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June 19, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Have a Seat
By Ryan Secan, MD, MPH

6-19-2013 4-12-41 PM

Customer service is important. This is not a revelation. We’ve all had our terrible customer service experiences (airlines, banks, utilities, cable companies, and social media, I’m looking at you), but today I’d like to focus on good customer service. There are lots of examples of excellent customer service which don’t cost that much money (like this, or this), mostly just time, effort, and actually caring about providing a high level of service. 

While everyone pays lip service to the notion that customer service is important, somehow there never seems to be money in the budget for it. While some customer service efforts require investment, many can be done at low or no cost. This is a win-win we all hope for – a better experience for our customer that is cost neutral.

I used to own a high-mileage luxury brand car. When it needed service, my wife liked to take it to the dealer for repairs. It cost more money for the service, but to her it was worth it. The drop-off area was clean. There was a place to sit down and talk to a professionally dressed person regarding what was wrong with the car. While the car was being fixed, she always got a nice, new car as a loaner free of charge. The dealer was flexible about when she could pick up the car and bring back the loaner, and her car was always washed and vacuumed when it was done. 

This was high level customer service that was worth paying for. It likely didn’t cost the car dealer much, as any costs were likely covered by the higher prices for service. It may have actually been a source of profit if the cost of providing this level of service was less than the extra money made from the service. 

One of the best examples I’ve read is described in this post by Joe Posnanski about an experience he had at Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. He’s a sportswriter, but writes on a range of topics, and if you aren’t reading him, you’re really missing out even if you aren’t into sports. 

The column is a bit of a long read, but definitely worth it, and if you’re a parent like me, it might make you a little misty at the end. Go ahead and click through and read it right now – you’ll be happy you did.  It wasn’t the $250 million theme park that this little girl (and her dad) is going to remember. It’s the brief, meaningful interaction with a staff member who put forth just a little bit more effort than expected that made all of the difference.

In the clinical world, sometimes even the smallest things can improve a patient’s satisfaction with their healthcare encounter. A study out of the University of Kansas Hospital demonstrated than when physicians sit down during a bedside encounter rather than stand up, despite spending less time with the patient, they were perceived as having spent 40 percent more time in the room. The patients reported that they were more satisfied with the encounter and had a better understanding of their condition. 

High levels of customer service don’t have to cost a significant amount of money, just an understanding of what your customers want and are willing to pay for and a culture that empowers your team members to go the extra mile to meet the customer’s needs. We can provide this high level of service to our provider clients by actively listening to them and selling them what they want or need to do their job effectively (e.g., single sign on, interface between an application and their EHR, automation of a manual process, etc.)

In the health IT world, where technology road blocks can interfere with patient safety, it is critical that we play our part – and play it well.  

Ryan Secan, MD, MPH is chief medical officer of MedAptus.

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