UK - NHS leaders vow to improve customer focus and look to John Lewis for advice

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 9 October 2007




(2007), "UK - NHS leaders vow to improve customer focus and look to John Lewis for advice", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 20 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

UK - NHS leaders vow to improve customer focus and look to John Lewis for advice

Keywords: Leadership capacity, Customer care improvement, Patient information

The NHS is looking to successful companies, as well as leaders from within the health service at home and abroad, in a drive to improve customer focus and the service it offers patients.

A new NHS Confederation report Great Expectations: what does customer focus mean for the NHS? highlights examples of excellence in customer focus in organisations including John Lewis, Lloyds pharmacy, Turning Point and BT as well as health bodies, and draws conclusions for the whole of the NHS.

The report is launched as research by Ipsos MORI, commissioned by the NHS Confederation, reveals that 93 per cent of the public think it is important for the NHS to pay more attention to customer services such as friendlier staff, easier appointment booking systems, clearer information about treatment and better bedside manner.

In addition, in a survey of 337 NHS chief executives and chairs, 100 per cent of NHS leaders concede that the NHS is not sufficiently customer focused at present. Of those, 43 per cent said that a significant change in customer focus is required and 22 per cent believe a fundamental change is needed.

Great Expectations says that the key to good customer focus is happy staff – as a contented workforce will provide more customer-focused services. The report also emphasises that customer focus needs to be driven from the top of any organisation and NHS leaders must endeavour to make sure that their staff receive job satisfaction. Great Expectations concludes that a customer-focused workplace will give staff greater confidence and increase their ability to respond to patients’ needs, as well dealing with the stresses and strains of working life.

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents over 90 per cent of NHS organisations, said:

“Customer focus is about doing everything we can to make the patient’s experience as pleasant, straightforward and unstressful as possible. High satisfaction ratings in patient surveys show that NHS providers are already doing well in this area, but there is always more that can be done. And in this age of rising expectations, customer focus has become a critical issue for all healthcare providers.”

“The report shows that there is a great deal of good practice on excellent customer service – not only from the private and voluntary sectors, but also from within the NHS itself. We all need to learn from the best to deliver a first class, customer-focused NHS fit for the 21st century.”

“Getting the best outcomes from the care we give to patients is vital but is not sufficient. We must think about the patient experience as a whole. It is about seeing things from the patient’s point of view and treating them as we would expect to be treated ourselves. Caring as well as curing is not an optional extra it is at the heart of good practice. When you are in pain it is the hand that you hold that reminds you of your humanity.”

“What is striking from this report is that all the examples of excellent customer focus involve giving staff and the systems they work in more attention. Staff are of course also customers of the NHS and the same care needs to be extended to them as our more traditional customers – the patients. As we move towards a more customer-focused health service, staff will have a key role in redesigning systems to ensure they are customer focused.”

Nine leaders of organisations who have pursued excellence in customer focus were interviewed for the report. Their observations include:

Our message is that customer service is a priority for our organisation and we are committed to it. The pay-off comes in greater success in user care, fewer complaints and better health outcomes in the longer term (Nikki Richardson, South Essex Partnership Foundation Trust).

You have to see your organisation through the eyes of your customers, and match this to your organisation’s vision of itself. Then you can spot the gaps between the two. You have to recognise that gaps do exist and that you need effective arrangements to put them right. What matters is the way you sort it out (Simon Fowler, Director of customer services, John Lewis Partnership).

You have to measure your own performance in the eyes of your customer. It’s pointless to look at internal measures. You have to think about what the customer is thinking: How was it for me? Good? Bad? Or indifferent? (Adam Smith, BT Global Services).

Providing health services requires a personal interaction and the establishment of trust. Customers must feel that they have been treated with respect and as individuals. This is how customer focus feels (Justin Ash, Lloyds pharmacy).

The point is that as people become more aware of us and our services, they become more engaged in how the services are provided and run. So the process of customer-focus starts to be self-fulfilling (Alwen Williams, Tower Hamlets PCT).

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