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Being Treated like a Human Being: The Key to Good Customer Service

01.22.11

It doesn’t take much to provide good customer service.

Honest. I’ve been in a customer service-driven position before and I know the stress and unpleasantness that comes with having to deal with unhappy customers or clients. It can be brutal. Plus, we’re all human and we all have our good days and our not-so-good days. It happens.

But there end up being situations where there’s just a total lack of caring that is unacceptable.

Let’s use my telephone call with my doctor’s office yesterday as an example of how to quickly lose clients. Actually, let’s back up to the day before last:

I called to see about scheduling an appointment. Nothing too extreme – no need to talk to the doctor or ask about a prescription or find out some lab results. It was near the end of the day and the woman at reception answered the phone. I explained about wanting to make an appointment, to which she replied: “My computer isn’t working right now. Can you call back first thing in the morning?”

Okay, sure. I’ve dealt with systems going down on my computer and there’s literally nothing she could do. Fair enough, no biggie.

So I call back the next day (not in the morning, but in the early afternoon) and while a woman answered, it was one of those “Hello, could you please hold for me?” greetings that gave me no option but to hold. Sure, why not. I’m listening to some smooth jazz for nearly two minutes when the phone begins to ring again, as if I’d just called. The other line picks up quickly, it’s the same woman, “Hi, if you continue to hold I’ll be with you in just a minute.” Okay, sure, I reply and in nanoseconds I’m back to the saxophone and electronic drum beats.

Another minute-plus goes by and then it rings again. I imagine this flashing light on her phone going solid and her headset ringing in her ear again while she’s still dealing with a patient in person. This time, though, she’s not nearly as polite about having me hold. She picks up with a curt: “Hello?” What is this a personal line? Hello? Oh hey, Linda, long time no hear, what’s new? C’mon.

It’s clear that she knows it’s me since she knew it was me still waiting from before so it’s not like she doesn’t know that I’m calling for something related to the doctor. Instantly, I’m off-put and caught off guard so I stumble through my response of “Hi, yes, I’m-” to which she doesn’t let me finish and says, “Please hold,” and slams me back to the MIDI tunes.

No more for me. At this point I hung up. She evidently had far more important things to do and her increasing irritation with me — who should’ve been the increasingly irritated one since I’m the one on hold, not her — was not making me excited about having the jazz music turn into a ring again knowing what would greet me on the other end of the phone.

It led me to think that she had no idea how her own hold service worked on the office phones. Either that or she was irritated that the phone line didn’t let her keep someone on hold indefinitely and decided to take it out on me as if I had any control over the fact that the line took itself off hold and rang her line again.

Either way, I’d already had an appointment scheduled as a two-week follow-up, so I went in the morning as previously scheduled. I go to sign in and they ask me the usual about any changes in my insurance. As a matter of fact there had been as of January 1st – which I told them when I came in on the 7th only I didn’t have my physical card yet so I gave the check-in receptionist at that time my pertinent info which she wrote down – but this time I had my brand, spanking new card. Of course, as she makes the copies and changes to my account, it turns out that they had still billed my old insurance despite all of this back on the 7th.

Fantastic!

“How is that going to work, then?” I asked, figuring that there’s no way that Blue Cross will cover the costs if I’m no longer insured by them. She said that it would be fine because they have the new information now. I said, “You mean, you have the new information now to bill today. What about what was billed two weeks ago?” She kind of stumbled and somehow said something that sounded like it’d just work itself out.

Right. This stuff usually just works itself out, doesn’t it?

To top it all off, I’m not all that crazy about my actual doctor so I’m not needing much at this point to call up my new provider and find a different primary care physician.

And then the nurse calls me back to check my vitals and put me into the examination room. She greets me with a “Just come back here, young man,” in a grandmotherly tone that smoothed everything over just fine. She’d always been the one good thing about this office, always cheery and polite no matter how busy the office was, always treating me with respect and courtesy and not making it seem like I was being a nuisance to her.

Look at that: all it really took was being treated like a human being and I’m fine, already forgetting (okay, not really) about the phone calls, the long holds, the jazz music, and the insurance mishaps.

So, like I said before: customer service doesn’t take much. A calm, polite tone and treating me like a human being, not a nuisance. That will warm over errors any day for me. And I think most other people in the world, too.

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