I sometimes go to the bank on a Saturday. It’s the only day when I can afford to take the time to pack a picnic and wait in the long queue with everyone else who can’t make it there during the week. This week I sold some unwanted furniture and decided I didn’t want to leave the money in cash. So I made my way to the shopping centre and then to the back of the queue and waited with parents who were trying, feebly I thought, to keep their bored kids taking all the leaflets out of their holders. The attraction I’m sure wasn’t the apparently lowest ever interest rates.
Then, and I could have sworn she simply apparated Harry Potter style, a teller sidled up and asked what business I had at the bank. I explained my need to deposit money so she led me quietly outside to the ATM. As if talking to someone very old and deaf she explained that I did not need to queue to deposit money. It can all be done via an ATM. She talked me through the process, waited till I collected my receipt and then smiling kindly waived me off to my next destination. This got me wondering how many patients feel the same way about taking the time to visit a clinic. Waiting in line even when their need is not urgent and when it may be possible for them to get what they need without the inconvenience of attending in person.
The secret to dealing with the problem is to reframe it as staff’s problem. I hope the bank teller is rewarded for assisting me, for taking the time to make some Saturday excursions to the bank unnecessary, perhaps even getting a high-five from her manager. She certainly needs to make a habit of what she just did. I bet even bank tellers prefer to have their exploits celebrated by bloggers than deal with grumpy people who have waited an hour on a hot Saturday morning.
The issue of improving customer service can be reframed as something to be tackled in response to staff needs. Only then will it be a sufficient priority for front line staff to act in response to a trigger- such as ‘there are now more than five people queuing at the counter’. It’s time for someone to see if we can send some people on their way sooner rather than later.
That was quite different from my experience with Rain man’s favorite airline. My flight to Sydney was diverted to Melbourne three months ago. The ground staff gave me a note to send to their customer service people to refund me for the flight to Sydney early the next morning. Three months later and despite following instructions the money wasn’t credited to my account. Eventually I found the number for customer service and after waiting what seemed a very long time spoke to a human being. She assured me I was given the wrong information.
You must claim the money from your insurer.
Nope. No can do. Your staff told me to send you the invoice and I will call you every hour until you credit my account. What your staff are telling your customers in these circumstances is not my issue.
That’s all it took. I got the money refunded before the second call. No good will generated despite, eventually, doing the right thing. It was much easier to hide behind the anonymity at a call centre. Little motivation, despite the ability, so not triggered to act to when the customer calls. How often does this happen in medicine? How often are front line staff put in the position of fending off demands from the customers even when the customer is acting in accordance with information received? This does untold damage to the brand. Our time is at least as important as those who provide services. We scarcely put up with shoddy service in other aspects of life. Why should medicine be a special case?
Picture by A. Currell