This post is actually part II of my post from last week: The Difference Between Lowe’s and Home Depot – and How this Applies to Your Dental Practice! Click here if you’d like to read it before reading this post.
In a nutshell – at least in my experience, the primary difference between Lowe’s and Home Depot is customer service. And, customer service and experience are becoming a very. Big. Deal. As I pointed out last week, according to a study by Walker Research: “…Customer experience is going to become the driving factor by 2020, outstripping price as the main product differentiator by this time.”
With all of this in mind, I left off last week stating that I’d cover the two primary issues behind poor customer service in my next post (this one). So, without further ado – let’s jump right in:
Two Primary Barriers to Excellent Customer Service
Based on my experience, the primary barriers to excellent customer service are:
1. Your corporate culture has little or no emphasis on customer service. Or your employee(s), while willing enough have not been effectively trained on how to provide effective customer service.
2. Your employee(s), have issues with/or are unwilling to provide the expected level of customer service.
Pretty simple, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at each – along with what to do about it!
1. Your corporate culture has little or no emphasis on customer service and/or your employee(s), while willing enough have not been effectively trained on how to provide effective customer service.
Executives and business owners have become (and may have always been) too reliant upon “common sense.”
Not to be negative, but “common sense” is not as common as you might think.
We “know” that “No one would take a personal phone call and ignore a customer/patient,” or “A staff member wouldn’t treat a patient rudely for no good reason,” or “My employees aren’t going to leave while my patient is in the chair.”
Until one of the above (or any of a thousand other examples we could think up) ACTUALLY HAPPENS. And, from good employees!
Then we marvel, “How could (insert employee name) do something like that?” “What were they thinking?”
Then it happens again.
And, don’t think that you are anything special. Staff-related issues have been around for a L-O- O-O- N-G time. Want proof? Check out this best-selling (and well written) essay “A Message to Garcia,” by American writer, artist and philosopher Elbert Hubbard. (Link here)
It, as Wikipedia states: “bemoans the difficulty of finding employees who obey instructions without needless questions, work diligently without supervision, take initiative to overcome obstacles, and complete assignments promptly. It bewails the number of incompetent, lazy, thoughtless, obstructionist, employees who impede the work of the good employees…”
It was written 117 years ago in 1899!
So, maybe the “good ol’ days” were not as good as we all thought – Same song, different tune.
And, here’s the real problem: Lack of guidelines or policy on customer service related issues in your office can turn a great potential employee into a disaster. We’re leaving it up to their “common sense.” And sure, we’ll have those superstar types that seem to be able to handle anything – but these don’t grow on trees. If you want things done a certain way – it helps to spell things out. You have no idea what’s going on in your staff’s head, or how they think any given situation should be handled. What they think is a good idea – may very well be – just not in your office! If you don’t teach them how you want things done – how are they supposed to know? ESP?
Add to this that providing guidelines and training your staff on them, is the litmus test that separates the workable from the non-workable employees. The willing, productive employee will latch onto these procedures – do their best to follow them and correct easily when they mess up. As time goes on, they get better and better.
The ones who shouldn’t be around (more on this next) won’t. Sure there is always a “good” reason. But the proof is in the pudding. What someone says is far less important than what they actually do.
Beyond training specific to someone’s job duties (i.e. scheduling, answering the phone or whatever their job entails), there must be training and policy on their customer service “hat” in the practice. This can include things like:
a. The office’s mission or objective.
b. How you expect patients to be treated, i.e. respect, friendliness, etc.
c. The attitude of an employee with relation to patients and their job (i.e. we don’t leave the office until the last patient is gone, etc.).
d. Your viewpoint on resolving issues that patients run into – i.e. we go the extra mile and how this is accomplished.
e. The idea of professionalism, appearance and polish including things like dress code.
f. The manners you want applied to every patient – i.e. “please,” “thank you,” etc.
g. Office cleanliness and appearance.
h. Always keeping your word with patients/customers.
i. Providing levels of attention and service to patients that are recognizably above and beyond the expected norm.
I could go on, but I think you see where I’m going. And, notice not one of these has to do with HIPPA, OSHA, how to schedule a patient or set up a room for a specific procedure. Those things MUST be taught so a person can do their job. The points above are more a reflection of how you want your patients treated and contribute primarily to customer experience.
You’ll notice that companies that have things like this in place are well regarded and the “industry standard” when it comes to customer service – brands like Ritz Hotels or Nordstrom. Their levels of customer service and experience are a huge marketing tool for them. And, sure they hire productive people – but they don’t just expect them to “figure things out.” They invest a ton of training into how to handle customers. That’s why the experience at a Ritz Hotel or Nordstrom’s is virtually uniform (and usually great) location-to- location.
An office full of productive employees, all aligned to your practices mission and well-trained in customer service will be wildly productive. It also makes each employee’s position more than just a “job.” It turns the entire office into a real team.
So, that’s the first issue – along with an idea of how to make things better. Let’s now look at the next.
2. Your employee(s), have issues with or are unwilling to provide the expected level of customer service.
This type of situation is a real problem. And, it’s puzzled me throughout my career. I remember speaking to my receptionist at the first business I ran. Her desk was in a public area (seen by customers), so cleanliness was a must. We had a cleaning service after-hours, but if the trash in reception got full during the day the receptionist was expected to empty it; along with of course keeping a tidy reception space. It was company policy – and for more than just reception, it applied to any position that was “public facing.”
A week or two after she started, I’m up in reception, and see the trash overflowing and point this out to her.
A roll of the eyes and I’m told that she “doesn’t do that.” The implication was that emptying a trash can was “beneath” her.
So, I took her into my office and let her go.
Then went and emptied the trash myself.
Despite her being too “important” to empty the garbage, I – the boss – happily emptied it. And every one of the other 14 employees of that business including the owner would have happily emptied that trash. She obviously had some issue with this that we didn’t.
It’s a “no-service” mindset.
Just the other day, I’m at a gas station, and I go to the counter to pay for some water. The two people behind the counter are discussing how to set up direct deposit for their paychecks. Beyond this being an unacceptable discussion (in my opinion) in front of customers, it continued as I stood there saying nothing (again…always game for human organization/efficiency experiments) for close to a minute. Finally, they acknowledged I was there (close to 90 seconds had passed). How in the blazes could anyone think that discussing their paycheck is more important than servicing the person that supplies the money for said check?
I’ve seen instances of this on display from people from any walk of life and every educational and socio-economic background you could imagine; from a high-school dropout to an MBA or PhD. This idea that providing unselfish service to another human is “bad” or maybe makes them feels “beneath” the person they are serving. I don’t know. Not sure where or what it comes from – but what does it matter. What this attitude spawns is annoying at best. More often – it’s a customer service and morale killer.
Ultimately, what you’re looking at is the inability to assign the proper level of importance on things. The person cannot prioritize in a way that actually translates into a positive outcome.
Let’s take a dental receptionist. They have:
- A patient who’s just arrived and is standing at the front desk, and
- The phone is ringing and
- A number of charts (assuming they are still paper charts) are unfiled.
Now, with all of this going on, let’s say this receptionist is…
Ignoring the patient and the phone and is busy filing charts!
This would be funny – unless it was happening to you!
We’d look at them and say “Wow, that receptionist does not have his/her head on straight!”
Sadly, I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t seen (many) things like this in my travels.
Ultimately, this person is placing the importance on the WRONG thing. It should be on the patient and the phone –the charts can wait!
And, this is what you’re looking at when your front desk person is making a patient wait or avoiding work to talk to their fellow employee about the party they attended this past weekend.
Now, anyone – barring training – especially if they are new to the workforce may react this way.
Training is what tells the tale. Properly trained, most people straighten out easily. If despite training, they still do these things – well then you might have someone who shouldn’t be employed in your office. They can’t get their importances straight. The front desk person in my example above is there to provide service to your patients and their fellow staff. That’s why they are there. That’s why they are being paid. Not to discuss their weekend – do that on a break! But…some people just can’t get over this and think you’re a jerk for even bringing it up! OK then. They probably should find an employer who wants them – as a part of their job description – to tell cool, personal stories to fellow employees and get paid for it.
It’s the essence of a team – if you’re in a tug-of- war contest, you’d expect every teammate to be pulling in the same direction – not refraining to pull to tell a “cool story” during crunch time!
Funny thing about “importance” – Some of the most important people I’ve met – i.e. busy corporate executives, CEOs and celebrities are some of the most attentive and service-oriented people I’ve met. They never reflect the attitude “Hey – I’m important – leave me alone.” Instead – you are the most important person around!
To sum it up – customer service is just that – service. Every employee – and you included – have a job in your organization to provide service to your customers and each other. If everyone there is willing (and trained on the subject) work is a breeze and success is virtually guaranteed. If, on the other hand you have people around that just can’t get over the idea of providing unselfish service – maybe they don’t belong in your organization!
With customer service and experience becoming a more prevalent issue as we move into the future, it’s something to think (and do something about) now! You owe it to yourself, your staff and your customers/patients.
I hope this helps!