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The latest blogs from BIFM, and from guest bloggers, and all things facilities and beyond.

Keep Your Customers Close. By Finbarr Murray, Director of Estates, ‎East Kent Hospitals University Foundation

26-10-16, 09:47

There is a school of thought that says you should keep your customers at arm's length - they might tell you something you don't want to hear. I think the opposite, and try to seek as much feedback from customers as possible.

In the NHS there are plenty of customers to choose from and nearly every week letters arrive from our service users. The NHS is one of those organisations that incites emotion in a lot of people. More often than not, people who live close to one of our hospitals often have long relationships with us and therefore feel very impassioned to write about their experience of good care or when their experience didn't live up to scratch. In the FM's world it usually focuses on those first steps, the cleanliness of the public toilets, the reception staff, the signage and, of course, the parking.

I take these letters, calls and emails as a positive. It's key to delivering better services and, frankly, as managers we can't be everywhere all of the time so extra motivated pairs of eyes can be a very useful tool. More formally, though, and the reason for writing about this subject is the NHS's patient-inclusive assessments, which drive up national standards. The most significant of these is the Patient Lead Assessment of Clinical Environments, or PLACE.

PLACE assessments happen nationally across all NHS hospitals and provide a formal standardised assessment by the people who are most motivated to care - our patients.

PLACE happens by providing a formal framework by which patients and staff together assess a wide range of standard metrics. These include food, cleanliness, maintenance, privacy and dignity, and some new measures on disability and dementia friendliness. These standard metrics are then tested across a number of defined areas, including our emergency departments, wards, canteens, front of house and outside in our grounds and car parks.

I have to admit when I joined the NHS fours years ago I probably was in the camp that would be a little horrified by being that exposed to your customers. Three inspections later and I think the assessments are excellent. The patients tell you how it is, no softness here, they really do care about the quality of the experience and are not easily fooled into giving good scores where they aren't deserved.

Secondly, the planning and focus involved in getting ready for a PLACE inspection is also positive. It's with huge thanks to a whole host of people, especially the facilities staff, that our trust does well nationally. This year the results of all those efforts were excellent, with the trust in the upper quartile and above average on all but one metric, and even in that measure we were right on the money.

This has been a great boost to the team, with the NHS having had a very tough few years good news like this is key to morale and even more valuable and relevant as the mark of success has come from the people that matter most - our patients and service users.

So if you're not yet in the school of thought that says keep your customers close, perhaps it's worth reflecting on whether that's still right for you. I know that I could have used similar assessments to good effect in other sectors I have worked in. You never know - you might be positively surprised by what you're told.

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