Students train nurses on customer service

Students in the College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus are learning good customer service and guest relations are not just a concern for hotels and tourist attractions.

The hospitality program at the college has created a guest services training program for nurses and hospital staff at Blake Medical Center, a hospital in Bradenton near the branch campus, to improve patients’ trips to the hospital. They are hoping to soon extend the degree program to the Tampa campus where four courses within the program are already offered.

“We are going to train their nurses on what we call ‘hospital guest service,’” Cihan Cobanoglu, dean for the College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership, said. “Because we believe that the patient at a hospital are guests and the customers at a hotel are guests, not just the paying-fee customers.”

Last fall, Cobanoglu received a call from management at Blake Medical Center asking for help.

“They called me and asked if we could help them with a project because they have some challenges with their patient satisfaction scores, and they have turned to the Hospitality school to see if we can work together,” he said.

A partnership between USF and the hospital formed and a team of four students began making weekly trips to the hospital to evaluate the center’s ambience, design, food quality and overall guest services.

It is the minor details, like making conversation and improving the overall ambience of the building, that can make a difference in a patient’s experience during their time in the hospital, Cobanoglu said.

“What we brought into the picture for (the hospital) is some of the details,” he said. “Like how (hospital staff) treats the patients while they are drawing blood or having a baby delivered in the hospital may make a huge difference in how patients actually perceive their visit.”

Vanja Bogicevic, a graduate assistant in the hotel and restaurant management program, said one of the first things the group did was participate in a “secret shopper” experience to get a first impression of the hospital and see how staff interacted with patients on a regular basis.

“One of the things I noticed was the lack of a signage system,” Bogicevic said. “It was a bit confusing, the signs were not positioned properly, and it wasn’t created according to the design.”

Bogicevic said she recommended the hospital modify its signs so they were easier for patients to use while navigating through the building. She also said that by using easily recognizable pictures on the hospital’s signs, patients, who were not fluent in English, would be able to find their way around as well.

Another student on the team, James McManemon, was responsible for food service quality recommendations to the hospital. McManemon recommended changes to the hospital’s food menu to make the food options more diverse and aesthetically appealing, Cobanoglu said. He also redesigned the hospital’s menu to make it more organized.

“(The medical center management) was really excited about the project because it was kind of a comprehensive way to get a lot of different opinions from a lot of areas,” Bogicevic said. “They agreed that there were a lot of things from our final proposal that should be implemented in the hospital, it just depends on the funding and the time.”

The college has created the Center for Hospital Innovation, to extend its training programs to not just hospitals, but other hospitality organizations looking to improve guest relations.

“We believe that hospitality is not just seen in hotels and restaurants, but that it can be actually involved in any business,” Cobanoglu said.

The hospitality program now being offered at the USFSM campus is continuing to grow because of partnerships like this, he said.

“We believe that hospitals are not very different from hotels in a way,” Cobanoglu said. “Of course, why we go to hospitals is different, but at the end of the day, it’s the same experience.”