Create a five-star courier service

April 1, 2010

Customers may not grasp just how five-star service is
created, but they sure do understand when they have not received
it. How does superior service — which typically defines resorts and
restaurants — translate from the corporate world into healthcare? What
sets top-drawer organizations apart from the rest of the pack? The
answer is a total commitment, from top management down, to put their
customers first.

First, the clinical laboratory needs to figure out
who its customer is and how to serve him. Is it the patient? The doctor?
Actually, it is both, and one of the services a laboratory can provide
to benefit these two customers is top-notch courier services.

Courier service in the United States is a $59 billion
industry, with 86% of the business shared by worldwide companies such as
FedEx and UPS. The remaining 14% is comprised of almost 11,900 small
same-day businesses, ranging in size from one employee to more than 600.
Many of them are medical couriers in healthcare facilities. How many of
those medical couriers are considered outstanding is an unknown, but any
laboratory could be at the top of the list with a few tips on what
constitutes superior customer service and how it can affect a lab’s

Transport and safety knowledge

Healthcare couriers work for hospitals, laboratories,
clinics, and other healthcare facilities. Due to the nature of the work
in healthcare, these couriers need special training associated with the
packages they transport. Couriers are also distinguished by their
speed, security, tracking, signature, specialization and
individualization of services, and committed delivery times.

A courier’s efficiency in delivering safely packaged
specimens in an appropriately maintained environment is the first step
to success in customer service. Medical couriers should know the various
transportation containers used, including blood-collection tubes;
blood-culture bottles; fecal collection kits; slides; sputum cups and
collection sets; urine cups and tubes. Couriers must maintain during the
transport process the required ambient or room temperature;
refrigeration temperature; frozen temperature; and protection from

The end-user of your services will judge your
facility based on whether a specimen is collected and the results issued
in a timely fashion. Poorly chosen and ill-trained couriers may
compromise specimen quality; cause erroneous test results; injure
themselves; increase costs; and/or lose your clients and, maybe, your

Clear client communications

Whether you direct your own laboratory courier
service or outsource to a commercial company, the courier needs to
understand he is an important part of the healthcare team. The image
presented by your courier staff represents the image of your
organization. Recruiting and hiring the best person or company for the
job the first time is one step toward success. When selecting a
courier, remember that these individuals usually work with minimal
supervision. Look for qualities in a prospective employee that indicate

Make sure your courier is able to communicate
effectively in the appropriate language for the job required. Facilities
in some regions of the United States utilize couriers who must be
bilingual. If this is the case at your facility, make sure the courier
representing your laboratory is also fluent in the language other than
English that is needed in your area.

Couriers must be able to communicate effectively with
a variety of people on their daily rounds. Verbal communication is
important and is conducted in the workplace as business English. This
spoken word is void of any dialect or colloquialism that might cause a
misunderstanding during the course of your courier’s work. It is
important for your employee to speak clearly and to remember it is not
always just what he says but also how he says it. A
courier also must be sure to make eye contact and be aware of non-verbal
or body language, and to smile, even if the situation with the client is

Listening is also an important communication tool. If
a courier does not listen to the clients, he may do the wrong thing or
give the wrong response. A good courier asks questions if he is unsure
of how to proceed.

Personal appearance

A courier needs to know he never gets a second chance
to make a first impression. Your organization (or his) will have a dress
code for the courier staff. Uniforms should be clean and well
maintained. The company logo may be on his uniform or on his
identification badge. The badge is best displayed on the lapel so it
visible to clients at all times. When wearing a jacket or coat, the
badge should be attached to the outer garment. Good posture is also
important, as it reflects an air of confidence.

A courier’s shoes should be comfortable with rubber
soles and cover the entire foot. They must be made of leather or
leather-like materials and cannot allow liquids, blood, or body fluids
to soak through. Shoes must not have an open toe or back (no sandals)
and cannot be made of canvas.

Throughout the day as the courier makes his rounds,
he needs to maintain his personal hygiene. This includes frequent hand
washing or use of a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
He is likely aware that he must wash his hands after accidental contact
with blood, body fluids, and contaminated materials before leaving the
laboratory and before manipulating contact lenses, as well as after
removing his gloves. But he also needs to wash his hands before and
after using the toilet, and before and after eating, drinking, or

Proper washing is accomplished by the use of soap and
warm water for a minimum of 15 seconds to 30 seconds before thoroughly
rinsing and then drying with a paper towel. An easy trick to remember is
to silently sing “Happy Birthday,” which takes about 15 seconds.
Commercial hand-hygiene products have been improved and may be used when
hand washing is not possible. Since personal hygiene is important to the
organization’s image, couriers are expected to brush their teeth and use
mouthwash before work, and use breath mints after eating during the day.
His hands and nails must be clean. Hair must be clean and well groomed,
including facial hair.

While acceptance of tattoos has mellowed over the
past several years, a courier should follow his organization’s policies
on tattoos as well as those that concern piercings. Wearing facial and
tongue ornaments during working hours does not project a positive image
of your healthcare organization.

Well-maintained vehicle and courteous driving

Couriers must have a blemish-free driving record and
a valid (state) driver’s license. Couriers are expected to observe all
local and state driving rules and regulations, including wearing
eyeglasses or contact lenses if required on his license. Do not offer
rides to anyone unless approved or requested by a supervisor, and never
pick up hitchhikers. Observe the speed limit at all times. Never send or
read text messages while driving. If using a cell phone becomes
necessary, do not even use hands-free devices — pull off the road to a
safe place to make or take calls.

Report any accident immediately to a supervisor and
to the local authorities. Follow any of their instructions to the
letter. Keep driver’s license, automobile registration, and pertinent
insurance info conveniently located, so they are always readily

Maintaining a courier vehicle is also part of
providing laboratory customers with outstanding service. Not only is it
important to keep a courier vehicle in good operating condition and
follow the company maintenance schedule but also to make sure the
vehicle is clean — both inside and outside.

Safety supplies that need to be in the vehicle
include a box of protective latex, nitrile, or other synthetic gloves; a
protective lab coat; a spill kit that contains sufficient materials to
allow containment and clean up of a small to medium-size spill. In the
event of a breakdown on the road, an emergency flasher and/or cones to
alert others is/are a good idea; a tire inflator; a flashlight (be sure
to check the battery); a broom, ice scraper, and snow shovel if the
geographic area covered is prone to ice and snow; and a cell phone and
charger, a GPS, and a local map.

Road rage, aggressive driving, or drinking and
driving are taboo for a courier even while off duty. Customer service
requires that a courier be in good graces with everyone with whom he
comes in contact, customer or not, since his public behavior has a
direct impact on his organization, setting it apart from its

Superior customer service

A courier must meet or exceed the expectations not
only of the organization but also of its clients. To demonstrate great
customer service, a courier needs to have a positive attitude every day.
He needs to answer clients’ questions or follow through with an answer
if he does not have a ready answer. A courier should report any problems
to his supervisor immediately by phone if possible or as soon as he
completes his route. He organizes his route and deliveries for maximum
efficiency, and he never promises what he cannot deliver.

To be successful, couriers must have integrity and
reliability, and must be willing to follow protocol and procedures. A
courier frequently works under tight schedules. Speed and efficiency are
important, but a courier must not lose sight of safety, correct handling
techniques, and customer-service skills. He has an important role to
perform as part of the patient-care team, as he supports the ordering
physicians and the laboratory technologists in getting the job done and
done right — the first time. Performing real-time monitoring of customer
satisfaction will allow the lab to identify and correct problems
quickly. A glowing recommendation from a lab’s customer about its
courier service equates to increased business and begins to build the
lab’s courier business into five-star service that a professional
laboratory expects to deliver.

Best-selling author, professional speaker, and safety
consultant Terry Jo Gile, MT(ASCP), MA Ed,
has partnered with laboratory educator and courier expert,
Helen Ogden-Grable, MT(ASCP), PBT, to
develop a DVD that will demonstrate five-star customer service to
couriers as well as provide appropriate tools to make your courier
service memorable. Visit  for more information.