In this age of Artificial Intelligence (AI), bots and internet shopping, is customer service now dead? One could easily argue that, in the words of Billy Crystal/Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, it’s MOSTLY dead. It sure seems like people are generally willing to accept the frustration of being left on hold for an hour, dealing with a clueless level 1 employee reading from a script, or being denied an option to speak with a human being at all. Maybe, but as with everything in life, there’s always a tipping point.
For a while I’ve held the view that each business organization has done the research to determine the inflection point where poor customer service will lead to a meaningful loss in business, but now I’m not so sure. Signs of a consumer rebellion are slowly beginning to emerge in the form of actions like cable cord-cutting, brutal social media reviews, and moving on to competitors. Predictably, this reactive shift is highly concentrated in the over 40 demographic, given their memory of friendlier times. For the millennials+ generations, the jury is still out as to whether the current acceptance of this new world order will persist or crumble as our society wrestles with what is widely perceived as an accelerating evolution toward a lack of accountability and an erosion of civility.
Notably, the healthcare industry may present a unique circumstance where customer service is rapidly taking on greater importance. Patients have historically been willing to put-up with scheduling inconvenience and impersonal interaction because of their emotional tie to a given provider whom they view as their best chance to rescue them from their health ailment. This stickiness is usually a result of a valued referral from another provider or individual they trust, or a positive impression formed by researching the provider’s public profile. And so, there is a built-in loyalty factor that typically overshadows provider shortcomings, which essentially has made medical practices bulletproof to business contraction. However, American society has been inexorably pivoting to a more consumer-centric orientation, and savvy healthcare providers have responded to this by aggressively competing for patients on the basis of convenience and superior technology, among other experiential differentiators. Hence, the new concentration on customer service and the recognition that patients are willing to prioritize their personal experience over their confidence in the provider’s reputation and capabilities.
So, what kind of things are luring patients away from their trusted providers? Here are some examples, a few of which were mentioned in prior blogs (see “Personalizing the Patient Experience” and “How to Optimize Your Patient-Facing App”):
- An easy-to-use Digital Front Door including a robust app that puts the patient in control (i.e. prescription refills, scheduling, communication with the provider, indoor wayfinding, parking assistance, intuitively organized medical records)
- Digital appointment registration, reminders and check-in
- On-time service
- Out-of-pocket price visibility prior to treatment
- Friendly, proactive and personalized interaction driven by staff training and in-office personalized/curated messaging and education
- Easy follow-up access to the provider
- Virtual Reality pain management
- Hospital bedside infotainment
- Robots (telemedicine, delivery, welcome)
- A remote patient monitoring/communication program
- A user-friendly and readily available telemedicine service
Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes
In the classic film “The Doctor,” William Hurt plays an arrogant surgeon with a terrible bedside manner who is diagnosed with cancer and, as a result, experiences healthcare from a patient’s perspective, thereby enlightening him as to the failings of the medical system and injecting him with a newly found compassion and sensitivity for others. Seems like a good application of the golden rule, and one that could lend significant insight as to the best way for medical providers to advance the expanding patient-centric movement and consumerism of healthcare.
Just some health food for thought.