For the past few weeks I haven’t been feeling well and decided to visit the Doctor. As I have a unique loathing solely reserved for surgery visits, this is always a massive decision for me and not one I make lightly or often. Firstly, the Doctor always assigns any symptoms to the fact I’m overweight. Feeling exhausted? Overweight. Never ending flu? Overweight. Broken elbow or early onset glaucoma? Overweight…
Secondly and far more pertinent to my loathing: the surgery receptionists…truly my own personal Kryptonite. In the 80’s I would have called them Charm School drop-outs. These days, I wonder whether they attended an admin equivalent of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry… but failed the Wizardry.
Anyway, having made the decision, I tried to call to book an appointment. When my calls met with a continuously engaged line (despite using a telephone hack that has secured me every sought-after concert ticket since 1997), I steeled myself and popped into the surgery in the hope of securing an appointment within the next decade. Such was the greeting on my arrival, I wondered whether the rumour was true; had one of them actually been released by the Gestapo for being too unpleasant?
After giving my details, the interrogation commenced. “What’s wrong with you?” bellowed across the desk and echoing throughout reception. A surgery packed with gym-injured kids and asthmatic old people stared uncomfortably at the lino; all hoping that if they didn’t react they’d escape what is locally known as the “stalag scold”.
I pointed out that finding out what was wrong was actually the reason I wanted to see the doctor. All noise ceased and people zooming past in mobility scooters stopped in their tracks; the asthmatic and injured stared harder at the lino. To the relief of all, I stopped short of asking if emergency triage was now a module in the receptionist BTEC. Instead, with a wistful smile, I secured an appointment for a Thursday in September 2017.
This experience brought to mind the whole thorny issue of sole providers. Fortunately, I can change my surgery, albeit with some inconvenience. But when it comes to medical providers in general, I only have a choice if I have insurance or funds. Even that slim choice ceases to exist when it comes to my bins, the maintenance of my street lighting, the response to my emergencies etc. As a customer of these services I have a single provider… no choice.
So, what of customer service when a customer loses their only leverage – being able to go elsewhere.
In a non-competitive environment are customer needs treated the same? Mostly, yes…but with a pretty significant difference… a ‘monopoly’ provider won’t automatically meet some of their customer needs. If their customers are to be satisfied, they need to consciously and proactively create an environment that ensures they are.
A few weeks ago, someone asked me to blog about this very topic after an experience with a sole provider. The encounter didn’t go well, but the individual – usually a no-nonsense and forthright person – didn’t feel in a position to question or complain. In their words, they felt “in a corner” and didn’t want to compromise the future level of service they received as a result. Such was their feeling of vulnerability, they even worried about potential exposure to retaliatory actions should the recipient of their feedback be a person of questionable integrity. It might sound outlandish and somewhat paranoid; but after discussing it with friends, this concern appears to be rather widespread.
A few years ago, hoodlums (I’m over 30 and therefore legitimately entitled to use this term in abundance) threw a brick at my window and smashed it. I contacted the police via their non-emergency line and waited… and waited… and waited. They turned up 8 hours later at 2am; indifferent and apparently inconvenienced. They weren’t interested in the fact I was able to identify the house of one of these hoodlums. Oh no… why be interested in such facts when you could be suggesting I was at fault for having no CCTV and landscape chippings instead of a lawn. You’d swear I lived in a bungalow in downtown Syria, rather than a quiet little valley suburb.
But did I put in a complaint? No, I didn’t – because my mind wandered to a whole world of “what ifs”.
In both these experiences, the feelings of control and assurance that a customer gets from being able to switch companies, or complain to the director, wasn’t automatically presented. But that’s not to say those needs can’t be met. An exclusive provider can still create an environment where the customer feels:
- Confident to challenge.
- Secure enough to feed back or complain.
- Informed and in control.
- Assured that there’s somewhere (or someone) else to go to if required.
While none of these are particularly difficult objectives, the real challenge comes with having to wilfully create and drive a robustly reassuring environment – simply to achieve parity with the sense of control and security that appears organically within the multiple provider market.
This is truly a unique responsibility… and definitely not one to be taken lightly.