Several years ago surgeons in London completed a six-hour operation to fix a hole in a young boy’s heart. The surgery was successful, but the most dangerous part was about to begin – transferring the three-year-old patient from the operating room to the intensive care unit. Hospital studies report that seventy percent of preventable hospital errors happen due to communication problems, and half of those breakdowns happen during the patient hand-offs. This surgical team was successful, though, because they had spent time studying how a Formula One pit crew was able to coordinate their 20-person team to switch out tires, check fluids, fill gas and get a car back on the race track in under seven seconds. They learned that effectiveness and efficiency is no accident. It’s the outcome of a series of well-planned hand-offs among a team.
Hand-offs in your business may not be as life-threatening as a hospital setting, but all customer hand-offs represent significant opportunities to either amaze your customers with the experience or to disappoint them and harm the relationship. Your company can apply three simple actions to improve customer hand-offs in your organization.
1. Develop a system for recording small errors. Details matter. What the race crew and hospital team discovered is that it’s not only the big errors in coordination among the team that creates the big problems. Small issues often go unnoticed and unresolved. A large error is obvious to all and can cause a customer to become frustrated and complain, but a sequence of small errors create customers that slowly drift away to competitors. The pit crew’s coordination is excellent precisely because they obsess over the smallest errors, the tiniest gaps in communication, and the minor inconsistencies across their pit stops. After they record all of the small errors they identify ways to improve on them and/or create contingencies to adapt to them if things go wrong.
2. Create a customer hand-off protocol. Your organization needs a structured approach to managing customer hand-offs that is enforced during every opportunity. Blount Memorial Hospital in Tennessee has developed a protocol they call, “Just go NUTS.” NUTS is an acronym they use for Name, Unique issues, Tubes and Safety – a defined protocol discussion that takes place with every patient every time they are transferred from one area to another. Your company needs a similar protocol specific to your business. It is critical that you create a way to ensure that the right information is transferred about a customer as the customer is being handed over from one company representative to another.
3. Formalize the communication with customers during hand-offs. Call centers are familiar with the approach of adding warmth to hand-offs by introducing the customer to the next person they will be speaking with to transfer the trust and credibility the rep has built to the next agent. Introducing the next individual that the customer will interact with in a positive light is critical. For example, if you’re in a doctor’s office and transferring a patient from the physician to the billing department, you can introduce the next contact like this: “We’re going to meet next with Shirley. She handles all of our billing and has been with the practice for 15 years. Patients love her and she’s a great go-to person if you have any challenges with your insurance company.” That kind of hand-off puts the customer at-ease, and when done well, is a great positive reinforcement technique among employees as well. So identify places where you can create warm hand-offs. Lastly, it is critical that you keep customers updated on the status of their requests regularly, particularly when a hand-off has occurred. Build a follow-up process that routinely lets the customer know that you remember they are waiting and that you are working on their request.
Creating more coordinated customer hand-offs will address one of the more significant pain points for customers. It’s where the organizational silos of a company often become visible and apparent to customers and where customers can fall through the cracks – or worse yet, slowly drift away. Take action this week by improving your hand-offs to create better experiences for your customers.