For our 25th
wedding anniversary, my wife and I took an Alaskan cruise. The thing that impressed me throughout the trip was the incredible level of customer service we received at every turn. And the people who worked on the ship were invariably HAPPY! I wondered all week long: How do they do this? I still don’t know, but there are things we can learn from the cruise industry that will help us provide better customer service in our clinics.
Customer service starts with the physical plant. On a cruise ship, they have to have everything on board and be prepared for anything. Do you have everything you need? And do you always have it? Do you have a good way to track and replace inventory? There’s not much worse than having a patient show up and not be able to provide the service they came for because you’re out of something.
And: what does your “plant” look like? The cruise ship is beautiful and maybe even a little over the top. We don’t need that, but our offices must be clean and attractive – all the time. How often do you inspect your waiting room or your exam rooms? Do they need painting? Is the furniture dirty or torn? Is everything the nurse and physician need convenient? The doctor’s office experience is about more than medical care and it starts with the physical plant.
It’s based on your people. Here’s where the cruise folks really get it right. One of our waiters was a man named Julius – and he was always smiling. He introduced himself saying: “I’m Julius. I’m from Singapore - land of the big smile! He smiled on purpose and he made it his signature. Do you have anybody in your office from the land of the big smile? Are you from the land of the big smile? Grumpiness and happiness are both contagious. Which are you spreading? Excellent customer service is based on your people.
It needs a guiding principal. One word we heard over and over on our cruise was: excellent. Every employee knew that their objective was to have each guest describe their cruise experience as “excellent.” But they have an interesting definition. They say that “excellent” means: “not perfect, but much better than good.” Nobody is perfect, but if we are consistently much better than good, our patients will get the experience they desire – and they will tell other people. Do you have a comparable goal for your practice? Does your staff know? Are your patients aware of it? Excellent customer service needs a guiding principal.
Customer service is about the patient. This one I experienced most vividly on the flight home - and I heard it directly from the captain. In his opening monologue, he gave all the usual directions and then he said simply: “Sit back, relax and let us take care of you.” Let us take care of you. Isn’t that what we should be about? It’s called medical CARE. We tend to focus on the “medical.” If we are to survive and thrive in this uncertain environment, we are going to have to focus on CARE. Customer service is caring for and about the patient.
The flight to Alaska takes 14 or 15 hours. Not a particularly pleasant way to spend a day. On the flight up, we had coach seats and I never got comfortable. Everything is too small and too close together. On the home-bound flight, we got the bulkhead; the first seat behind first class. There’s no seat in front of you, so there’s an additional foot of leg room. The flight home was a joy! The difference between a lousy experience and a great one was: One foot. Customer service isn’t that hard. We just need to find that extra foot.
Jeff Bonner is the practice administrator of Growing Up Pediatrics in Birmingham.