Sometimes you just have to wonder what goes through the minds of some successful businesspeople. You'd think they would want to keep the good times going, making sure they did the little things that add up to big results. Too often, as almost everyone knows, this is far from the case. Many executives and other representatives forget the ways they once interacted with customers (in healthcare, think patients). They end up treating them as a given, if not a nuisance to be "handled."
If you don't believe me, think about your own consumer experiences. Remember the times you are either ignored or treated with indifference when trying to buy something, use a service or receive care. And then after you have been a customer, how many times have you received a follow-up letter or phone call saying thank you for your business or, better still, asking if you are satisfied with how things turned out?
I am not referring to form letters but to handwritten notes or personal calls that in effect say, "We care about our products and we care about you." Such a contact sticks in the minds of customers, who are far more likely to do repeat business with the company that makes the effort.
In healthcare, follow-ups with patients are haphazard. In some cases the care requires it, in others it's just a basic concern for how the person is feeling. As this field becomes ever more competitive, it's a good idea to make sure patients are satisfied with their care. Sending out a questionnaire is one idea, but phone calls are even better. Patient satisfaction is becoming one of the key indicators of quality of care, so it literally pays to track it.
One of the best writers I have read on this topic is Mark McCormack, former chairman of International Management Group, the huge sports marketing concern. He's the author of What They Don't Teach You at the Harvard Business School and What They Still Don't Teach You at the Harvard Business School. In an article he wrote titled "Don't play games with your customers" he gives some great advice for anyone who runs a business. His list of seemingly minor things to watch out for in corporate behavior is really a compendium of symptoms of much larger problems:
* You are too busy to return a client's calls promptly. Or you schedule meetings at your convenience rather than the customer's. Those two items alone should be red flags. A customer is the most prized possession any business has, and when you don't have customers there is no business.
* You lie to a client rather than admit that you were wrong or that you just don't know. Never be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'll get back to you as soon as I find the answer."
* You send an associate to a meeting in your place and don't explain why.
* You don't think it affects you when the client puts another person in charge.
* You knowingly do less than your best, yet you expect the client to give you the benefit of the doubt.
* You hear that the client is being wooed by your competition, but you fail to confront the issue.
That's quite a list of warning signs, but there is another one that I believe belongs right up at the top, and that's when managers worry more about their titles and power base than they do about the future success of their organization. The leaders of an organization, including the trustees or directors, have to be sharp-eyed enough to spot that trouble developing and nip it in the bud.
What this is really all about is complacency. I've personally watched and heard staffers talk about their customers as though they were a bother when they are really the purpose of their work. They take their customers for granted even though it may have taken them years to win these clients over. After being used to good service, the customers find their needs being ignored and begin to look for someone else to do business with.
That's when a company might wake up and wonder why a valued customer has gone. There is a mad scramble and someone winds up calling the customer to ask why he or she went with a competitor. They plead for another chance and perhaps offer discounts. The problem with this is that it's likely already too late. It may take years to win this client back. Once lost, a company's reputation is hard to restore. People hate being taken for granted; they feel insulted and disappointed. It gets personal.
This is one way that organizations die slow deaths, with almost nobody noticing until the situation is irreversible.
It's imperative that a company remembers what got it started. Everyone, from the CEO to the interns has to pay attention to the details, staying on their toes to make sure the customers feel valued at every step of the way. A company may have to continually reinvent itself to stay atop the field, at once looking forward to new trends and looking back at its own history for the lessons in what works, especially good customer care.
Complacency is destructive,
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