‘You Have Cancer, Goodbye.’

Your excuses for delivering bad customer service don’t matter to your customers.

“Mr. X, this is Betty from Doctor Y’s office. I’m calling with the results of your biopsy.”

Mr. X is the name we will use for my close friend, who received this call. Dr Y. is a dermatologist who found a troubling spot on Mr. X’s left hand.

Betty continued, “The biopsy was positive. It’s cancerous.”

“Really?” Mr. X was driving when he received this call, and as soon as he heard the word “cancerous,” he slowed down and pulled his car over to the side of the road.

“What kind of cancer is it?”

“It’s a…” (Betty paused to sound out the diagnosis) “…squamous cell cancer.”

“What does that mean?”

Again another pause, after which Betty began to read from a document in a somewhat robotic voice, “Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layer of the skin.”

“Is that a bad cancer?”

“There are worse cancers.”

“Can I speak with the doctor?”

“The doctor is not available.”

“Can I come in to see her tomorrow?”

“Let me check for the next appointment.” Another pause. “She can see you two weeks from now.”

One week later, Mr. X has still not received a call from Dr. Y. I’m sure when Mr. X tells Dr. Y. his disappointment with how this situation has been handled, Dr. Y will immediately think about all of the challenges running her medical practice that make it hard to deliver cancer diagnoses in a more patient-friendly manner:

  • She’s busy seeing patients all day.
  • She’s understaffed since her top nurse went on maternity leave.
  • Insurance reimbursements are down and government regulations are up.
  • The new electronic medical records system isn’t working right.

All of these excuses may be true. But they don’t matter one bit to a patient just diagnosed with cancer.

Imagine a meal at a restaurant that takes an hour to arrive at your table because the sous chef didn’t show up that night.

Imagine a front desk clerk gives you a key to the wrong hotel room, because it was his first night working without direct supervision.

Imagine a web site that keeps rejecting your credit card number because of a technical problem on their end.

In each of these cases, management can rationalize the reason for poor service. But you, as the customer, don’t care about their excuses. You care that you are not being served.

We live (and market our products) in a world of savvy, self-reliant, skeptical customers who believe that they can buy the products you sell from someone else if you can’t deliver.  They don’t care about your operational or employment challenges. They won’t cut you slack because you are busy serving other customers. That’s your problem, not theirs.

To survive in today’s competitive marketplace, you need to set a much higher standard for yourself than your customers set for you.  There may be reasons, but there are no excuses.

Incidentally, if you don’t fix these issues, many of them will be self-correcting as customers flee your business for better options. For example, if Mr. X’s experience is representative, pretty soon Dr. Y won’t be too busy to spend personal time with patients when she delivers a cancer diagnosis. Once the word travels to other prospective patients and to referring primary care physicians, Dr. Y is going to have plenty of time on her hands– and few patients.

And, hopefully, Mr. X will have cancer-free hands, once he gets some attention.


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