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When Customer Service Counts (Medical Edition)

November 20, 2009

I like my doctor. He is thorough, patient, works late hours and most importantly – takes my insurance. But, I am thinking about dropping him. Why? His front office.

It’s a small office. As in, there is a doctor and one front-office staff member. So, I expect some amount of ridiculousness and delays, but that’s the price you sometimes pay for personalized service.  But lately, I just don’t know how much I can take.

I called for a prescription refill and I was really pleased to realize that the receptionist knew who I was and was more than happy to call the pharmacy. I then asked if she could ask the doctor for an additional prescription for a cream that I wanted.   Nothing inherently embarrassing about it, and she asked me to spell it. Then I realized that the crackly sound probably wasn’t a bad connection. I asked if I was on speaker. She laughed, kept me on speaker and said “Yeah, I’m multitasking.”  I asked her to take me off and she complied. The next time I speak to my doctor directly, I will mention it, but I don’t have a lot of faith in anything changing.

In fact, I had a scheduled appointment last week at 3:30. The same receptionist called me at 2:00 and asked if I could come early. Not a problem! I asked when. She said “2:05.” I explained how insane that was, and we agreed 2:45. I got there 5 minutes earlier than than that, and then waited in the waiting room until 3:15.  I told the doc what happened, and he apologized. I mean, I could see what happened (she called lots of people to fill the schedule and more than expected complied) but when you ask someone for a favor, do them one as well and treat my time as valuable. I like this doctor, but if a friend recommended someone else to me – I would drop my allegiance just like that.

It’s not just humans. I got the new pup and I was calling a bunch of recommendations that friends gave me for vet offices. I had a brief rundown of questions, but the truth is – I selected the doc almost entirely by how responsive and friendly the front office staff was to me.

I have two world-class emergency rooms near my home. Both have fabulous doctors, but only one has a really great waiting room with semi-private alcoves and private TVs and a loudspeaker that is clear. Guess which one I will choose every time? (I am the only one in my group of friends with a car, and I have an extraordinary klutzy family – I have spent a good deal of time in ERs.)

The skills of being a great doctor may have very little to do with running a great “front of house” or being a great manager – except unless you are as pheonomonal as Greg House, it’s a skill worth learning. Or at the very least, recognizing that you stink at being the CEO of your practice, and hiring someone great who is a fantastic manager and understands the importance of putting people first.

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