are easy to work with if you can meet their immediate needs. Sometimes, however, when dealing with an assertive person you may need to raise your own assertiveness level to simply manage the conversation. Sometimes it is difficult to build rapport with an assertive person because they may not be interested in exchanging pleasantries. It is important not to take this personally. They are simply there to get the job done efficiently.

Summary: How to Respond to Assertive People

Be passive and listen until you understand the problem or request.

Be friendly, but specific and direct in your statements.

Use closed questions to manage the conversation. "Did, do, will, is" are the words that start closed questions which result in yes or no answers and speed the conversation along.

If your voice is soft, speak slightly louder. Standing up can increase the volume of your voice and your tone of assertiveness.

Don't get upset if you have difficulty establishing rapport.

Responsive service will satisfy the assertive person.

The Aggressive or Angry Person

Managing an aggressive or angry person is a great opportunity to show off your skills. If done properly, it can be very rewarding. Your body language can help you handle the person in a professional way. For example, by standing slightly to the side of the person, rather than directly across from them, you give an air of working with the person -- not against them.

Diffuse their complaint or request by offering your understanding and sympathy (not by arguing), offering specific help and providing choices.

"I don't blame you for being upset."

"You are right. You were promised and it hasn’t happened. Let's get this problem solved now."

"We've made an error. This time we will do it right."

"I'm sorry you are not satisfied. What can I do now to help the situation?"

If you cannot meet the demands of an aggressive or angry person because they are unwilling or unable to listen to you, you may have to advise your supervisor and ask them to deal with the person. Sometimes a person will only respond to someone in a higher position of authority. Don't take their attitude personally! Such people have learned through previous experience that dealing with someone in management or senior management is the fastest way to get results.

Summary: How to Respond to Aggressive or Irate People

Listen, sympathize and offer understanding.

Agree with the person if they are right.

Promise to take corrective action and then do it.

Advise the person of your actions and provide them options to choose from (gives them sense of control they probably feel they have not had yet).

Remain courteous and provide assurance of your genuine wish to help them.

If you cannot meet the demands of the person:

Decide if someone else (a colleague, supervisor, other department) can help this person. Do not refer the person without telling them why you think this other person can help them.

If there is no one else who can help and you have no way to assist the person, be honest with the person and ask them what they would like you to do. Sometimes you cannot satisfy people and they may still be unhappy, but if you remain courteous and honest they may vent their anger in a more appropriate direction.

The Violent Person

Violent people typically strike out when they are totally frustrated and feel unable to do anything about that frustration. People may also become violent as a result of illness (physical or psychiatric). Your instincts may be powerful indicators or potential problem behavior. If you feel uneasy with someone, take the following measures:


Get necessary help from other staff first.

Tell the person you understand that they are totally frustrated. Quickly and calmly tell them you will try to help them in any way you can but that you cannot help them if they want to hurt you or destroy any property.

Stay in an open area rather than getting them into a small office. Stay in reach of help and avoid backing yourself into a corner or away from a door. If possible, keep a table, chair or desk between you and the person.

Be honest and clear about what you can do to help them. Keep your voice low and firm. Take charge of the situation.

Use an "open" body position to show that you are not aggressive yourself. Keep your hands open and away from your body. Keep the other person more than an arm's length distance away from you even if that means backing up yourself. Try to move towards an exit without making sudden moves (except in emergency situations where you need to run away). Avoid standing directly across from the person since this is often seen as aggressive. Stand with your body slightly to the side so that you do not need to keep eye contact the whole time. This encourages the other person to also reduce the intensity of their eye contact with you.

Recognize that you cannot prepare for such a situation on the spot. Plan in advance with your colleagues what you will do in such a situation. Practice your plan and get the advice of experienced people in your organization.


Do not let a situation get out of hand. An ounce of prevention up front can save both the person and you a great deal of effort and energy.

Do not ignore warning signs that the person is about to get out of control. They may begin to yell, swear loudly, clench their fist, move around a lot, or their face may turn red quickly. If they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs be extra cautious. Deal with the situation as calmly and clearly as you can but recognize that your heart will beat faster, your breathing rate will increase and you will feel flushed.

Do not threaten, abuse, touch or "corner" the person. When possible, continue to talk with the person while someone else calls for help. Do not try to be a hero. Ask for help as soon as possible.

Do not see patients alone or offer hours when the clinic or office area is deserted.

The Passive Person

Passive people are usually easy to service. Satisfied people are often passive and, therefore, a professional goal is to provide the kind of service that encourages people to work easily with you in the future. They know they will receive the service they need and, therefore, do not need to be assertive or aggressive.

Over many contacts with the same person, they may switch from being aggressive or assertive to passive. When this happens it may be a signal that the person is satisfied with the service they are receiving. Most people want "hassle-free" service. Most people dislike having to be assertive or aggressive.

On the other hand, it may be very difficult to know if you have met the needs of a truly passive client. It is hard to know what they expect in the way of service. If they are unsatisfied, they just leave and never return. They will not refer other people to your organization. You may never know what went wrong. However, when you identify them correctly and pay them some extra attention, they will shine and may become your strongest allies. They are so used to being "invisible" and ignored that your extra efforts will make them feel like the valued clients we all want to be.

Summary: How to Respond to the Passive Person

Listen carefully to the person's request or complaint.

Provide choices of various actions to give them a sense of control.

Add the personal touch to make them feel that they are welcomed.

Customer Evaluations

You will never know if your organization is providing service beyond expectations if you do not ask the people you serve. There are many different ways to find out what clients and other staff think about your services, for example, client rating scales, focus groups, public meetings, or one-to-one interviews. In health care, patients, families and students may be reluctant to give honest feedback because they are dependent on the group they may be evaluating. “Arms length” evaluation must be utilized, with constant reassurance of anonymity and security of care and service.

The following are a few suggestions you may want to consider for your area or department.

1.Simply ask people what you have done well and not so well within a specific time period.

2.Ask them to fill out a very brief survey at the end of their visit to find out what they think.

3.Interview a random sample for their comments that you publish in your organization's newsletter.

4.Ask them to fill out compliment-complaint forms.

5.Distribute 5 to 10 health care facility/team-size cards to each client who can give one to any staff person who shows excellent service. At the end of each month the people who have "x" number of cards receive a day off with pay or a special prize for them and/or their family.

6.Do a random sample questionnaire with people who have used your services in the past year.

7.Provide a suggestion box on ways to improve and recognize your service.

8.Have a clients' advisory committee meet 2-4 times a year to advise the organization on communication skills and services.

9.Commission an independent audit of your services from a client-centered perspective versus a organizational, financial, or administrative perspective.

10.Use a client rating scale. These scales can be as simple as a five-point scale to a more complicated 100% scale (from 0% to 100% satisfaction) depending on the specific needs of your organization and the time clients will spend helping you evaluate service.

Often on written surveys with these scales there is also room left for written comments to such questions as:

What did you like best about our service?

What did you like least about our service?

What improvements or changes would you like us to make?

Any other comments or suggestions?

11.Organize a focus group. Focus groups are a random or pre-selected group of clients who come to a meeting to respond to new ideas around client service. Focus groups concentrate on specific ideas and programs to help an organization understand what its clients truly want in the way of services.

12.Some organizations deal with a large community of clients. Sometimes it may be useful to present new ideas at a public meeting to get immediate feedback from a large cross section of your clients.

13.Counting specific statistics such as number of clients served and number of complaints or compliments is another objective tool for measuring some forms of client satisfaction.

When I was working as the Customer Relations Consultant at a large urban hospital, I had the opportunity to coordinate a number of efforts to measure the satisfaction of patients and families with the care that they received while in the hospital. The interesting part was that regardless of how we measured their satisfaction, information, or the lack of it, had the greatest impact on patient satisfaction. Patients told us that they needed to know what to expect while in the hospital, how to care for themselves at home and the long-term impact of their health problem.

Beverley Powell-Vinden

Action Plan

It is important to take the information from this section and make an action plan for yourself about what things you would like to continue doing and what you want to do differently.

Idea  Your ideas (e.g., Find out what clients think of us now.)

How to Do It?  Client satisfaction survey of next 100 clients including written and verbal methods.


Do it When?  For the next 2 weeks.

How to Know if Successful?  100% responses of satisfaction or better. Repeat survey twice a year.

Providing Staff Service

Earlier in this section we discussed what a client could reasonably expect in the way of service. There is a reverse skill that I highly recommend. Just as clients want to receive service that fulfils their needs, staff also appreciates it when clients return the favor. Try being a "client beyond expectations". In large organizations, many staff are in fact "clients" for/of other staff. Staffs in organizations like to feel the following:

To feel welcomed

To feel comfortable and safe

To be understood

To feel important

To be appreciated

To be recognized and remembered

To be treated with respect

To be treated as a valued individual

To be treated honestly and fairly

To feel they are in control

To increase your own likelihood of receiving service beyond expectations in your own organization or in other organizations where you pay for products or use a service, try a few of the following things to improve the service you receive.

Learn Names

If you go to the same places often for products or service, learn the people's names and address them by name. People like to be remembered since they meet so many people during a day that do not know them. Also help them remember your name so that they can say "Hello Harry" (or whatever) when they see you in the corridor or on the street.

Understand Job

If you understand the people's job, including their busy times, some of their job stresses, and their interests, then you can build a genuine rapport with them. Recognizing their difficulties and strengths means your long-term relationship will constantly improve. Joining staff of other teams for coffee or lunch occasionally will enhance an atmosphere of mutual exchange.

Try to go to the organization, department or clinic during slower times so you can chat a bit, find out about special sales, upcoming events, etc. You do not have to become a "gossip" but a genuine interest in the other person's work is usually returned with better service. Would not you serve people with an extra bit of energy and enthusiasm if you felt they were interested in what you do?

Special Effort

For people who serve you especially well, make an extra effort to thank them, tell them what you liked about their service, and compare them favorably to other people you deal with.


There are only a few general rules for providing excellent client service. They are easy to memorize and should be your basis for providing "Service Beyond Expectations".

Your purpose at work is to give your clients service beyond their expectations.

Rule #1: Use common sense in all situations. If you are not sure what common sense applies in a specific situation, ask someone who does or read the appropriate policy or procedure in your organization.

Rule #2: Treat everyone like a valued client. If you supply services to other people in your organization, then they are your clients. Treat them with the same respect and common sense you would treat the people who come to your organization as valued clients.

Rule #3: Put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Client service is not difficult to provide if you put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Remember what it feels like to go to other organizations and be treated exceptionally well or very poorly. Model those organizations that do it well. There are no other general rules.

Now that you know the rules for service beyond expectations you need to know what general expectations your clients realistically have of your organization. Your role is to meet these needs and whenever possible provide service that goes beyond these basic expectations. Your clients reasonably expect:

To feel welcomed

To feel comfortable and safe

To be understood

To feel important

To be appreciated

To be recognized and remembered

To be treated with respect

To be treated as a valued individual

To be treated honestly and fairly

To feel they are in control


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Baker, S. K. (1998). Managing patient expectations: The art of finding and keeping loyal patients. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Barlow, J., & Moller, C. (1996). A complaint is a gift: Using customer feedback as a strategic tool. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Blanchard, K., & Bowles, S.M. (1993). Raving fans: A revolutionary approach to customer service. New York: William Morrow.

Brown, S.,A., Martenfeld, M.B.,& Gould, A. (1990). Creating the service culture: Strategies for Canadian health care facility/team. Scarborough, ON: Prentice Hall.

Clemmer, J. with Sheehy, B. (1990). Firing on all cylinders: The service/quality system for high-powered corporate performance. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.

Gale, B.T., & Wood, R.C. (1994). Managing customer value: Creating quality and service that clients can see. New York: Free Press.

Gerson, RF. (1993). Measuring customer satisfaction. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.

Katz, J.M., & Green, E. (1996). Managing quality: A guide to system-wide performance management in health care. New York: Mosby.

Leebov, W., Scott, G., & Olson, L. (1998). Achieving impressive customer service: 7 strategies for the health care manager. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sherman, S. G., & Sherman, V. C. (1998). Total customer satisfaction: A comprehensive approach for health care providers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stamatis, D.H. (1996). Total quality management in healthcare: Implementation strategies for optimum results. Burr Ridge, IL: Irwin.

Practical Leadership

Below is a FREE iBook of our book Prescription Leadership.

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Copyright © 2000 Harry van Bommel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical copying, recording or otherwise, except with the prior written permission of the author or under license from the Canadian Copyright Agency.