What's it like to be your customer?

Maureen Fitzgerald
NIATx, Great Lakes ATTC

NIATx coaches share their favorite walk-through stories

Understanding and involving the customer is the first and most important of the NIATx principles, and the walk-through is the most crucial tool for accomplishing this. The walk-through allows you to see your organization from your customers’ point of view. This simple exercise is also part of the pre-work for the NIATx Change Leader Academy to help participants focus on the customer experience.

NIATX coaches have guided many organizations through the walk-through exercise. Here we share some of their favorite walk-through stories:

Doors locked during business hours? 

“In 2005 I did a walk-through in several programs. One of the programs on my list was an outpatient and medication-assisted treatment program. Both of the doors I tried at the building’s entrance were locked. Eventually I rang the bell and someone answered, unlocked the door, and let me in. My thought was “If is this really a legitimate business, why are the doors locked during business hours?” The results of that walk-through saw lots of changes in the organization. The first one was unlocking the doors, which the board of directors had resisted for years. Other changes including having a live person answer the phone, improving the assessment process, starting walk-in assessments, and many other process improvements. The program has continued using the NIATx model for the last 10 years: just recently they conducted a walk-through to look at changing medication dispensing operations to address client engagement.”
Janet Zwick, NIATx Coach
President, Zwick Healthcare Consultants

The walk-through: a paperwork reduction act

In all of my experience doing walk-throughs, paperwork is almost always noted as something to fix—a showstopper for most everyone. Most everyone works on trimming it down, eliminating redundancy, developing checklists, and dispensing sheets when it is necessary to complete for diagnosis, payment etc. This turns out to be a vast improvement over handing patients an overwhelming packet that has to be completed before any service can start.”
Amy McIlvaine, NIATx Coach
Educational Services Director, NIATx

From skeptic to instant convert in just one phone call 

“I was leading a Change Leader Academy and an executive director of an SUD treatment organization had arrived without having completed a “walk-through” of a customer process at her agency, prior to attending the CLA. During a break, I suggested she do a quick walk-through by trying to schedule an appointment over the phone at her agency.

She said, “I will simply end up talking to our receptionist--is that really beneficial?”

I said, “Tell her you are role-playing a customer and would like to set up an appointment.” She finally agreed and went out in the hallway to make the call.

Five minutes later she came back with her eyes wide and a surprised look on her face. She said, "I called the main office line that is used by the public, but the receptionist was on another call so my call was bumped to voicemail, which is what should have happened. The problem is the voicemail I was sent to belongs to a staff person who left our organization three months ago!"

This phone line was one neither she nor her staff utilized very often, so no one knew what the customer was experiencing. This executive director was an instant convert to the value of the walk-through and the need to continually check your processes from the perspective of your customers.”
Scott Gatzke,
NIATx Coach
Elder Tree Dissemination Manager

Found the building. How do I get in?

“The walk-though creates an invaluable new lens through which to see the familiar, thereby opening up new possibilities for improvement. Years ago I did a walk-through at a residential program—a program run by my agency that I had visited dozens of times—and quickly learned that I had no idea how to get into the building.

The simple act of changing my perspective to one of a consumer who needed information that was not available resulted in a clear and quick understanding of the need for improved signage that would direct customers to the right door with clear labels for the bell and intercom system on that door. This was quickly and easily fixed after the walk-through.”
Mat Roosa, NIATx Coach
Director of Planning & Quality Improvement
Onondaga County, Syracuse NY.

From intake to the emergency room

“I think one of the most amazing walk-through stories I’d ever heard was the one done by a drug court. The staff doing the walk-through went to great lengths to walk in the customer’s shoes as an offender/patient. As it thankfully turned out this program, among an extensive list of steps and assessments, measured blood pressure as part of the normal intake procedures. The staff person pretending to be an offender/patient was so overcome by anxiety and discomfort during the walk-through that her blood pressure skyrocketed—it was so high that she was rushed to the hospital. The organization then realized the high-stress environment that the clients were being exposed to throughout their enrollment was not productive and visibly harmful.”
Mark Zehner, NIATx Coach
Associate Researcher
Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies  

Do you have a favorite walk-through story that opened your eyes to your customers' experience? Share your story in the comment section below!

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