Tired of Customer Service Heroics? Try Consistency


Our team was having one of those rough bouts when all things seemed to go sideways. My receptionist said, ‘All we’re doing this week is putting our fires.’ 
So, to address this for our next team meeting, I asked each person to bring examples from industries outside of dentistry of what they perceived as excellent customer service. They came up with:

  1. On a stormy evening, a wedding reception in the country had run out of food. The owner of ‘We Caterer with Care’ had his wife drive out in the dark, dodging downed trees to bring replacement ingredients and champagne for the bride and groom as a token of apology.
  2. In ‘Rarely’s’  a top-end steak house, in a party of 4, one steak was overdone. The steak was immediately whisked away and replaced, but, with the same result. On the third try, it was perfect. The manager delivered on-the-house desserts and a gift certificate to the victim for a complimentary return visit.
  3. A made-to-measure suit from ‘Stitcheries’ for a graduation banquet arrived too late to be tried on. And, by the law of Murphy, it didn’t fit. The tailor appeared onsite with his first aid stitch kit and performed miracles to get the graduate through the banquet. Afterwards the suit was remade and all charges refunded.
  4. My office manager recounted how she and Melvin, her husband had stayed in a posh resort for their wedding anniversary. They were royally pampered in the spa, had ordered champagne with breakfast which appeared with roses compliments of room service. They had enjoyed a beautiful candlelight dinner in the dining room overlooking the terrace.

As we listened to these accounts, there were nods of approval at how, in each case, the person or establishment had really bent over backwards to provide the best possible service in difficult circumstances. The exception was my manager’s weekend. The requisite disaster to propel someone to heroic service was absent.  Her story was, in fact, sort of boring.

After all of our training and systems development, it became surprisingly clear that my team saw customer service in an heroic way. Excellent customer service entailed a rescue operation; a rescue operation from a most likely preventable situation.

In our examples, had the caterer not miscalculated the food portions, had the steak house chefs got the steaks right, and had the suit been accurately-made-to-accurately-measured, there would be no Exceptional Customer Service story.  But, but  . . . . . there would have been excellent customer service!

When people are recounting the recovery type of exceptional customer service stories, they always mention the name of the business. Not necessarily good publicity. I wouldn’t consider ‘We Cater with Care’ for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, no matter how brilliant their recovery efforts are. I don’t want to have to recover from anything, except the bar bill.

So the point is: Exceptional customer service should be consistently very very routine. Leave heroics up to your competitors.

To begin getting things consistently right:

  1. Record: Keep a journal of patient complaints and how you dealt with them.  Make this an ongoing routine.
  2.  Assess:
    • Cause of each incident. (‘She’s always a grumpy ol’ biddy’  is not allowed)
    • What would have prevented it in the patient’s view?
    • Are there clusters or trends? Example: Several patients are angrily surprised by their bill.
  3. Standardize: Create a routine, procedure that will deliver exceptional results. Example: Treatment estimates include predictable contingencies and there shall be no sudden in-operatory treatment changes without full disclosure to the patient in writing. Ever.
  4. Document: Record the new process in a Bible-shaped procedures manual – Meaning it must be followed.
  5. Review: 3 months, 6 months. As it becomes habit, perform yearly processes review and fine tuning.

Repeat for the next most glaring issue. Within a few months your most common patient complaints should be vastly reduce. You will be  routinely, consistently and predictably delivering excellence.