It's only a dream. It probably will never happen. My dream is that one day superior customer service-especially in healthcare-will be the rule rather than the exception. But I think most of us have resigned ourselves to either mediocre or downright poor service. Most organizations claim they want to offer first-rate customer service, but they're only kidding themselves. That's because customer service is an expensive proposition, and many executives just don't want to expend resources on the additional personnel and training needed to make it a priority. They also don't want to endure the internal inconveniences that often are part of the process. Those executives just don't get it.
Some companies really are making bona fide attempts to provide stand-out customer service. They go out of their way to make sure their customers are treated with dignity and respect. And isn't that what customer service is all about? It would really be something if all administrators, physicians, pharmacists and other key players in healthcare truly understood that the people who come to their facilities, who seek care for bad backs, broken bones and a multitude of other things, must be treated like customers and not inconveniences. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that customers should be treated well because they keep any business in business. The better you treat them today, the more likely they are to come back the next time they need help.
Why would I get on a soapbox about this? After all, I'm not in the trenches with the caregivers and other healthcare professionals who have to deal with patients every day. But I have been a healthcare customer and remember some of the poor service I've encountered. A recently released poll backs me up. According to the survey, many patients spend twice as much time waiting to see their doctors as they do during the actual physician visit. Of those surveyed, 49% said they spent 20 minutes or more in the waiting room, and 54% said they spent at least 10 minutes more in the examining room before their physicians saw them. Once they arrived, their doctors spent an average of about 15 minutes with them. In the physicians' favor, 49% of the individuals surveyed rated their doctors as "excellent" or "good" at listening to them and answering their questions. The national poll of 1,014 adults, conducted in July, was reported by Fleishman-Hillard Research of St. Louis.
But that's only one aspect of customer service. There are so many other areas that cry out for improvement. For example, how is a patient treated when making an appointment? So often I end up talking to someone who treats me curtly or in a condescending manner. The message you get is that you're lucky to be getting an appointment at all. That's a mind-set that seems to permeate the healthcare industry.
If you think customer service is a trivial matter, I implore you to reconsider. Eventually, with the pervasiveness of managed care and intensifying competition in the marketplace, just about the only thing that will differentiate one physician, hospital or pharmacy from another will be the level of customer service. Are patients treated with courtesy and respect, or are they just numbers in a computer file?
Don't be left out. Start paying attention to customer service, and be prepared to do what it takes to get it right. Don't take customers for granted. Keep track of how they are handled. You could be surprised by what you find. And it might not be a very good thing.
Take a close look,
Charles S. Lauer