Hospitals: Don't Call Me Patient, Call Me Customer!

Tripp Babbitt

I recently saw an ad in my newspaper for a Heart Scan at a local hospital. It sounded like a good idea and for $49 I thought "let’s do this thing." I am an avid runner, but this sounded like a real smart thing to do as "good shape" doesn’t always mean "good condition."

I made the call to set up my appointment and was greeted with my personal favorite an IVR explaining the service of what the heart scan does. I didn’t care to hear the 30 seconds, but all I had was a recording on the other end of the line and starting an argument seemed rather one-sided.

The lines were busy and the recoding asked me to leave a name and number and they would call me back . . . at their convenience. This is representative of what I hate about the new technology that calls you back when contact centers are busy. Customers call when it is convenient for them and this callback (so you don’t have to hold) thinking allows the contact center to call back when it is convenient for them.

I get a call back a day later and I am asked about setting up an appointment with one small catch . . . it would be two months before they could schedule me. As a speaker and consultant I don’t know sometimes where I will be next week, but it’s their system. Me, I am just a customer that has things to do and that certainly isn’t important to them.

I was told to arrive an hour before my appointment to fill out the paperwork. This is like an unwritten standard when you have to arrive an hour before an appointment in healthcare and then wait because they are running behind. I’ve been told that in healthcare physicians don’t want to have gaps in their appointments because it wastes their time so they overbook appointments. What about MY time? Who is the customer here?

Predictably, as my appointment time was arriving I found that I would be out of town that week and needed to cancel or reschedule. I decided to cancel after a conversation about appointments in August (another 2-plus months wait).

A week before the scheduled (now canceled) appointment I received a phone call to remind me about my appointment next week – a complete waste of time. What started as a promising health check turned into a customer service nightmare.

I read recently where 12,000 Minnesota hospital nurses are on strike, because they believe they are under-staffed. With the poor work designs and waste that hospitals have in their systems it is no wonder. It is not shocking that huge sums of money in healthcare are being wasted and that hospitals play a large part in this.

The whole hospital system has an inside-out, top-down, and command and control mentality. An outside-in approach to see their system end-to-end from a customer perspective would give them an idea of costs and the causes of costs. They are in the flow and not the scale of activities (economies of flow).

They could start by understanding the "what and why" of current performance from an end-to-end systems perspective. An understanding of what matters to customers (customer purpose) and deriving customer measures from that purpose. Armed with this information they can find new methods to find a better work design that has less waste and more customer focus.

In the end, I want healthcare professionals to stop calling me a patient or an appointment and start calling me by my real name . . . customer.

First published on Call Center IQ