Principles found in the hospitality industry apply to practices, too
We all strive to have successful practices. There are many ways to achieve that, but one of the keys that most consultants, business leaders and gurus agree on is that you have to stand out from the pack or your competition.
In this day of PPOs, HMOs, MSOs and DSOs, that may be easier said than done, when patients may not even be allowed to visit an out-of-network practice to see what it can do or offer. However, all viable practices, businesses and organizations that offer elective services for a fee have to deal with the same element in business: customer service.
When it comes to customer service, I have excelled and failed. When my vision has been carefully thought out, explained to the team, written down, conveyed and executed, then coming to work has been a wonderful experience—and the same can be said about my patients’ experience. But when I’ve failed to think things through and explain what I expect and want to deliver, I’ve been witness to a disaster.
I’ve recently added a second doctor to one practice and begun practicing in an additional location. Nothing exposes your team’s shortcomings like having orthodontics being performed without the “leader” being on-site.
Culture, care and climate
As usual, I’m going to draw on recent experiences to bring to light what I believe are examples of extraordinary customer service, as well as a few instances of poor service. As Townie Dr. Ann Marie Gorczyca explains in her book At Your Service, customer service is composed of three elements: culture, care and climate.
• Culture is the desire among all employees to serve the patients or customers.
• The care delivered is the sum of all the experiences that patients and customers have had.
• The climate of customer service is the details and systems that permeate the staff and team—the management systems that allow for seamless and consistent experiences for the guest, patient or customer.
For some background, let me reflect on a recent meeting and trip to the American Association of Orthodontists midwinter meeting in Marco Island, Florida. The sold-out conference, which focused on child and adult airway issues and sleep-disordered breathing, featured dozens of medical and dental specialists with knowledge on related topics. (Some of us who’ve practiced long enough fear the topic will become the TMJ panacea of the current century, leading to overpromising and underdelivering, but that’s for another day.)
Before departing Phoenix, I was receiving text alerts from America Airlines notifying me of delays. I was given the option to change connecting flights online to ensure my timely, although later than originally planned, flight to Fort Myers, Florida.
My morning was hectic but this easy text-based system of confirming flights, checking in and changing flights based on weather conditions made it easy to make sure the rest of the day went off without a hitch. (Climate)
The next bit of good news came upon arrival at the Phoenix airport. This was the weekend of the government shutdown so I was prepared for an extensive delay at the TSA checkpoint, but to my surprise and everyone else’s, there were absolutely no lines. Instead, there were dozens of agents—smiling, actually interacting with flyers and making nice conversation. Those of us traveling that day made it a point to thank the agents who had appeared for work that day, because we certainly appreciated their efforts.?(Culture)
Arrival and rental car pickup were unremarkable and as smooth as usual, and when I checked into the hotel, I heaved a sigh of relief: Hotel staff were attentive and on point. This was the second Marriott hotel I’d stayed in that month and I don’t recall a more polished and attentive team. The receptionist sincerely asked how my day was going and I responded with the details. Hey, she asked! (Care)
After this, she walked around the counter, presented me with my keys and asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I asked if a gift store was open for me to purchase a snack or something and she responded that it was past closing. I understood, because it was around 1 in the morning, but the next event really took me aback: She mentioned that the team had some energy bars in the back room and in a quick manner returned with one for me and my rumbling stomach. What a touch! (Culture)
Rain all weekend dampened the event from a vacation perspective, but again I was impressed by the hotel staff. Absolutely everyone who passed in the hall acknowledged me, asked how my day was, or at the minimum smiled and said hello. When the various meals were presented during the breaks, servers and managers were right there, standing at attention and directing guests into the various lines for food and beverage. (Care)
Self-service as a result of bad service
The departure date arrived quickly, and I knew I should leave earlier than usual because I’d received a warning about delays at the airport because of the season as well as the shutdown.
On the way to the airport, I had a tire go flat while on the expressway. Panicked at the thought of being late and wondering what to do. I called the number on the key ring. The attendant on the phone, who seemed quite robotic, asked for the VIN, but the number was illegible on the tag. Her terse responses weren’t very assuring, but we got it done. Avis has an app that allows you to follow the progress of its towing service, which is subcontracted to local companies. You can imagine how that worked out: After an hour of waiting in the rain for the truck, a follow-up call to the service pretty much indicated they weren’t up to speed so I decided to change the tire myself.
I, after 40 years, had the opportunity to change my own tire successfully and make it on my way. When I finally arrived at the Fort Myers airport, the TSA line was out the door and this team was not nearly as friendly as the group in Phoenix. The other bad news was that no planes were leaving or arriving because of weather, so once again my American Airlines app alerted me to missed flights that needed to be changed. A pleasant phone gate agent cheerfully arranged for my late-night arrival and thanked me for flying American Airlines. I have millions of miles on account, and this is a reason for everyone to have at least one, maybe two, airline cards!
Impressions are not just for treatments
The purpose of this discussion was not to complain or vent, but to bring to light some events that we may all experience some day. It’s worthy to note that during every typical and atypical day, our lives are touched numerous times by providers of care or services that require attention to detail. Quite simply put, you can be responsible for making someone’s day or ruining one. Which do you choose?