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Journal of ASPR - Summer 2012 - Everything I Needed to Know About Onboarding I Learned as a Waitress
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Everything I Needed to Know About Onboarding I Learned as a Waitress

By Gina Truhe, AASPR, Onboarding Specialist, Health Quest, LaGrangeville, NY

Gina Truhe

For many of us, going out to dinner at a restaurant is a treat, a reward on Saturday night for a hard week of work, or a time to celebrate our milestones. When the service is good, we feel like royalty. When the service is poor, it can ruin the whole night regardless of how great the food is. Restaurant professionals who are well-trained in customer service know what to say to make us feel comfortable and can deftly handle problems that may arise.

Like many of us, I spent my early 20s earning extra cash by working in restaurants. The skills I learned from that experience have proven to be invaluable in my current role of onboarding new providers into our medical practice. Similar to working in the restaurant industry, the root of what we do in recruiting and onboarding is unequivocally customer service-based. We are here to provide our customers (newly hired providers, senior management, the medical staff, physician’s families, etc) with high quality, friendly and courteous service. Here are some more similarities I noticed between the restaurant industry and healthcare onboarding:

Greet your guests promptly and warmly

Many fine dining restaurants set an expectation that guests be greeted within seconds of their arrival. The maître d’ or host should welcome them at the door, refer to them by name if possible, and show them to their table. This type of service will set the tone for what the diner can look forward to.

Similarly, the person or team responsible for onboarding should meet new providers as early as possible — preferably during interview process, but otherwise at least by contract time. Those involved in onboarding should welcome new providers to the practice, introduce themselves and find out what needs to done to assist them with a positive pre-employment experience. Taking my past training into consideration, I like to end each conversation with “is there anything else I can do for you?” This helps set the expectation of the quality of service they can look forward to during onboarding.

Really sell the specials

Good waitresses can make guests forget about what’s on the menu and think only about the night’s specials. Of course, waitresses will earn a little more if the special is chosen over the regular menu — but this is a time when they can show just how passionate they are about the food they are serving. In one restaurant where I worked, we weren’t allowed to read specials from a list — we had to have them memorized, know them well and tell a story, such as, “Tonight we are serving one of my favorites — homemade cavatelli pasta with a slow-cooked pork ragu and it is topped with fresh, local ricotta cheese.” We told our guests what was special about our food.

The same is true in onboarding. Everyone involved in the onboarding process needs to make sure they can relay what is special about the organization. They need to give a push to the services that should be highlighted. For instance, “We are really proud of our credentialing team. They work hard to make sure our providers can start as quickly as possible.” Or, “I think you’re really going to enjoy working with Dr. Sheedy, he is going to be a great ally and will advocate for you!”

Be honest about “the menu”

As a waitress, when guests would ask me how I felt about specific dishes on the menu, I would always be honest. If asked how I felt about the chicken I might say, “It’s good, and a lot of people order it, but it isn’t my favorite item on the menu.” Or, “To be honest, I don’t think it is our best dish.” If the kitchen was moving slowly that night, I would tell my guests that their meals may take a little longer than usual, but would be worth the wait. They always appreciated my candor.

In onboarding, it’s also so important that we be honest with our providers about timelines, hold-ups, or stumbling blocks. Without properly setting their expectations, how else will they know how things are supposed to go?

Fix mistakes humbly and quickly

In the restaurant business, it happened to all of us from time to time: we put an order in incorrectly, or we got the drink order confused, or the kitchen sent out the wrong item. As long as we were honest about the error, apologized and offered to fix it quickly, most people were satisfied. We might have had to adjust the bill or send over a free dessert, but that was better than sending them away unhappy.

Likewise, onboarding is a lengthy process with a lot of time available for something to go wrong! We all know mistakes are going to happen. As long as we do what we can to correct them and update our processes to ensure they don’t happen again, our new providers will understand. Our processes will always be works in progress — no matter how mature the program or how comfortable we are with it. We need to be flexible enough to rebound quickly. After all, not all mistakes are bad...we need to use them to make the process better in the future!

So, perhaps waitressing didn’t teach me much about the Stark Law or about managed care credentialing, but it did teach me a lot about people. I learned how to appear calm when under pressure, politely deal with rude people, and make my guests feel like they were the only ones who mattered. Not everyone is cut out to be a waitress, but it doesn’t hurt to think like one!

Journal of ASPR - Summer 2012