Over the years I've spent a lot of time with physicians. Yet it always surprises me that so many physicians don't understand the basic tenets of customer service. If you're among them, you might be interested in an experience that opened my eyes several years ago as to what real customer service is about.
I used to make sales calls on the Cincinnati-based American Laundry Co., which had an excellent reputation in its field. The first time I visited the corporate headquarters, I climbed a long flight of wooden stairs to get to the reception area. I was out of breath when I finally reached the top of the stairs, yet as fatigued as I felt, I noticed a sign behind the receptionist that gave me new energy. It was a summary of the company's customer service credo, and it contained everything I had believed for years about the importance of customers.
Why is it so many businesses don't understand that customers are what being in business is about? The cavalier attitude some companies display toward their customers is clearly why they go out of business. They may blame it on product lines, the economy or even the government, but they almost never say, "We failed because we didn't pay attention to our customers' needs."
Let me share with you the 11 simple, common-sense points about the importance of the customer that I first read at the American Laundry Company:
1. A customer is the most important person in any business.
2. A customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.
3. A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is its purpose.
4. A customer does us a favor when he calls. We are not doing him a favor by serving him.
5. A customer is part of our business, not an outsider.
6. A customer is not a cold statistic. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own.
7. A customer is not someone to argue and match wits with.
8. A customer is a person who brings us his wants. It is our job to fill those wants.
9. A customer is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him.
10. A customer is the life-blood of this and every other business.
11. A customer is the person who makes it possible for our salaries to be paid.
Look around you today. Most businesses say they deliver quality customer service, yet much of the time they talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. They take their customers for granted.
Think about it: When you experience exceptional customer service, when you are treated with respect and dignity, you remember and you return to the place where you received that service again and again. In fact, studies show that when you receive good service, you are willing to pay a premium for it.
Those in leadership positions in healthcare must remember that customer service applies in healthcare just like it does in every other business. Too often it is relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Those healthcare businesses that don't pay attention to their customers face rough waters ahead.
I submit to you that, in the future, customer service will be the defining difference between successful and unsuccessful healthcare companies.
My advice: Learn everything you can about customer service. Read books, go to seminars and talk to experts about the business of taking care of customers. And look continually for creative ways to offer quality customer service. Your effort will reap tangible rewards.
Stay ahead of the game, Charles S. Lauer Publisher