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Meet Raquel Hernandez, 2012 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award Winner

American Management Association is pleased to honor Raquel Hernandez as the winner of AMA’s 2012 Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals. Raquel is an executive assistant at University Health System in San Antonio, Texas. She received the award at the 20th Annual Administrative Professionals Conference in Orlando on October 2.

Raquel’s award-winning innovation is “Mystery Shopping—Sleuthing Out Novel Solutions to Improve Customer Satisfaction,” a response to her organization’s need to improve employee telephone customer service skills. Under Raquel’s leadership as chair of the Administrative Professionals’ Council (APC), the team crafted and implemented its strategy.

As Raquel explained in her Innovation Award application: “Patient satisfaction can be the chief determinant in patients’ choices. Research shows that 80% of customers do business with an organization based on the way the phone is answered…The CEO needed a quick, effective solution. With health care dollars extremely scarce and the budget tight, there was simply no funding to do the training. Instead of hiring a consultant ($3,000 per day, plus travel), he summoned the expertise and influence of a highly mobilized group, the Administrative Professionals’ Council.”

When presenting her with the award, Andrea Iadanza, AMA’s Director of Portfolio Management and Operations, praised Raquel’s accomplishments: “Today we celebrate someone who led a team to create a positive change in how the organization interacted with their customers. Her story is an example of an innovation that took planning, collaboration, training, and coaching to ensure that their efforts were standardized across the organization. Her leadership and the team’s successful execution are the winning combination. She told me it started out as ‘such a small’ thing, but we see how it affected the whole organization and their customers.  Sometimes doing the ‘small things’ lead to big impact.”

We spoke to Raquel Hernandez to learn more about her award-winning innovation:

AMA: Tell us a bit about how the Customer Satisfaction/Mystery Shopping initiative began.
Raquel: The University Health System is quite large, with 5,000 employees, so how we answer the phone is critical. In alignment with the Health Systems’ efforts to standardize our organizational image, this was the perfect time to roll out a system-wide phone scripting initiative that would not only improve our telephone etiquette skills, but make a powerful impression on our customers.

To begin, we collaborated with key stakeholders to create an official telephone greeting. Then we strategically recruited 20 volunteers (representing each of our facilities) from our Administrative Professionals’ Academy to participate in a “Train the Trainer” session. These trainers played a vital role in going out to their sites and training other administrative professionals in their facility. In this way, we trained all 150 APC members.

AMA: What challenges did you encounter when introducing your new initiative and how did you overcome them?
Raquel: There was a brief period of grumbling from some administrative professionals regarding the script and the time it took to read it. However, after giving it a try and seeing what an impact this little script made on our phone calls, the group united and agreed that this new process would improve our overall customer service. All members were then encouraged to share the script with other staff in their respective clinics or departments so that a customer calling into any our facilities or departments would be greeted with this script.

To verify that our people were using the script, we asked the initial 20 volunteers to conduct mystery shopping phone calls to random administrative professionals. Initially, they found that not all callers were greeted with the new script. However, we knew we had to give people time to adapt to the change. We used that time as an individual coaching opportunity using positive recognition and suggesting improvements. Over a period of 30 days, by word of mouth and emails, we continued to encourage and remind APC members to use the new script. After 30 days we conducted another round of mystery shopping and found that we had achieved 100% participation.

AMA: How important was the APC to the success of this project?
Raquel: The APC was the primary resource. As an intact group for many years, they already had the infrastructure in place to mobilize, launch, and execute the project plan quickly. Using excellent project management skills, APC members produced an aggressive timeline for completion of the project. Training the trainers took place during the regular monthly APC meeting; trainers scheduled one-on-one time to train administrative staff at their respective facilities; mystery shopping /coaching by phone occurred at the trainer’s desk, as time allowed. No additional equipment or expenditure was required. Training was completed within one month and mystery shopping began immediately afterward.

Composed of representatives from all 20 major facilities and departments, the APC leveraged its extensive network to effect behavioral change. With high level executive support, the administrative professionals were empowered to dedicate time away from their jobs to make this innovative solution work.

AMA: How did you measure the project’s success?
Raquel: Using APC staff as trainers, mystery shoppers, and coaches instead of hiring a consultant saved the organization approximately $30,000. Some of the initiative’s additional benefits are:

  • Increased productivity: By having all staff use the same phone script, the organization ensured standardization. Callers received all appropriate information—site, department, and so forth. This saved time by reducing customer questions.
  • Problem solving: The trainers served as a resource to their trainees, who called upon them with questions on issues they encountered with the new scripts.
  • Problem prevention: By training and coaching new administrative staff during on boarding, they become grounded in the correct telephone procedures from the very beginning. So there is less opportunity to develop bad habits.
  • Customer satisfaction: The Patient Relations Department reports a decrease in complaints about telephone service.
  • Employee morale: The APC loves a challenge and is well known at our organization as the most engaged of any group, regardless of job level. The group has been meeting regularly for many years and they are willing to tackle even the toughest business challenges.

It’s not too early to think about AMA’s 2013 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award. We will keep you posted about how to nominate yourself or your team in upcoming issues of Administrative Excellence.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.