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How often have you stood at a service counter in a retail business or patronized a restaurant where it seems everyone ignores you? Recently I was at the checkout of a large electronic consumer products store. Nearly every employee I passed while browsing stopped to ask whether I needed anything. When I got to the cashier, the young woman behind the counter was typing on her smart phone, while I stood right in front of her with my purchase. She finished typing, put the phone down, and rang me up, without acknowledging me or even looking at me. As she was executing my transaction, another employee arrived at work and walked behind me, and she yelled out to him, “Hey, Ron! Where you been? What’s up?” She finally looked at me and asked whether I would like to pay with cash or credit.

It’s critical that everyone in our organization acknowledge and, when needed, try to help our customers. These interactions create an important first impression, and subsequent positive impressions, that convey we care. I’ve stated previously that you don’t need to be a medical professional to be a caregiver. You also don’t have to be a medical professional to be nice to patients or help them find their way around the hospital. Needing healthcare services is stressful enough without that stress being compounded by bad interactions with our people or organization.

Like many major medical centers and large hospital complexes, navigating the halls of Cleveland Clinic can be difficult. In 2008, shortly after we opened the latest addition to our main hospital, the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Pavilion, we created a program called the Red Coats. These men and woman have a strong predilection for customer service and are stationed throughout the main campus simply to help people navigate. If you are lost or have questions about where to find something, the Red Coats can help you. The program has been immensely popular with patients and our employees, and we frequently receive comments about how the Red Coats have established lasting relationships with some of our patients. It has greatly enhanced way-finding in our organization.

Having a group of specially trained greeters has been effective, but one of our goals is to have every caregiver greet and assist every patient and the patient’s accompanying friends and family members wherever they are in our facilities. You can station only so many Red Coats throughout the campus, so we need alignment among everyone to help. Each caregiver has the opportunity to create a positive, lasting impression for patients.

Service Excellence Is Not Just Smiling

I hate when people say hospitals need to be like hotels. Hospitals are not hotels. I have never stayed at a hotel where people come into your room at three o’clock in the morning and do things to hurt you, ...

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