After many years as a patient in the civilian world of health insurance and health care, I decided to finally utilize my VA medical benefits this year. I had an expectation of long waits, difficult communication, and substandard care. Boy was I in for a surprise.
We all know what life has been like over recent years. The pandemic has taken a toll, but even prior to the pandemic, the political discourse in our country had become political vitriol. The fallout from the great recession was still being felt in some circles. Social media became a source of bullying and hate. Life was challenging. Add the pandemic, and you get an environment where people are challenged in nearly every aspect of life. So, imagine my surprise at discovering a reprieve from this world in the most unexpected of places. I am in no way suggesting that our VA health system is perfect, nor am I suggesting that everyone’s experience is the same, however, my experiences at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center have been something out of the Twilight Zone – in a good way.
Enter the VA hospital and enter an entirely different world. First of all, this particular facility is fairly new and still quite shiny. But instead of feeling cold and sterile, as it easily could, it feels warm and inviting. As you enter, there are several volunteers there to greet you and ask if you need any assistance. Further in, there is a shop with a little bit of everything you could possibly need in it. If you happen to go in there, the cashier greets you as you enter with a ‘hello’ and genuine smile. A little further down the hall is a coffee shop “Patriot Brew.” And throughout the main corridor are various information stations staffed by volunteers and numerous art displays, historical military displays, displays honoring various demographics of our citizenry and their military service. Arrive at your clinic and you are greeted immediately. They check you in by simply asking your last name and last four of your social, again with a warm smile. They tell you to take a seat and you’ll be called soon. Within five minutes – I kid you not, with rare exception it has been five minutes or less – I was called to an exam room. There the nurse does their nursing things and a few minutes thereafter the doctor comes in and does their doctoring things. No one mentions insurance, because there isn’t any. In nearly every interaction I’ve had, the doctor gives all the information and treatment options and then defers to the patient to make an informed decision about their own body and course of action. Nothing against the civilian facilities and doctors I have had over the years, I’ve had many truly outstanding physicians, but most of the time the doctor does all of the deciding and tells the patient what will happen next. It is amazing to be treated as an intelligent, self-determining person who can act in partnership with the doctor for the best course of action. Afterwards, any follow-up appointments are scheduled, and you walk to the exit and simply leave. No credit card involved. One time, when I got to the exam room, the doctor was already in there waiting for me. I have definitely never had that experience before! The walk out of the hospital is much like the walk in, with several smiles, and ‘hellos,’ and have a ‘wonderful days.’ Even out to the parking garage, someone always holds the elevator door and smiles and has a warm greeting.
All of this at a hospital. Where people are often feeling their worst. A place filled with disease and injuries. A place with men and women, some still recovering from horrific war wounds, some well into their nineties and their very last stages of life. All smiles, and warmth, and genuine pleasantries. I watched a receptionist come out from behind her desk just to have a conversation with an elderly gentleman. I watched a volunteer willing to take the time to listen to someone’s story. I watched people at all levels show the kind of love and compassion that is so abundantly lacking in our daily lives and yet costs us nothing to share.
As I was leaving my appointment this week, I had a bit of an epiphany. Not only did I not mind going to my appointments there, it was actually a quite pleasant reprieve from my usual day. The pace was relaxed and people seemed genuinely happy to be there and to see me. Clearly, this is a reflection of leadership at every level of the institution. That attitude absolutely does not happen accidentally. But it also highlighted a bigger idea. This was not just outstanding customer service, but it was customer service grounded in the value of giving back to the men and women who have given of themselves to serve our country. The people working there seem to really believe that what they are doing serves a cause greater than themselves, and that each and every person they serve is a valued person with dignity, deserving of their respect.
Now think about that and think about your job. What do you do everyday to make a living and support yourself and your family? Do you go to work each day and do your job, maybe even do a really great job, and then go home without really giving it much thought? Or, do you go to work each day, believing in a greater mission than what presents itself on the surface, treating your coworkers, customers, and vendors each as valued persons with dignity, deserving of your respect? Do people come into your place of business and feel a lightness because they know they will be greeted with a genuine smile and someone with a genuine desire to serve them? Regardless of what you do for a living or where you work, you fulfill a need, or the job would not exist. Knowing and understanding the deeper mission behind that need may very well help you to offer a more sincere and genuine level of exceptional customer service. And, if you lead an organization, you have the opportunity to help your employees to develop that deeper level of mission by treating each one of them as if they were the most important person in your organization with every interaction, and by creating policies and systems that are based on the idea that all of us are valued people with dignity, deserving of respect.
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