Sunday, April 15, 2012

Customer Service Ain't Dead Yet! 3 ways to make it work!

When the phone rang late one afternoon, I was surprised to hear the appointment person from the diagnostic center on the other end. She was calling to find out where my request for records was. OK, let's back up.  

I recently changed doctors and, because the medical industry lives in the 19th century, I had to take care of getting my medical records from Dr. A to Dr. B. When I did this about 6 years ago, I ended up transporting them myself. I'd called the diagnostic center, talked to a very helpful woman I'll call Rose and she said she'd fax me the request form.

Somehow the request form got deleted on my end but I didn't know. So at first I was surprised to get Rose's call. No problem - she'd send another one. OK - first surprise; she had followed up. But it gets even better. She gave me a direct phone number to call when I faxed the form back. She told me to tell the receptionist to come find her as she was usually away from her desk. OK - second surprise.  

When I called Rose, the receptionist said she'd go find Rose. OK - third surprise. Then I heard the receptionist put down the phone - no holding muzak hell - and after about 5 minutes Rose picked up the phone and proceeded to find the form, check it, and assure me she'd get the records sent that day. All pleasant, all helpful, and all the extra mile. OK- fourth surprise. 

I know this facility well and have been going there for almost 20 years. It's a very busy place and I'm sure lots of demands on the staff. But Rose took those extra few minutes to take care of a patient as if it mattered.  

I could fill this blog week after week with stories of bad customer service. My business takes me around the world and like any traveler I have horror stories to relate. But that's hardly news. Rose was big news.  

Here's how companies could replicate Rose:
  1. Hire for people-skills talent: Anyone who has flown Southwest Airlines knows the result of this rule. Let's face it, the job of flight attendant is tough and only made more so as airlines continue to treat passengers as a pain in the *%# as they cut back on everything except new ways to charge you for the privilege of getting from point A to point B. Instead, those folks at Southwest keep cracking jokes, singing, smiling, noticing, and doing everything they can to make it a pleasant trip.
Rose genuinely cared about people. In spite of the volume of work, she kept up with the requests and when mine didn’t appear, she called. This is different than going through the “have a nice day” check list.  

2.    Involve people in devising better systems to serve customers: The folks who know most about what bugs people are those on the front lines talking to them every day, whether the local barista or person on the phone in a far-off place. Ask them. Let them come up with a way to solve the problem or suggest better ways to help customers get what they want. 

Rose had come up with her own system for making sure patients/customers got what they needed. She convinced coworkers to make sure they let her know when someone needed help and she wasn’t available.  

3.    Recognize talent and let people ‘teach’ others: This institution happens to have a great reputation and sends staff through training for many things. However, each unit and doctor is responsible for additions to the ‘corporate’ initiatives. Savvy managers know they have valuable employees who figure things out and take initiative. Why not recognize that initiative and allow the exceptional person to ‘train’ the others? 

Rose set an example for other people. Caring is contagious. (Believe me; folks outside her area in other parts of this vast medical complex are not like Rose – just the ones in her little corner of the universe.) She took it on herself to see that other people were in cahoots to deliver exceptional service. 

So hats off to Rose! Thanks. You remind me of a young man in the Shanghai lost luggage department for an obscure airline…He called me long-distance a couple of times on his cell to find out if my luggage had been located as I made my way back from an extended trip to Asia. Meanwhile, the main carrier seemed to have trained folks to be as rude and unhelpful as possible…but that’s another story. Today, we’ll glory in the Roses of this world who take a few minutes to care.
*     *     *     *     *     *
©Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, president, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Author: Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

No great historical links to the founding fathers in this post. Their letters home from the Constitutional Convention hit on all the same themes of poor service business travelers harp about today; poor food, inflated prices, lack of convertible currencies, inadequate expense budgets, slow reimbursements…plus they had to share rooms and sometimes beds with fellow (snoring) delegates! So maybe our complaints aren’t so bad.

No comments: