All kinds of subtle things get in the way of objectively examining our approach to customer experience: social norms and expectations, business culture, and the individual bias, pre-conditioning, and stress levels of the person delivering the service. Indeed, there are ways of doing things that are inherently taken for granted, and ways in which we as customers accept the level of service provided, just because we don’t know anything different.
A recent personal experience with a doctor in Mexico brought all of this sharply into view.
My frame of reference is the Canadian medical system. There are some fantastic doctors in Canada, providing excellent medical care in a universal access system that is the envy of much of the world. Doctors in Canada enjoy the privilege of social status: they’re well-educated, often well-off, intelligent people whose services are in demand.
My experience as a customer of that medical system, though, includes:
- You must call well in advance to book an appointment with your family doctor (in some provinces, like British Columbia, a physician shortage means many people don’t even have a family doctor!)
- Once you arrive for your appointment, be prepared to wait – sometimes for an hour or more – in a full-to-bursting waiting room
- If you have an emergency, you don’t see the one doctor who knows you and your medical history. Instead, you head to a hospital emergency room or a walk-in-clinic
- Once you are actually with your doctor, you must get to the point quickly. You’ve seen the waiting room and you know you’ve maybe got five minutes of your doctor’s time and attention.
Back to Mexico. Dr. Luis Canale had been helping me with a problematic and recurrent issue over the course of about five months. At some point in this process he asked me to keep him in formed of changes I was seeing and he provided me with his personal email.
I’ve never, ever before, in my 50+ years of living in Canada, been provided with a physician’s personal or private email. I might have missed this first sign that my preconditioned expectations of the “service” provided by a physician were about to be exceeded had it not been for the events that followed.
As we prepared to embark on a sailing trip that would take us away for a few months, I forgot, until the night before our last day, that I’d need to stock up on prescription medications. I decided the least bad of a host of poor options was to use the personal email Dr. Canale had provided. At about 9pm, I hit “send” on a note letting him know I hoped to obtain some refill prescriptions and that I’d need to drop in pretty close to his opening time of 9 the next morning.
“See you at 9,” was his brief reply.
The next morning, he ushered me into his freshly-swept consulting room and we proceeded to take care of business. Thirty minutes later, prescriptions written out, approaches for managing my condition discussed, I had everything I needed.
“Before I go,” I said, “I’d just like to apologize for emailing you late and essentially showing up without an advance appointment.” I mean, who gets to do that? Email their doctor at night and waltz in first thing the next morning?
“No need to apologize,” explained Dr. Canale. “The privilege is mine. It is a privilege and an honour to be trusted with the responsibility for your health. If your needs dictate a late email and an early walk-in, I’m happy to accommodate because that’s what I’m here for….”
My jaw nearly hit the floor. I was surprised. Almost embarrassed. Certainly this was a foreign experience. This was the opposite of what I’ve felt many times in a doctor’s consulting room: like an inconvenient, inconsequential interruption.
Dr. Canale’s ability to create this experience speaks to his own inclination and initiative, but he’s done it within the Mexican medical system. So far, my own experiences within this system suggest that Mexico’s health care framework enables a customer or patient-centric approach. How they’ve done it is a different topic for another day.
What Dr. Canale did–both in his behaviour (encouraging me to come in) and his words (thanking me for the privilege)–was demonstrate the power of truly putting the client first.
What did he have to do on his end? Mainly, he listened to what I needed. I needed to see him with very little notice. He accommodated. I needed prescriptions to last me several months. He accommodated. I needed to talk through an approach to my health while away. He took the time I needed to discuss and explain things thoroughly. He did not make me feel that I was inconveniencing him, that I was a burden, or that my needs were imposing on the needs of others.
What was the impact of his behaviour and his message on me as his “customer”?
- I felt important, like I mattered
- I felt cared for, as a human being, not just a billing number
- It upped my feelings of loyalty to him as my physician
- I have shared, and shared widely, the story of my experience!
How many of us have taken the time to examine our preconceived notions and societal expectations to challenge ourselves to put the customer first? Perhaps it is worth the time to explore, to see if your own filters are preventing you from truly exceeding the service expectations of your customers.
What do you have to lose?