Jeff Good writes a bi-monthly column for the Mississippi Medical News, a statewide publication geared towards the medical profession. Here is a reprint of his first column dated April, 2012.
“Mr. Good, we just wanted to let you know that there are five different parties of guests all finishing dessert and paying their bills. I am sorry this has taken longer than we expected, but please know we haven’t forgotten you. We should have you in the restaurant and settled in just another 15 minutes. Is that all right?”
It was a long wait. It was excruciating. It was one of those incredibly popular restaurants in Destin, Florida and it was high season. We had had a long day of adventure, and were looking forward to what everyone had been telling us for years was a “must do meal.” We came at a reasonable time of the evening, had a small table of four in our party, were quoted a forty-five minute to 1 hour wait, perched ourselves in plain sight of the team of hostesses, and waited patiently as the quoted time we were given ticked past… long past.
That’s the set up. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, done that… right?
The problem with this story is that the content presented in the leading paragraph of this article did not happen… no one acknowledged us… no one told us what was happening. Rather than feeling noticed, appreciated, and cared for, we felt neglected, unappreciated, and overlooked. We were left in the dark, for an extended period of time, with no information or contact.
With nothing to do but stand and stare, time moves very slowly and anxiety creeps in. To fill the time, we keep ourselves entertained with small talk. We look around and take in the environment. We become familiar with the ebb and flow of activity. We entertain ourselves by reviewing the menu, reading plaques on the wall, finding things to keep the wait off of our minds. That works, for a while… but as time drags on, our behavior changes. The “switch” begins to flip. Our field of vision sharpens. We start watching the activities of staff with great interest. We pick up on workflow. We listen to what the staff is saying – to other customers AND to themselves. We pay incredible attention to details… defects… what is wrong with the environment and premise. Who is that person? Why is he talking to her? What is he saying? Why are they moving those people from here to there? All of a sudden, we are no longer guests out for a night of fun, but we are detectives in search of evidence; evidence we will gather to bolster our case when we do what? COMPLAIN!
We are no longer customers coming to enjoy the night; we are inspectors who have come in to audit performance. We are not in a place of comfort and care. We are in a place of us verses them. And with each tick of the minute hand, the stakes get higher! When finally called to be seated, we are in less than positive mood, and the evening is tainted. Any miscues going forward, lackluster service, less than stellar food, dirty bathrooms, and slow payment reconciliation – anything else negative becomes amplified. Truthfully, in order for the night to turn out positive, the balance of the touch points will have to be perfect. All because no one took 30 seconds to seek us out and tell us that they remembered us, they knew we were there, and although things are taking longer than we expected, we were in their sights. No one affirmed to us that we were in their care!
So what does this have to do with the medical profession? It’s obvious, don’t you think?
Replace the word restaurant in the above story with medical office. Replace hostess with front desk receptionist. Replace menus with magazines. Now, what’s the difference? There really isn’t one, is there?
As medical providers, you are a part of an industry with very high standards and brand equity. You are the folks the rest of us look up to. You have incredible skills, magical powers, deep and profound knowledge. You take care of the most precious thing we own – our bodies, and the bodies of those most dear to us… our immediate family.
Given this context, why would anyone in healthcare not pay attention to what is happening at the point of entry to his or her business? And it IS just that… a BUSINESS. Do you treat it as such? Do you see the things from your patient’s perspective?
When you come to work, do you use the same door as your patients?
Have you ever stopped to take a look around?
Have you “secret shopped” your admissions routine? Seen how things are handled? Watched how the workflow is orchestrated?
Do you have standards in place for communication to patients in the waiting room?
Do you have a tickler system that lets someone know when someone has been waiting longer than a pre-determined time?
Do you apologize to your patients when you are tardy? Do you thank them for waiting even if you are not tardy, simply by saying ‘Sorry for the wait, we know your time is valuable’?
These are simple things, but they will not happen organically. Someone has to lead the initiative. Someone needs to set the example. Someone must demonstrate the behavior of a place that cares, notices and communicates. Someone has to hold up a standard and verify daily that it is lived out in practice.
Why daily? Because that much talked about restaurant only had one chance with me. They failed, and, as a result, I am not compelled to return. Nor have I shared any positive word-of-mouth reference about them. Your patients are no different, especially if you are in a practice of elective procedures or surgery. You want to delight not only in the exam and operating rooms, but in the front room as well. You want folks to sing your praises for not only your skills, but also your care.
So, ask yourself this… ‘when a patient enters your facility, is their table ready? Or will they be waiting? And what is the difference?’ Think about it.
Jeff Good is the co-creator and managing partner of BRAVO! Italian Restaurant, Broad Street Baking Company, and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. Recently, he opened a business-consulting firm – Dollars & Sense Creative Consulting. Together, with partners Dan Blumenthal and Danielle Davis, he shares his insight into customer service, command & control oversight, payment processing and security as well as playful marketing and promotion, with businesses wishing for an outsider’s viewpoint. Jeff can be found when bussing your table or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.