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“Sorry” can go a long way, but when is it too little, too late?

Posted by Kristin Baird on August 20th, 2008 • No Comments »

In my business, I live, eat and breathe customer service. And yet, I really don’t think my standards are higher than most people’s. I am perhaps, just a bit more observant. Because I coach and teach health care providers and support staff about how they can improve their customers’ experiences, I’m always on the lookout for best practices as well as glitches–whether the encounter takes place at a restaurant, hotel or hospital. Then, solicited or not, I feel compelled to share my wisdom. Putting on my consultant cap, I offer what I think are great suggestions–only to be met with glazed looks or worse, the “Who-do-you-think-you-are-to-be-giving-me-advice?” smirk. More than once, my husband Mark has been beside me whispering, “They don’t care. Move on. Let’s go.” Apparently, he’s actually the more observant one because he clearly sees that my words of wisdom are being squandered on the deaf.

When I’m the patient, I do the same thing. I can see what needs to be improved, and I gladly share tips and pointers. What’s funny is that when I’m hired by an organization to do assessments, they actually do heed what I have to say. When I offer it for free, it has little or no value. Take, for example, my own health care providers. I’ve come to realize that I probably tolerate much more than I should in the spirit of teaching and coaching.

I recently found a lump in my breast. Very concerned, I called first thing in the morning to request a mammogram. Mind you, this practice allows self-referral for mammograms so this wasn’t unreasonable. Instead, I was told that I couldn’t be seen without first going through my provider, who wasn’t in at the time. I was then told that the triage nurse would call me. By 3:45 in the afternoon, I was pretty sure that I’d been forgotten. I called back, and was again assured that the triage nurse would call me. It was a Friday afternoon, and you can guess what happened. No call. A long weekend with a nagging concern loomed ahead of me.

When Monday came, I fully expected the phone to ring with the triage nurse ready to give me the information that I needed–and perhaps an apology for not calling on Friday. At 11:00 AM I went online to find a new provider, but the truth is, I didn’t want or need the hassle of starting over. Here was the quandary: Do I stay with a provider that doesn’t respond to their patients without dogged persistence? Or, do I try someone else? It really comes down to whether I expend my energy fighting for help from my existing provider or expend it on a search into the unknown for what might just be another setting with the same level of incompetence. Frankly I don’t think that consumers should have to expend this type of energy. And guess what? I have great insurance. You would think I might be able to cut through a bit of hassle.

By 2:00 on Monday afternoon I called my provider office back and let them know that I had not been called on Friday. They offered to set me up with an appointment in ten days. I said, “No thank you,” hung up, and went back to my online search. At 2:30 on Monday afternoon the triage nurse called, opening with, “I understand you have some concerns.” I told her “No, on Friday I was concerned. On Saturday and Sunday I was concerned, but now I am angry.” I asked her to clarify for me what I should really expect when her clinic tells me that I will get a call back. Perhaps my expectations were too high in expecting that it meant the same day. After a little banter back and forth she finally conceded with, “Well, I guess you should have expected a call last Friday and for that I apologize.” Convincing? Hardly. I nearly had to pull the apology out of her when it was clearly a “service recovery” opportunity. When she offered me an appointment in 10 days I laughed out loud. So much for the possibility of service recovery. Somebody must have missed that seminar.

Long story short, I got in for the diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound and everything checked out just fine. But what about the other patients who aren’t as persistent or outspoken? I had one foot out of the door, ready to leave this practice and never come back when this statistic came back to me; Over 90% of unhappy patients will leave a practice and never tell them why they left. I was going to be one of the silent movers. But old habits die hard. Once again, I put on the consultant hat and offered my unsolicited observations to the clinic manager and director of women’s services. This hadn’t been an isolated incident for me. I had forgiven (but not forgotten) a previous omission as an isolated incident. Now, however, I sense a pattern.

What would you do?

Baird Consulting


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