When It Comes to Customer Service, Don’t Be a Norma

By Jeremy McGovern, Executive Editor/Publisher

From the April 2019 Lessiter Link newsletter

A problem many businesses face today is the view employees have that customer service exists as a separate department, failing to see their own vital roles in providing service. Sometimes those issues don't reside with the employee, but with the culture that the company has cultivated. I had an encounter with a health care provider that serves as a cautionary tale on customer service.

'Not My Job' Mentality

I recently received a bill from a large medical association for an office visit with a general practitioner. I questioned why the invoice was for the full amount of service without any applicable in-network discounts or deductible considerations. Following the instructions on the invoice, I called the billing department and reached Norma. It turns out that the doctor I had seen was out of network. My primary doctor had been out that day, and the receptionist offered an appointment with another practitioner. Despite the two doctors working for the same medical association, practicing in the same building, and using the same receptionists, nurses, waiting rooms and examination rooms, they are not in the same network.

I questioned Norma why the network status wasn't brought to my attention when I reserved the appointment. She said it was my responsibility as the patient to know who is in and out of the network.

I resolved to pay the bill, but suggested to Norma a policy change. As a courtesy to patients, if a receptionist suggests another doctor, that suggestion should could with a warning that the customer check the doctor's insurance network status. It is a reasonable patient assumption that 2 general practitioners working for the same medical association and using the same resources and facilities would be in the same insurance networks.

Norma's response: this is billing, not customer service. I agreed, but said she could be a hero, by identifying a problem and offering an improvement that benefits the customer.

"If you feel this strongly about it," replied Norma, "you should call customer service and tell them."

An Institutional Problem?

That was defeating. And while it is easy to criticize Norma, perhaps the real issue rests with the medical association. Have they created a siloed culture where employees only view customer service in terms of their core functions? Is it an environment where someone in one department can't flag an issue for another? Has Norma been programmed to think that she should only address billing matters and avoid other customer service concerns?

That's not the culture at LM. We have our core responsibilities, but customer service is everyone's duty. When you see an issue that could impact our customers, call it out. If you don't know the answer, find out who does and loop them and the customer in. Avoid Norma's isolated mentality and call out the landmines. Addressing our customers' needs promptly and thoroughly often can exceed their expectations and continues their positive experience with our company.