We can learn a lot from a car rentals. Like medicine, they are a service industry. And all service industries have the same problem: Service is delivered in real time, and the quality of that service depends on variables that may or may not be in the company’s control.
Even so, one bad experience can result in termination of a life-long customer, or in our case, patient. Worse, the patient can now go online and write a scathing review, criticizing everything from your bedside manner to the artwork in your waiting room.
What can you do when a visit goes wrong? Employ service-recovery techniques. Service recovery is the act of trying to resuscitate an encounter once things have gone badly. It happens to physicians and to restaurants and to car rentals.
While on vacation with my wife in Salt Lake City, we rented a car from a company (let’s call them “Discount Cars”). We don’t usually book with them; however, we got double airline points for choosing them, so we bit.
At the airport rental terminal, we waited for 15 minutes before being helped. When we reached the counter, we were told that our reserved car was not ready yet. (I immediately thought of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry says: “So you can take a reservation, but you can’t keep a reservation?!”) We were advised that our car was being washed and would be ready in 15 minutes “tops.” Thirty minutes later, my miffed wife pushed through the line to the counter. “It’s still being washed,” she was told. So she asked for another car and was offered a full-size pickup truck. My wife, who drives a teeny Honda Fit at home, said no thanks. Another 30 minutes passed and my incensed wife returned to the counter. “It’s been over an hour! This is unacceptable!” A different representative replied it was our fault for declining the pickup truck. There would be more cars soon, so they promised.
We were too far to walk to any airport bars, and the situation was rapidly deteriorating. I decided to take action. I fired up Twitter and let her rip:
“Closing in on 1 hr for a car promised in 15 min. Which we reserved ahead. This isn’t the first time, @DiscountCars #operations #fail.”
Within minutes, they replied by Twitter:
Them: @Dermdoc We are so sorry for the wait! What location are you at?
My wife, along with five other equally incensed wives, continued to wait for a response (and a car) from the live representatives at the counter.
Nearly 1 hour and 20 minutes later, we got a car. It was much larger than we wanted, but we were done waiting. After signing the papers, we got inside – it reeked of smoke. Oh, this is no bueno, I thought. We requested a different car. Twenty more minutes passed before our smoke-free vehicle arrived. The gas tank was 7/8’s full. And the carpets were littered with twigs and leaves.
Now I’m thinking, this is so bad, I should write an article about it. From the front seat of our faulty but moving vehicle, I fired again: “Dear @DiscountCars we waited 1+ hrs. Not the car we wanted. Then tank not full. Yet, not a single apology from anyone. Really?”
Them: @Dermdoc, we are sorry.
Them: @Dermdoc Please e-mail us the details and your RA# to [email protected] so we can look into this for you!
Me: @Discount Thank you! Will do.
I sent a list of grievances to the e-mail as they requested. Within an hour they offered us a $50 credit on a future rental.
What’s remarkable about this story is that not a single live person was able to assuage us, but their digital team managed to apologize and save us as customers. There might have been legitimate reasons for their service failure, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they responded to me personally, apologized, and made amends. This is an important lesson for us physicians. Patients will expect that your digital channels are legitimate ways to express their level of satisfaction with your practice. The stakes are higher for us in health care in particular because of the risks of violating patients’ privacy. However, as you can see from the rental car example, it can effectively be done without revealing any information about the customer or the experience. The goal is to recover the service publicly and take all of the information offline and manage it in a secure, private fashion.