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CIO Unplugged 4/11/12

April 11, 2012 Ed Marx 10 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Satisfaction—I Can’t Get No….

“You have a Masters in Computer Science?”

The hiring manager’s initial question took me aback. Human Resources had obviously misread my degree qualifications, yet my resume still passed the screeners.

Eager to land my first salaried position, I cleared my throat and hoped my answer wouldn’t displease. “Although I do know something about computers, my Masters is in Consumer Sciences, the philosophy and practice of customer service.”

Despite her realization that I had the “wrong” degree, the hiring manager looked past this and focused on talent. And thus began my journey into the convergence of healthcare, technology, and service.

This initial position was not IT, but rather an adjunct to the corporate strategy office. Specifically, physician relations. They wanted a person with a technical background who could market the IT applications, thus endearing physicians (and their referrals) to the hospital.

IT had only achieved 5% physician adoption. They lacked the service orientation and communication skills necessary for success. By adopting service-oriented practices and strategies, we increased utilization to 85%. It was during this time that I experienced my defining moment, launching my healthcare IT career.

Customer satisfaction is a passion of mine. A service orientation mindset changes an organization. I’ve seen the positive correlation. Not only are more customers satisfied, but the benefits extend outward. Employee morale increases. Productivity increases. The organization becomes more effective and efficient.

Here are a sampling of results achieved by customer-centric teams.

  • In a mid-size hospital, we deployed several applications to physicians in our region with hopes of gaining market share. We poured service all over our offerings and reached a 91% customer satisfaction rating. In one year, we went from 45% to 55% market share in four strategic indicators.
  • In an academic health system, we quadrupled “top box” customer satisfaction scores in four years. Financial and quality scores increased exponentially on the same slope. Employees who were once embarrassed to be part of IT now delighted in the honor of being part of the team.
  • In an integrated health system, we increased “top box” satisfaction 30% in three years. While we maintained revenue targets, we exceeded many quality targets.

How do you achieve superior customer satisfaction and sustain the gains? My team identified nine keys:


Right people in the right positions. Everything rises and falls on leadership (Maxwell). The first thing you must do is ensure the right people are operating in the right roles. Although painful, you must remove some from the “bus” and have others change seats. The quickest way to change the direction and service orientation of your organization is to put people into positions that best utilize their natural talent.

Effective communication. Personally and sympathetically counter negative perceptions and battle anecdotal commentary with facts. Establish monthly reports with dashboards on service levels, project status, key deliverables, and achievements. Share the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. Deliver presentations whenever and wherever you can, evangelizing IT. Become a valued member of every management team.

Relationship building. Strong relationships cover a multitude of sins. Assign IT leaders directly to operational leaders and make routine calls and visits to address concerns. This allows operational leaders to have a single “go-to” person for all their IT interactions and reduces associated complexities. Involve IT leaders in organizational events such as blood drives, sporting events, service opportunities, volunteering, and charity work. Establish a program for connecting with clinicians.

Strategic planning. “Where there is no vision, people wander.” This proverb characterizes IT: a bunch of well-intentioned professionals without direction. Consequently, there is stifled progress, pent-up demand, and frustration. Solicit input from your enterprise and fashion a strategic plan. Review annually and ensure organizational alignment and convergence.

Comprehensive governance. Implement a formal but agile governance process comprised of and led by customers. This ensures IT alignment with organizational vision and gives you a level of rigor, accountability, and transparency not previously possible. Include rank-and-file customers, senior executives, and especially nurses and physicians.

Continuous quality improvement. Your survey vendor will provide in-depth analytics and recommendations based on the results. For instance, after learning that nurses represented our most dissatisfied customer group, we swept through nursing floors and made sure IT became a clinical care enabler. We added hundreds of mobile computers to patient floors to satisfy their greatest complaint — lack of devices.

Aligned incentives. Create a single key performance indicator on which incentives and raises are based … the annual customer satisfaction score. Everyone will become focused on service.

Execution excellence. Without excellent execution, all other strategies are moot.

The secret weapon. The secret weapon is heart. Heart is the wellspring from which motivation emanates. Empathy, compassion, and humility combine to mold a heart that seeks to serve. I’ll hire those with high talent and high heart but mediocre skills any day over someone who has low talent and no heart. Skills can be taught, heart is caught.

Superior customer satisfaction and information technology need not be mutually exclusive. It is less a matter of programs and more about a sustainable leadership imperative that transcends culture. It is a journey, not a destination, and requires a steadfastness of focus, discipline, and courage.

Unlike The Stones, you can get Satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey, that’s what I say …

How do you create a service oriented culture? Share your ideas below and I will send you a presentation I did on developing a customer service culture plus the accompanying Gartner case study.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. In my experience in order to have a service oriented culture you have to be the example of the service you want. When others see it being done then they can truly emulate it. Example is the most effect way for things to be caught not just taught.

  2. Great blog and I 100% agree with you. I feel my role as an informatics professional is 10% IT and 90% Relationship manager. I listen, act and communicate effectively with my customers and it makes them very happy – even when I cannot necessarily provide them with the answer/solution they were looking for! Some of the other traditional style IT folks can’t understand why people come to me over them when they have issues.

  3. Focusing on service… becoming a partner with those who you’re working with to solve problems… is critical. I couldn’t agree with you more. One thing I stress with my team is that any issue that comes our way is “our problem”, even if we actually can’t resolve it we can connect with the right teams and help follow up. It can be common in a large organization to pass the hot potato. But if you help a clinician and own a problem and usher it through to resolution, I have found that small token goes a long way with people.

  4. I have found that the mindset shift which you talk about is critical in making IT customer centric. When IT begins to see itself as an enabler of the business and business improvement and is given clear direction on how to do this then the change happens. The willingness to be open with users about the capabilities of what you can bring and for your team truely to see itself as providing IT to serve the business goes along way.

    I was given a good book called “Unleashing Excellence” recently that went into this in some depth.

  5. Love your style Ed! The consistent refernce to “we”( vs.”I”) says it all. Another great keeper article.

  6. My observation is that many people in IT are not willing to set their service expectations very high in an effort to minimize customer disappointment. No one wants to promise too much. If a person excels at staisfying customers with prompt and accurate results, peers may often see this person as a threat to the status quo. Only strong leadership, not efficient management, can overcome this situation.

  7. Spot on, Ed!

    Leadership sets the tone. The great leaders that I have worked with/for have let those superstars they hired…be superstars. Often times we hire people because they are ambitious, outgoing, friendly, etc. only to try to mold them into something different.

  8. Good article as always and insightful nine keys. Curious about the order and which ones can be directly measured against outcomes. I will appreciate a copy of the presentation.
    Keep it up!

  9. I focus on communicating. When asked to solve a problem, I answer the following way:

    This is what we can do today.
    This is what we can do tomorrow without a shift in priorities or resources.
    This is what we could do tomorrow with a shift in priorities or resources.
    This is what we probably shouldn’t do, even though it may seem to be a good idea because …

    I have found that the honest and direct approach above helps everyone see that we have a common goal and helps us all understand the path that we are taking to get there. It also ensures we have what we need to get the job done when we have the this is what we could do given more resources/shifted priorities conversation.

  10. Excellent article! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried to convince people in the traditional IT mindset that customer service, especially with the clinicians, is beyond important to get EHR buy-in.
    I look forward to your article each week! Thanks!

  11. Ed, Your ability to communicate & articulate your experiences to provide a different way of thinking from the traditional is very much appreciated. Along the same lines is a theme I’ve used in the past: The 3 L’s: Look, Listen & Learn. Facilitates a great buy-in technique.

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