“Excellence Wins” in Healthcare – The Fine Art of Handling Complaints

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For the next several weeks we are using the book titled, “Excellence Wins”, by Horst Schulze as a resource for Thursdays Thinking TIPs.

While having a copy of the book is certainly not needed to enjoy the next several BLOG posts, if you’d like to grab a copy to follow along, feel free to pick it up at Amazon here, or of course at your favorite book store.

Now, let’s review Chapter Four: THE FINE ART OF HANDLING COMPLAINTS

“…in well over 90 percent of the cases, the customers just want to get rid of their frustration.” (1)

Allowing your patients an outlet to “get rid of their frustration” is exactly why MedicalGPS recommends that all patients, after every visit, receive a follow-up email or text message with a warm ‘Thank You!’ AND an invitation to provide feedback to you and your team via M3-Patient Experience® regarding their office experience, immediately following the visit.

When there is steam to blow off — patients will find a way to vent! In today’s social-media-saturated world, patients quickly turn to Google, Health Grades, Facebook and other social media to voice their displeasure. If your practice subscribes to M3-Patent Experience, but does not currently reach out to every patient, after every visit, immediately following the patient’s office experience, contact a member of the MedicalGPS team to explore how YOUR practice can reach out to your patients, BEFORE the patient resorts to ranting on their favorite social media site.

The Mouse That Grew into a Monster

Mr. Schulze tells of a crazy story about when his business professor from Florida International University was having breakfast with a friend and the professor actually found a mouse in his cup of coffee! Yep, you read it correctly — a mouse was IN his coffee. (Please note, Mr. Schulze did not mention the name of the coffee shop, otherwise I would have gladly passed along a stay-away warning!).

As the story goes, the coffee shop manager immediately got involved and instead of apologizing, the manager said, “No that’s impossible,” and went on to say, “That can’t be true.” (2)

Because the coffee manager refused to acknowledge the atrocity, and never came close to making an apology, here’s what transpired…

“The professor ended up suing …” (3), and “He [the professor] went on to tell this story to business audiences all over the country.” (4)

According to Mr. Schulze, the professor said, “If the guy had simply apologized, I might have asked for a free breakfast, but I would never have sued.” (5)

Tactics to Employ

With such a strong belief in the power of strategic problem-solving, Mr. Schulze instituted a mandatory, two-hour class, organization-wide, which required every employee’s participation. The class taught employees how to go about reaching resolutions to customer service complaints. As part of the two-hour class, Ritz-Carlton employees were taught to use and employ the seven (7) tactics listed below.(6)

After I read through the seven tactics, I realized just how very effective these tactics play-out in dealing with customer complaints. Having spent 40 years in two service industries: healthcare since 1994, and in the airline industry before that from 1979 to 1994, I can give personal testimony that these tactics do indeed work.

In my opinion, EVERY front-line support staff team member that personally engages patients, in person or via telephone, would do well to adopt and use these seven tactics.

  1. Never try to laugh it off or crack a joke, no matter how ridiculous the complainer sounds to you
  2. If you get a complaint, own it
  3. Don’t say, “they” or “them”; instead say “I”
  4. Ask for forgiveness
  5. Don’t appeal to the policy manual
  6. Don’t try to parade your expertise
  7. Don’t assume that the complainer wants something (for example, money)

In his book, EXCELLENCE WINS, Mr. Schulze adds details to further explain and provide context related to each of the seven tactics — too much to repeat here — all very relevant. To learn more, I would recommend you or a member of your team to obtain a copy of the book, especially if your team is serious about creating a culture of service excellence.

(In full disclosure, I do not, nor does MedicalGPS receive any incentives, financial or otherwise, to promote Mr. Schulze’s book, we simply want to share great customer service improvement ideas — EXCELLENCE WINS contains many).

Actually an Opportunity

“Believe it or not, a customer or client frustration can become an opportunity to create new loyalty.” (7)

When a customer or patient takes time to let you know that their experience did not go as expected, that “bad” experience is a great opportunity to show compassion, empathy, and go above and beyond — go the extra mile! Using the Service Recovery/Follow-up Monitoring function that is inherent with every iteration of M3-Patient Experience, a timely follow-up creates an opportunity for a disgruntled patient to transform into a loyal advocate for your practice. Granted, it takes some finesse, even so, the timeliness of M3’s service recovery places you and your team in a great position to turn the patient around and create a memorable, POSITIVE experience from what would have otherwise been a sour memory.

Reputation is Fragile

This is an interesting story that plays out all across America, every day. The first attempt at delivering a product or service fails, and then the manager gets involved to make it right.

Mr. Schulze describes a time when he went to purchase a new suit at one of the most famous department stores in the county. All the measurements were taken and it sounded like Mr. Schulze was pretty excited about his new purchase. When Mr. Schulze went to pick up the suit, he of course tried it on and everything appeared to fit perfectly — at first. After some examination of how his new suit conformed to his body, he determined, “the fit was too loose in the hips.” (8) After some back and forth with the department store clerk,  However, there was one HUGE problem, the clerk informed Mr. Schulze that there would be an additional $80 for the additional tailoring! The department store manager got involved, waived the $80 fee, and apologized. By now the damage had been done. While Mr. Schulze admitted that he did finally get the product and quality he expected, the unnecessary back and forth had tainted Mr. Schulze to the point that he vowed to never shop there again. Reputation IS Fragile and is often made great, or destroyed by staff members that are not operating per-the-mission of the organization.

Handling Threats

“You can apologize and say you’re very sorry for their discomfort, but when they say their lawyer is going to come after you, the language must change.” (9).

Mr. Schulze advises that if a formal complaint letter arrives from the customer’s/patient’s lawyer, you should, if you have not already, escalate the matter to your legal team. I’ve talked with many of our clients and they have assured me they do have formal escalation policies and procedures in place to take care of these very tough, and thankfully, very rare situations. What was most encouraging to me was this statement, “But most of the time, people who feel they’ve been offended just want to be heard.” (10)

I have been described as being a positive person, and even accused as being an optimist! I can’t deny, I prefer to look on the bright side of life. That being said, even in today’s crazy world of customers demanding what they want, when they want it, and delivered the way they prefer it delivered, I am confident that Mr. Schulze nailed it — realistically — in his closing remarks of this chapter; “Complaints don’t have to become complications. With quick, alert, sensitive handling, they can be resolved and even result in good outcomes for the organization.” (11)

Next week we will review chapter five: THREE KINDS OF CUSTOMERS (AND THREE WAYS TO LOSE THEM)

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates , so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.
Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC.

Names: SCHULZE, HORST, 1939 author. | MERRILL, DEAN
Title: Excellence Wins: a no-nonsense guide to becoming the best in the world of compromise / Horst Schulze, with Dean Merrill
Description: Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan, [2019]


(1) Page 72
(2) Page 73
(3) Page 73
(4) Page 73
(5) Page 73
(6) Pages 74-76
(7) Page 77
(8) Page 78
(9) Page 79
(10) Page 80
(11) Page 81

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