What We Can Learn About Customer Service from Hospice

The garden outside Neil’s mother’s room at the Agrace Inpatient Hospice in Madison, Wisconsin

By Neil Fauerbach

The Hospice movement in this country has provided a wonderful environment for families facing end of life issues with their loved ones.  Considered the model for quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness, Hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.  Support is also provided to the patient’s family. It is important to know that Hospice focuses on caring, not curing.

My family recently had our second Hospice experience when my 89 year old mother passed away peacefully, with the family holding her hands.  Dad passed there in 2007.  I have referred to the Hospice experience as “remarkable” and have had to explain myself to the uninitiated.

When it was time to go to Hospice, the ambulance crew showed up to transport Mom to Agrace Hospice near her condo in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.  I was pleased that it was Ryan Brothers Ambulance Service, a former Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Award winner.  They were obviously part of the chain of care that Hospice provides.  They were kind, respectful, humorous (which Mom encouraged), and attentive.

Upon arriving at the center she was wheeled directly to her room and helped into bed.  No stops for registration, verification of date of birth, or signing insurance forms.  From her door to being comfortable in bed took eight minutes.  It was obvious that planning and communication had facilitated this swift intake, but it was invisible to us.

Every doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, and maintenance worker called her by her first name.  They always asked permission before entering the room, checking vitals, or administering pain medications.  They always asked if there was anything at all they could do for the family.  They were always around, but never underfoot. Respect plays a large role in their values.

Their goal is comfort.  They make certain the patient’s and the family’s wishes are respected and their needs met.  For us, that included finding a corkscrew and clean glasses.  Mom wasn’t going to drink wine from a Styrofoam cup! 

The conversations with the doctors and nurses were open and honest.  Decisions about care and treatment were informed by the passionate insights of those caregivers.  But the decisions were ours.  The dying process was explained by a social worker.  We knew what to expect.  We were prepared.  Grief counseling was readily available.  Being ready was up to us individually.

When Mom died (on our dad’s birthday), we were there, holding her hands, her favorite opera playing in the background. After she passed, we were given as much time with her as we needed.  When we were ready, we participated in a respectful procession down the halls of Agrace, Mom covered in a beautiful quilt, her doctors and nurses trailing behind us, and all staff standing along the way as if in an honor guard.  They thanked us for the honor of helping her through to the end.

“An arrangement of photos of Mom and Dad, and Mom as a young ballerina. In front are glasses filled with whisky we used to toast Mom after she passed.”

What lesson can we learn from the Hospice philosophy?  What can we do to make what we do more meaningful, useful, and graceful?  Does everyone on your team know what your clients need, want or feel?  How much better would you be at your work if you were able to help your clients reach their goals with passion and grace?

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Treat clients with respect.
  • Understand their goals, fears and wishes.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  No surprises.
  • Even though you know the details of your business, the client may not.  Tell them what to expect.
  • Celebrate.  Always have a corkscrew and glasses at the ready.

© 2022 Neil Fauerbach

Neil is a retired marketing professional having worked for over forty years for several professional service firms. In his free time he creates videos, photographs nature, chairs committees in non-profits, and is learning to play the banjo.  

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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