Alternative Health Practice blogs about how to improve your practice services and become more client-friendly.

Last year at our strategic planning session, which involved a big push to serve, we launched Project 52, a customer service initiative for 2009. The goal was simple: make one customer service improvement each week for a whole year.They didn’t have to be huge or expensive shifts – they just had to improve the client experience.

A year later, we’re looking at a long list of improvements. They range from warm slippers and adding additional  soundproofing between treatment rooms, to 30-minute guarantees on returning messages during business hours and softer toilet paper. I thought I’d share how we did it in a little more detail, and tell you about our new Project 52 for 2010.

How To Start Your Own Project 52

1. Create a Visual Way to Track Progress

Of course, if you’re going to make 52 improvements, it makes sense to track them. Not only can you monitor how you’re doing, but as we’ve discovered, there’s a nice side bonus of ending up with a sort of “diary” of customer service improvements over the year. It’s easy to forget just how much change you actually make in a year – it’s a pretty rewarding feeling to look at our list of enhancements.

For us, a piece of flip chart paper was the easiest, cheapest way to track our progress. Draw a grid with 52 squares and you’re done. Total time: about 2 minutes. Total cost: about two cents.

You can use a computer file if you want, or something smaller than a big flip chart. Just make sure it conforms to the next tip, which is…

2. Post Your Tracking In a Visible Place

We have a small staff room in the clinic, so we hung our chart there. It made it top-of-mind for everyone. There was always this mild pressure to come up with a new idea. If progress slowed down, it was visible to everyone. And when we were stuck, we could…

3. Ask for Ideas

Making 52 little changes isn’t actually that hard. Surprisingly, the hardest part can be to think them up. It’s easy to come out of the gate quickly – I had a good dozen on my mind when we started – but as things get busy, it can become challenging to think of new improvements.

  • Looking over our list, the vast majority didn’t come from Tara or I. They came from other people. If you get stuck, try the following:
    Ask your clients: We did a very brief survey over the course of a couple of weeks in the office. It had two questions: What do you enjoy most about your visits here? and How can we make your experience better?
  • Turn on your radar for subtle “hints”: once you get tuned into this stuff, you realize that people are giving you service feedback all the time – it’s just not in the form of outright complaints. Listen for those comments that aren’t really complaints, but are indications of less than ideal service.
  • Ask non-clients: great service tends to be similar across great businesses. If you ask a few friends about where they receive the best service, and why, you might find you’ll get some great ideas.
  • Ask your stafff: If you have help, ask the folks on your team. They’re the people getting all the front line action and fielding most of the comments and complaints. In our case, the credit for pulling this off goes to them. Including our high-tech tracking system. 

4. Collect Ideas Somewhere Safe and Visible
Some ideas aren’t implemented right away. Some you won’t use at all. What’s important, though, is to have a place to keep track of them. We taped our Project 52 list to a whiteboard so anyone could scratch down potential ideas as they occurred.

5. Don’t Worry About “Big”

In addition to service, one of our other core values is continuous improvement. Project 52 is a visible, measurable manifestation of that. But to continually improve, you need to let go of the idea of massive, sweeping improvements that hog resources. Something as small as our parking bowl improves the client experience by a tiny bit. Those tiny bits can add up to whether or not a) a client returns to your practice and b) they refer other people to you.

And this year? Our new Project 52 is called Random Acts of Wow! (Yep – we love naming stuff.) It’s similar to last year (there’s a flipchart), but with a couple of differences. This year, we’ll focus on making exceptional acts of service on an individual level. Little gifts, thoughts, calls, notes and other random acts of kindness for our patients.

To make it happen we’ve established a massive Project 52 budget of $50 per month.  That can be spent at the discretion of anyone on the team. The only rule is this: you don’t have to ask, but you do have to tell. In other words, be kind, and share the stories with us via the Project 52 board.

Everyone seems pretty excited about this one. I suspect that most of the things that fill the chart won’t cost anything. Kindness, after all, is usually free.

Happy 2010 everyone. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful year of helping and growing!

-Dan & Tara

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