Q: What can a small health-services business do to improve customer satisfaction and net promoter scores?

A: Regardless of the size of a service-oriented business, improving customer satisfaction means assuring the customer experience meets or exceeds expectations. Health care business managers tend to focus on the physicians, nurses and other service providers in relation to improving the experience — a good start, perhaps, but it misses many opportunities in the customer journey.

Consider a simple dentist or physical therapy appointment. Before ever seeing a nurse or physician, the patient interacts with scheduling, receptionists and perhaps other people on staff. If customer satisfaction improvement changes ignore these members of the health care team, patient experience scores may not change much.

"From the first customer touch point during appointment-setting to follow-up calls after an appointment, a single negative interaction can ruin an otherwise positive patient journey through the process," said Paul Omodt, co-founder of Frame Changers, which specializes in helping health-care organizations improve patient experience. "To patients, everyone in the chain is part of their care."

Omodt stresses the importance of respecting all team members, regardless of role.

"If the custodian wears scrubs," he said, "a patient sees them as part of the team and may ask for help of some kind. Including anyone who could potentially contribute to a patient experience in training and changes pays double benefits."

As it relates to scores, Omodt notes the financial incentives often tied directly to satisfaction or likelihood of referring a friend.

"Many providers face poor Medicare star ratings or other measures, which can directly impact how much a firm gets reimbursed for services, so it isn't just hoping good experience turns into more revenue — it really means changes in payments," he said.

Regardless of training or process changes made, your management team really needs to support the essence of reframing the patient relationship at every touch point. That means ongoing commitment to the strategies developed, and true respect for the work every member of the team provides in the patient experience.

Mike Porter is a faculty member in the marketing department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.