When did I become everyone’s honey?

October 1, 2016

Here’s a scenario: You walk up to the local fast food counter for lunch. The morning is still fresh in your mind, and all the afternoon projects are pushing their way into the forefront of your brain. Distracted is under stating where your mind is at. You finally get to the order person, and a 16-year-old sings out: “Hi sweetie, what can we do for you today?”

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in customer service – maybe you have experienced it as well.

Here’s a scenario: You walk up to the local fast food counter for lunch. The morning is still fresh in your mind, and all the afternoon projects are pushing their way into the forefront of your brain. Distracted is under stating where your mind is at. You finally get to the order person, and a 16-year-old sings out: “Hi sweetie, what can we do for you today?”

While her smile is 100 watt, and she appears sincere in her request to help, what throws me for an absolute loop is her calling me “sweetie”.

Or how about this: I was at supper the other night with some friends, and when the waitress came to take our order, she loudly stated: “Okay hun, let’s start with you. What would you like?”

The evil Dianna wanted to respond with: “What would I like? I would like to know when I became your honey – I just met you”. Knowing that somewhere in this twisted scenario I would look like the mean customer, I held my tongue.

Each of these scenarios involved people I had never met who were appreciably younger than me and had somehow developed the belief that these terms of endearment were a great way to show people that they were receiving good customer service.

All it does is irritate me!

Customer Care: “Excellent customer service is the process by which your organization delivers its services or products in a way that allows the customer to access them in the most efficient, fair, cost effective, and humanly satisfying and pleasurable manner possible.”1

In my travels, I have noticed that no matter where I am in the country, I hear technicians, front desk staff members, and even doctors calling patients by “terms of endearment.”

It has become so innocuous that I don’t even think we know we are doing it . . . it just naturally flows from our mouths.

Customer Service is the hot phrase again on everyone’s lips with MACRA coming around the corner in 2017.

 

Our past efforts of Meaningful Use were primarily on percentages of CQM (clinical quality measure) that were achieved and figuring out whether we “pass”. What we are now going to see is there are no CQM percentages and what we are going to be evaluated on is whether the patient received the best exam they could for the money you charged for it.  Did they get the “best bang for their buck”?!

If you have had an appointment in the last year, you are already seeing copious amounts of surveys coming from the clinics, hospitals and labs every time you have a procedure/appointment. You are being asked to evaluate the front desk, the timeliness of the appointment, whether you saw the doctor you usually see, whether you were treated with respect, etc.

These surveys are then being compared to other groups in your specialty. And then you will be compared with those practices, their service versus yours.

Patients will eventually be given access to this information and will be able to compare you and your competition as to who does a “better” job.

You will have the opportunity to not only see the response percentages, and how you were rated in comparison to other practices in your area, but you can also ask to see the response sheets for the written comments as well.

What patients want are the intangibles: respect, dignity, honesty. “Sweetie” and “honey” are not part of it.

 

After speaking with other supervisors and managers, we all agreed the most common issues patients commented on were the following:

1. Wait times

Ophthalmology and optometry has an inherent disadvantage right from the start: Dilating times.

Make sure your phone center/front desk staff are advising the patients that their exam will include eye dilation. Explain to them what “dilation” means! I often hear many receptionists state: “Your eyes will be dilated for this exam” – but for patients who have never had eye drops, they have no idea what that means! They are mad when the time comes that they, or their children, will have drops because they didn’t know it involved this!

When your technicians put drops in the patient’s eyes, make sure they explain there is a time period (20-30 minutes) for the drops to work and then the doctor will be with them as soon as they can.

Patients will sit in the drop waiting area and compare how long someone else has been there versus them – not knowing that the other person being called back needed just a vision and pressure screening and they just had a complete exam!

 

2. Telling your “story” to multiple people, multiple times!

Stein and Slatt state that the history is a “story” of the patients concerns and should build toward what type of exam needs to be performed for the patient.

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, we don’t get to the building part!

The patient calls with a problem, and needs to tell the phone center what the problem is to get an appointment. When they arrive, the front desk will now ask more billing questions (usually similar to the ones that the phone center asked). Then the technician will ask what the problem is. Then the doctor asks a number of similar questions. You can tell when patients are frustrated with repeating medications and questions when they curtly answer: “It’s in my chart.” This is the first sign you are losing them!

 

3. Intimidating, mean front desk staff

Make sure that your front desk and people that deal with the patient as the first point of contact are personable, engaging and have the ability/access to answer the patient’s questions – or follow through with the questions to get an answer.

Having your grumpiest employee that your own staff is scared of at the front desk is courting disaster!

I once had a patient at the Veterans Hospital that never kept his appointments. He had raging glaucoma, but never came for his follow-ups or his diagnostic testing. I finally cornered him to have a heart-to-heart regarding his behavior, but he just kept shaking his head. He then advised me that because he lived so far away, his service officer had a varied schedule and couldn’t always get him to his appointments. I told him that was fine, and just call and let us know. He again shook his head and said he wasn’t going to call and upset the person making the appointments!

When I told him it was no upset, he stated it surely was and I should try it sometime. He then pointed at the receptionist. He was afraid of the woman behind the window because she was “mean.”

This man had landed on D-DAY – but was afraid of a receptionist behind a plexiglass protector!

Mean spirited, irritable, and ornery staff cause a number of problems that you often don’t hear about – but will lose patients because of. Identify the problem and fix it. In this case, the receptionist was transferred to medical records where her demeanor was not noticed by the rows of charts!

 

4. Care performed by knowledgeable, professional, and caring staff

Nowhere does it mention that excellent care included the phrase “honey” or “sweetie.”

This weekend I was flying back from a clinic visit and was waiting behind a woman approximately my age who was trying to get back to Indiana. The woman at the counter said: “Hi dear …how are you today? One bag or two today?”

The woman straightened her back and said: “I am not your dear . . . one bag”. The counter attendant paid no attention, got her tickets and her luggage slip addressed, and then said: “Have a nice day hun.”

When I walked up next – she started the conversation the same way she had with the other customer. I almost snapped back, as she did, and then halted quickly.

Why give up this opportunity to make my voice heard?

Because deep in my heart I am absolutely convinced that the woman’s luggage probably ended up in Florida! Maybe “terms of endearment” are okay at given times.