Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who Cares About Customer Service?

Many companies are seeking feedback from their customers by printing web addresses to surveys on their receipts. They usually offer an incentive to take the survey. Because these companies are the ones that are already focused on providing good customer service, they usually need the survey less than the companies that never seek customer feedback.

Today I received a survey on my Starbucks receipt and I've recently received many others from Home Depot, Lowes, Target, Panera Bread and other big chains who care about their customers' experiences. I've taken a few of the surveys just to see what types of questions they ask. I had the opportunity to tell a nationwide office supply chain that I'd like to go into an office supply store that feels like an upscale business office rather than a warehouse. Who knows? Maybe this seed will grow somewhere in the industry.

My doctor, however, doesn't show many signs of caring about my experience as a customer. In August, I had my annual checkup, which included an annual mammogram. Since that time, I've received two notices by mail from the imaging center letting me know that my mammogram was normal and to repeat in one year. In addition, each of these notices seemed to trigger two more corresponding notices from my doctor letting me know that my mammogram was normal and to repeat in one year. I'm just like you. I like to hear from my doctor that all is well with my health, but receiving the same news four times doesn't really make the news get any better.

In fact, this makes me question thier procedures. Why are they using up their time to do duplicate work? At this same annual exam, my doctor also gave me a referral to a specialist for something that wasn't urgent. A day or two later I scheduled an appointment about 6 weeks out because that was the soonest I could get in. This doctor only has office hours 1-1/2 days a week. As the time got closer, I realized that I was going to have a scheduling conflict with the original appointment and called to reschedule. I found out that it was going to take about another 6 weeks to get another appointment.

Rather than wait that long, I canceled my appointment and called my doctor's number to see if I could get referred to a different specialist where I might be able to get in sooner. So I call my doctor and get routed into a telephone maze. I press the button for "If you are calling for a referral, press..." So I press that number and get a voicemail that says, "due to the high call volume of requests for referrals, it may take 7-9 days for us to get back to you." That was over three weeks ago and I've never gotten a call back! Seven to nine days to call back with the name of another doctor, I thought! What's up with that? And what about my fell0w-patients calling in who don't feel well? This is irritating even when you're in great health.

Last year when I had my physical exam, I remember going through their phone maze trying to schedule an appointment and no one returned my calls. So last year I wrote to the doctor and let her know how difficult it was to get through and she said that they were having trouble with their phone lines and that they were working on it. In addition, I had a long wait in the waiting room before I got in, around 45 minutes or so in the waiting room and another 10-15 minutes after in-processing, if my memory serves me well. It's a lot of trouble to switch doctors, so I just accepted this service level. This year, I'm wondering if I made the right choice to stick with the same doctor? They have the time to send me two duplicate notices, but no time to return a call or do a quality check with their customers.

Here are a few good questions for the physician and her partners to consider:

  • Is it part of my core business to take appointments from patients?
  • Is it part of my core business to in-process & meet with patients in a timely manner?
  • Is it part of my core business to offer referrals to specialists?

If the answer is "yes," then they ought to figure out how to do it well. If they really care about customer service, they might try to figure out how to do it better over time. One of the best ways to know how to do it better is to ask for feedback from people going through the process.

Here's what seems strange to me. Many companies never even attempt to ask customers about thier experience. My husband and I dine at a privately owned restaurant near our home about once a month or so. The restaurant hasn't had much business since it opened over a year ago, even though they have good food and a nice Asian atmosphere.

One night, we talked to the owner for a few minutes and suggested that he put feedback cards at all the tables so that customers could let him know what they liked or didn't like about their dining experience. He proceeded to tell us that it was hard to find good help and he could only afford to hire teens right now. He knew what the customers wanted and that if business would pick up he would hire a manager who could also do some marketing.

Many months later, he still hasn't put feedback cards on the table, the business hasn't picked up much and he still hasn't hired a manager. Another restaurant a few doors down that opened at the same time just went under a few months ago. That restaurant didn't ask for customer feedback either.

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