Customer Stories

Inside Cardinal Health’s award-winning blended approach to customer service training

Posted on: November 22, 2023By: Maliyah Bernard

In healthcare, repeat business isn’t the number-one goal in the same way it is in hospitality and retail, despite brand loyalty being important. Good customer service is imperative to put people at ease and help them feel like they’re in capable hands as they approach situations that can be somewhat delicate or even dire.

Extra sensitivity, respect and empathy are often required from healthcare customer service professionals since most people are reaching out because of a challenge, to say nothing about too-common barriers to quality care. Customer service teams are then tasked with developing the skills and confidence needed to turn a bad experience around (as much as possible) and drive brand loyalty.

When the stakes are high, how can you make sure each customer gets the same exceptional experience? Sam Anderson, Director of Learning & Development at Cardinal Health and recent ITK guest, says customer-centric training sets a standard of service that employees, customers—and key stakeholders—will love.

Healthcare customer service training

Anderson leads the Global Learning and Development team for the integrated healthcare services and products company and supports 4,500-plus CS and CX professionals who resolve customer issues, review and respond to questions and help with returns and order status updates. He joined JD Dillon on In The Know to discuss how Cardinal Health rises to the challenge of delivering exceptional customer service in healthcare by leveraging a strategic and blended training program called EASEE. Here are some highlights from their informative chat.

Make customer service training as *EASEE* as possible

A positive end-to-end customer journey can be a key brand differentiator in this era of rising consumer centricity. So how do you make sure that your workers have the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver that kind of exceptional service during every interaction? 

According to Anderson, Cardinal Health’s high-quality customer service model—Empathy, Acknowledge, Seek, Explain and Establish—is the complete basis for their training program and makes things, well, EASEE. 

The acronym can inspire any approach to frontline employee learning and here’s why: 

  • It solves a training pain point by bringing together other programs without losing what makes them different. “We were looking for a collective program that we could apply to all our customer service groups. We had disparate programs that we were trying to bring together under one umbrella but still keep a bit of uniqueness to them to make them feel real,” says Anderson.
  • It achieves meaningful bottom-line results. Anderson had numbers to prove the impact: Those who trained with EASEE scored 4.33 on an after-call survey, and those who didn’t scored 4.25. And in their quality audit scores, results were 3.5% better for new agents who went through EASEE training than those who didn’t. Training Magazine also highlights that in 2022, Cardinal Health scored above 85% for each service center metric, from efficiency (89%) to resolution satisfaction (85%), earning an impressive 94% in customer service.
  • Its modern approach teaches employees to deal with realistic problems and scenarios. Unlike traditional teaching methods that often put a disproportionate emphasis on theory or talking at people, a modern approach to customer service training puts knowledge into action. Cardinal Health supplements instructor-led sessions with virtual branching scenarios that address realistic, though simulated, customer problems.

    “The way [an employee] reacts in those situations determines how the customer’s mood and tone changes,” shares Anderson. “Each business unit has different dimensions and ways of servicing customers, so when you’re in class, the examples you hear and the activities you practice are very specific to the business you support.”
  • It sets a standard. When reinforcing key customer service training concepts, the entire team needs to be on the same page. The first thing Cardinal Health did was put together a people-leader learning curriculum focusing on teaching the concepts that should be reinforced within teams and refreshing what good coaching conversations sound like. Then, to drive knowledge retention and employee engagement, ongoing EASEE campaigns consisting of microlearning modules and gamification helped keep internal teams competitive and coming back for more training.

    “The most significant thing we’ve done for reinforcement is embed it into our business units’ performance strategy. Our quality assurance teams look for the use of the concepts in actual calls, and then they share the results of those audits back to the people leaders who have been able to coach and give feedback. It kind of just all works together.”

Build trust by showing stakeholders the value of prioritizing enablement

Managers are accountable for business KPIs—so it’s important to identify how great customer service pushes the organization closer to its goals. Dillon suggests embedding an enablement strategy within the working experience for all the key players who impact the customer and empowering them not just as observers but as a central part of the story:

Frontline managers are the most important people in workplace learning because they have so much influence over how people do their jobs every day, what’s prioritized, what’s not and what people are allowed to get off the phone to do, in a contact center context. Making sure that they’re part of the story and enabling it as part of their work experience—as opposed to delivering a program that might be seen as an obstacle or a distraction from what they’re trying to achieve—helps them solve meaningful problems.”

Anderson added that organizations should frame their training solution around business needs and strategic imperatives.

“Often, learning professionals show up with an array of solutions and learning possibilities without taking time to understand what the business is trying to do and then connect a solution to that. Challenge yourself to find business metrics that matter most in a call center or customer service environment. The more you can anchor the solutions to those metrics, the better off you’re going to be. Look for correlations where you can connect the training event or solution to business performance KPIs. When unsure, do a control or sample group like we did and test your theories before going broad and wide.”

In a busy and operationally-focused workplace, getting a seat at the table is an opportunity to advocate for the people you support and the people who are sponsoring your initiatives. Consider impact beyond the learning and development silo and look at things from a business perspective.

“Try to be easy to do business with. We’re here to support those who are on the frontline. It’s important for us to be easy to work with,” reminds Anderson.

“A leader once told me, and it’s forever resonated, that we should be business people who happen to specialize in HR and L&D. Put your business foot forward first, and then you can wrap your profession around that. We try to reframe conversations to make sure we’re talking about business challenges versus learning solutions. Sometimes, we have to politely back clients up when they come to us with the learning solution first, and we have to unring that bell to figure out why they believe a learning solution is going to solve the problem that they’re having.”

To learn more from Cardinal Health’s award-winning approach to customer service training, including how they apply microlearning and coaching to reinforce key customer service skills, check out the full ITK episode

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.