Notes from the field of public involvement

Monday, 13 March 2006

Commendation for King's?
(Best practice in comment cards)

Observations prompted by a recent visit to an outpatient clinic of King’s College Hospital in South East London.

I picked up the well-displayed leaflet from its position bang in the middle of the reception desk. The leaflet was visible. The people were not. Something was happening off-stage in the back room more important than manning the desk and booking in patients.

Lesson one with comment cards - great idea to display them prominently: even better idea to deliver the good service that inspires customers to fill them in.

There are issues with these cards - are the cards a reliable measure of the views of a representative sample of those using the service? Probably not but I don't think that is a reason not to use them. The cards symbolise a service commitment and the simple disciplines of prominent, tidy display and stock renewal are ways of building routines around customer focus so that good service becomes the norm and not the astonishing exception. The manipulation of the system with, for example, a lot of commendations from colleagues is also fine by me because it means at least some one is taking it seriously.

King's has spent a bit of money on the form from the PR print budget - designed with plenty of space and good use of pictures: full colour on glossy paper. Reply paid postage to allow completion at home. Good stuff.

A few caveats - glossy is not the best choice for self-completion forms - it is unpleasant to write on. But this is less important than the way the invitation to participate is written.

The form is written in the formal language of the internal management memo. The name of the scheme betrays a certain internal focus and formality - "King's Commendation". What are we talking about – the Victoria Cross? The form talks of 'nominations' and the cool rather clinical language goes on "Aware that it is all too easy to take such hard work and dedication for granted, the Trust has established a scheme.. etc" Hallo - Is there a person in there? What about a 'we' or a similar clue that people are thinking about people?

The funny thing is that you can also get a form from the website and here the vocabulary is totally different in style and tone from the leaflet.

Compare the copy for the introductory paragraph - first the website

"What is a King's commendation?

The heart of King's is about caring for patients. Doctors, nurses or midwives, professional, technical, administrative and ancillary staff, or volunteers, whatever their department and whatever their job - they are dedicated to giving patients the best possible health service they can."

Then the leaflet :

"King's College Hospital aims to provide excellent patient care. Doctors, nurses, midwives, therapists, technical staff, administrative staff, catering staff, porters, housekeepers and volunteers - whatever their department and whatever their job - are dedicated to giving patients and their carers the best possible service."

Which do you prefer? Why is the language in the leaflet so impersonal and 'official' compared to the web words?

Anyway this may be beside the point since that last posting on the website on the awards, who got them and why is dated 19 December 2003. Was this really the last time someone got an award?

The Moore Adamson Craig best practice advice for customer comment leaflets offers 10 guidelines:

  1. Language and design that encourage user participation
  2. Make user access easy - not just leaflet but website as well
  3. Consider handing them out or posting them out at specific moments in the service cycle - active distribution.
  4. Give options on completion - posting in to central address will avoid frontline staff binning negative comments
  5. Is the comment card system linked to customer response systems - does a very disappointed customer who fills in a card, hear back from you?
  6. Understand that staff will use them as much if not more than customers
  7. Feedback news regularly of the awards to staff and users
  8. Cash rewards are nice but not necessary - recognition is key.
  9. Once launched, keep it going with a review say every two years
  10. Integrate this particular customer feedback to other customer measures e.g surveys, complaint data etc.

What has your experience been of comment cards? Do you use them in your organisation? Do you ever fill them in yourself? Let us know if you believe in them or think they are rubbish.

Colin Adamson | Send feedback