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Five Lessons in Customer Management from Hospital Operations

Five Lessons in Customer Management from Hospital Operations

I have spent the last week living in one of the best hospitals in the country and there has been a lot to observe, watch and learn, especially in the area of customer experience management. Life and death scenarios, ambulance sirens, dazed patient attendants and teary eyes are not exactly conducive to a brain functioning well enough to pick up the nuances of management; but I was alternately awed and disappointed enough with the experience to take away a few lessons that are applicable in all service-oriented businesses.

Lesson #1: Empathize – It is easy to get into the “it’s just another customer” attitude but keep in mind that the customer is a unique individual with his or her own hopes and fears. You have to treat every single customer with compassion and respect. You could be a super surgeon but unless you empathize enough with your patient and get into her shoes, you will never be informed enough or trusted enough to succeed in your job. A simple pat on the shoulder indicating that you understand and are there for the patient often times works better than a hundred words of technical jargon.

Lesson #2: Be the Cog in the Wheel – Sometimes, you just need to follow the rules and do the best you can in your own sphere of influence without knowing or worrying about the big picture. The moment and the deed are enough and just what the customer needs at that time. An attentive nurse, a caring cleaner and a cheerful security guard – they are not tasked with saving lives – but their roles and competencies in the tasks assigned to them make a huge impact on the whole patient experience. And of course, the management also has a responsibility to treat their people well so that they in turn are motivated to treat customers well.

Lesson #3: You are the Expert – The customer is not always right. And you, as the expert that the customer has come to for a solution, have a duty to be assertive and convince the customer about the solution that you believe is the best for the customer. A patient may choose for the least painful and quickest route for a cure but a doctor is the best person to advise the patient on the right solution which may not be the easiest for the patient to go through.

Lesson #4: Grace under Fire – In high pressure situations, it is so important to keep your mind clear and your temper even to ensure that you take the right decisions to serve your customer the best.

Can’t say this better than Rudyard Kipling who wrote –

“If you can keep your head when all about you

 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

. . . If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same . . .

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

Lesson #5: Transparency begets Trust – Your customer is part of your team too and has a right to know all aspects of the situation – good or bad. Do not operate in a black hole. Take time to communicate the goal, the plan and the pros and cons of the plan clearly to the customer to empower her to make an informed decision. For a patient, there is nothing more frustrating than not knowing or understanding why she is being subjected to more treatments (and pain). Explaining to her and letting her know the plan makes her feel that she is in safe hands and be a more willing participant in the process.

“This world is your best teacher. There is a lesson in everything. There is a lesson in each experience. Learn it and become wise. Every failure is a stepping stone to success. Every difficulty or disappointment is a trial of your faith. Every unpleasant incident or temptation is a test of your inner strength. Therefore, nil desperandum*. March forward hero!”

― Sivananda

*nil desperandum (Latin): nothing must be despaired at

What scenarios or personal situations have made you to reflect on customer management? What would you have done better? I would love to know.

P.S: Heartfelt gratitude to my twitter and online friends who have given me so much love and support and prayers for my mom.