Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Service and a letter

Today my wife had to call the hospital to get an appointment for a mammography. This is the second appointment in as many months. We aren’t overly worried yet, but the radiologist who took the first pictures wants another run and an echo (ultra-sound). The appointment for the mammography is in late December, but the ultra-sound will be done sometime in May… yes… May.

Hopefully the x-rays won’t reveal anything substantial to worry about, but this situation isn’t the purpose of the discussion today.

The phone call is.

Last week, my wife attempted to reach the CHG – Centre Hospitalier de Gatineau for this very same prescription. After waiting on voice-mail hold for over ½ hour, she was told to call again next week, as the appointment book was full and the next wasn’t open yet.

“Open for when?” she asked.

“Mid next year” was the curt reply, followed by hang up.

Neither of us was overly surprised, after all, my wife is a nurse, so we know a little about our health system.

This week, she got a wonderful lady on the line, after the mandatory 10 minute wait. Not only does she provide with an appointment, but the system is broken and she proposes to call my wife back for the echo schedule, later in the day.

Both of us are literally floored. Where the hell did this concern for customer service come from? Furthermore, when the nice lady called back some minutes later, my wife thinks to ask for her name. My wife will be writing a letter of thanks and commendation for the excellent service she received this very morning.

There are several issues at work here. The most obvious is that our expectation of service was so low to begin with, given last week’s abject handling and our normal experiences in the health system. The second is that we are both ready to thank someone, in writing no less, for doing her job properly. Finally, what do we put in the letter?

It’s extremely cynical to think that if we thank this person for a call-back, she may actually get reprimanded for going out-of-process. Cynical though it may be, it is nevertheless a very real possibility. I’ve seen, first hand, this kind of behaviour before.

Given this, maybe our low expectation of good service is justified. We have grown accustomed to being treated like dirt. Note that this is design intent by big businesses, in order to provide a cost-effective, read minimal, level of service for volume.

If this lady, did indeed go out of process to provide what we should expect to be an acceptable level of service, our letter will damage her work evaluation and she will be constrained to follow orders from here on out. This will yield an embittered employee who will answer the phones much like that battle-axe last week.

In reality, she was just doing her job correctly, according to us. Maybe not so according to process. If we do nothing, that is if we do not highlight this awesome event, there would be no harm done. Literally!

It was so surprising, and inspiring, that we wish this lady to continue her behaviour. Etiquette and good citizenship dictates that we should make a point of this. So we will send in a letter of thanks for someone doing their job justly. Hopefully this letter will fall upon a desk where the business ethics go beyond the process and the sad service drawn by said process.

It’s really a catch-22 in several ways. If we bitch about the system, no one will listen, or at least claim they’ve heard it all before and nothing can be done without more money. If we acknowledge good, decent, work, it will reflect upon the entire system that all is well, and nothing else need be done. If we do nothing, nothing will change, or maybe the lady on the phone will eventually become dejected through lack of acknowledgement of a job well done. We come full circle.

Where has good, decent, work ethic gone? According to the above, it would have been processed or business-cased out of existence years ago. And we didn’t even see it flee.

Our outrage at lousy service is almost daily occurrence in each our lives. Most of us are not even surprised anymore, and we let it slide, just to buy the peace. Our being surprised at decent service is equally telling. I’ve heard friends be full of praise at what I would consider to be ordinary service. Hell, I’ve done so myself on occasion.

What is so great about ordinary service? Nothing. I think that we see it as extraordinary where we just don’t expect to see it.

When I go to Subway’s I expect whoever is behind the counter to have, at the very least, a pleasant disposition, but oddly, when I phone the hospital or my local clinic, I expect the battle-axe and am usually not disappointed, nor surprised, in either regard.

It seems to me that some places are better than others. Notably, the places where they really want your money… but then only if it’ll cost them big if they don’t get your patronage.


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