A Marketing Gimmick is NOT Customer Service

patient1I’m wondering why “customers” of the medical profession are called “patients”? So I checked Wikipedia and found this description:

The word patient originally meant ‘one who suffers’.

I’ll say we’re suffering! Each visit to the doctor lately seems to take an inhuman amount of patience to suffer through medical visits. Wikipedia also says:


The doctor-patient relationship has sometimes been characterized as silencing the voice of patients.[3] (!!) It is now widely agreed that putting patients at the center of healthcare,[4] by trying to provide a consistent, informative, and respectful service to patients, will improve both outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Patient satisfaction means customer satisfaction. But the medical profession doesn’t seem to understand this concept at all. That paragraph above? All other companies have known this for decades: customer satisfaction comes from putting customers at the center of your concern. (Duh!)

Most other industries know the importance of keeping customers satisfied: Not only will we keep returning to spend more money with you, we’ll also refer you to others. That’s valuable free advertising!

My doctor is part of a big local hospital/medical conglomerate. These facilities seem to pride themselves on patient satisfaction. They have signs all over reminding staff about their quality service steps. They send patients a survey to complete after every interaction, as if they care about how you were treated. They advertise about how their patients are the most satisfied. All marketing designed to set them apart from the competition. The problem? They don’t follow through with actually providing quality patient service.

Recently my doctor’s office billed insurance incorrectly, resulting in a bill to me of $97. I called the doctor’s office and after 15 minutes on the phone, was promised a call back from the office manager to straighten it out. No call back ever came. So when I got the patient survey, I told them of my poor experience. The survey asked for my name and number if there was a problem, so I gave it, thinking this meant they would help fix any problems.

Yesterday, I got a phone call by a lady identifying herself as a “patient advocate”.

“Wow!” I thought, “They saw my survey and are calling to help me out.” I was impressed. She went on to ask me how my recent visit to the doctor was and if I had any questions. I explained my billing problem and failed attempt to clear it up and she responded with, “Did you receive your statement?” (i.e., my bill) I told her yes, then she asked when to expect payment! She acted like she didn’t even hear me when I mentioned the errors/problems made by the doctor’s office, completely ignoring it.

patient2So they completely fooled me. The survey and the word “patient advocate” made me think of the true meaning of the word “advocate” (champion, supporter, proponent, etc.) and not just a bill collector. She was an advocate all right.  Just not one for me, the customer. The use of that term, her obviously well-trained soothing tone/friendly demeanor, satisfaction surveys and signage all just boil down to marketing gimmicks. Imagine how much conglomerate time and money went into these efforts. Yet they don’t “walk the talk”. If they want people to pay their bills on time, how about trying some good old fashioned CUSTOMER CARE?  That’s all we ask from ANY company:

  • Respect my time while in your office.
  • Try to at least review my file BEFORE you come in to see me so you won’t suggest an immunization that you gave me 6 months ago (True story!).
  • When you order a test and say you’ll call me with results, be sure to call me. (They didn’t.)
  • Make it easy for me to actually talk to you by phone.
  • And finally, at the very least, return my call when I leave a message. That’s just plain rude.

How difficult is any of this?

Forget your fancy 21st century tricks, gimmicks, smoke and mirrors trying to fool people into thinking you care about them – there’s nothing more powerful than respect, courtesy, and customer service. All other industries know this…why doesn’t the medical industry? Isn’t it a lot easier to just PROVIDE great service than all these gimmicks?

Here’s what my experience has done for this conglomerate:

  1. I am switching doctors – i.e. you are losing a customer.
  2. I will never refer anyone to them (they cover my entire state) – and I will tell everyone I can about this bad experience with you (i.e. You have lost free advertising.)
  3. You will spend much time and money trying to get your $97 from me. Because now I’m curious to see what other tricks they have up their sleeves. So everyone who calls me to collect this money will be tested to see if anyone cares to really help me as a customer. The first person who tries to truly help me will get the payment. I know I’m just being cranky, but it’s not the money…I want to see if anyone there respects me as a customer.

They probably don’t care much about losing my business. But I am not alone….most of us have similar complaints and some may change providers. Think how powerful, simple, and inexpensive it would be if they did a good job of helping me? THAT is what brings customers back, regardless of what business you are in today. Great customer care and service means your customers tell friends and family…they promote you and keep coming back to spend more money with you.

~by Kathy Shook

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