Many are able to remember the iconic 1980s image of then US President Ronald Reagan standing near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” A few short years later, the people of Germany would unite and do just that.
Now customers are demanding the same of so-called ‘service’ organisations. Nowhere are walls of ‘rules’ more in evidence than in the healthcare field. It’s time to tear down internal walls built to protect internal ‘empires’ that too many thrive upon. Instead of thickening the rule book, focus instead on your customer… the patient.
Too many healthcare service providers see their primary role as making sure we follow THEIR rules versus doing what can be done to help those in real need. Failure to follow THEIR rules, a source of their great frustration, means we all suffer. Nowhere is this more evident than in a local UK GP’s surgery or practice office.
While the overall UK NHS (National Health Service) is often rated the best in the world for providing acute care, there are now new and massive problems brought on by government austerity. If you are acutely ill, the response and level of care remains truly remarkable. If though you need routine care, you are also well treated… once you get past that local GP.
When you enter the surgery, one is greeted by a barrage of NO! DON’T! STOP! signs to navigate before you even dare approach the desk with your query, Get it wrong and a stern finger is pointed to the sign correcting your impertinence of asking.
The office, often unbeknownst to the medical doctors, is controlled by the iron fist of a group of non-medical office workers who, ironically, would have survived nicely before the real Berlin Wall fell. They are an autocratic, ‘my way or the highway’ bunch of rule spewing automatons that truly hate what they do and the cretins they are forced to serve. The doctors live in fear, kow-tow to the wishes of the staff, because they are terribly overworked tending to patients, writing reports and calling back those seeking help.
So the surgery’s staff have become the ultimate healthcare gatekeepers, which, in turn makes we, the patient… the barbarians at their gate. Play the game by their rules or else they have the power to make your life a living hell on earth at your weakest, most vulnerable moment…
An example: tucked into a recent prescription, my wife received a note from the chemist (pharmacist) saying it had been 1 year on this medication and she needed to call the GP to review it and get a renewal. This is a fairly standard requirement. Annually you must review to ensure the medicine is necessary. It has the added benefit of forcing one to have an annual health review.
In this case the record would show it had been prescribed by an outside specialist, but the surgery had the records there. She spoke with the doctor for five minutes. Job done. The prescription was renewed… so she thought.
She went to the pharmacy three weeks later to pick it up and was told it had not been received there from the GP. So she walked over to the surgery and here is where the comedy (or tragedy) begins. The utterly disgusted woman at the desk pointed at the NO! sign and asked, “well did you have the doctor print out the prescription?”
She explained, “no, this was all done on the telephone three weeks ago. Normally they send it over to the chemist automatically.”
Woman at desk sighs and waves her upstairs to yet another desk.
There an equally disgruntled woman clearly aggrieved by yet another interruption in HER day keeping her from doing her JOB, prints it out after polite but increasingly strained begging by my wife.
The woman hands one-half of the paper prescription to her and my wife returns to the pharmacist who asks, “where is the second part?”
She explains the woman kept it at the surgery.
The chemist, who has really tried to help, says, “without the other half, you have to wait two more days for the prescription.”
It turns out, wait for it… this new prescription must first go back to the surgery, They will then print it out and return it to the chemist… 48 hours from now.
And this is considered both mild and normal.
How does your business use internal rules to similarly flummox service and anger customers? And why would you make things more difficult for customers to do business with you?
Denis G. Campbell is editor of UK Progressive and a Principal with B2E Consulting in London. He helps large organisations improve their customer focus and change their internal culture. You can reach him on +44 (0)20 3475 2214
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