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Recently, my doctor advised me to go in for a minor surgery, so I had the opportunity to visit a clinical lab and stay at the hospital for three days -- an unlikely place to learn some customer service lessons.
Before the surgery, I had to undergo blood tests. There was only one attendant at the blood collection center and a long queue. A woman at the back began complaining about the queue until a nurse came out, took that woman to a room and drew her blood sample. This upset others in line and led to more complaining. The manager came out from his office and asked people to calm down. But after time passed with the queue remaining as long and the manager offering another assurance, people became agitated again. This time, the manager told some people they were unnecessarily raising their voices while he was trying his best. This continued until another staff member (possibly late to his shift) came in.
This experience made me think: Do mere assurances work all the time? Don't we need to apologize for unfair treatment and take action to correct the wrongdoing? Perhaps our egos do not allow us to do all this. So what does it take to control our ego?
After finally getting my test, I scheduled the surgery. The hospital suggested I come in beforehand to complete the formalities of cost estimation and approval from my insurance (a procedure in India for cashless treatment at a hospital).
When I arrived at the hospital's insurance counter, the attendant in charge took me to a room, asked me to fill out a form and told me that a few people are involved in the process, so it might take up to two hours. I filled out the form in a couple of minutes and waited for 30 minutes for a doctor to appear. He asked me a couple of questions, filled out the remaining form and gave it to the attendant. She asked me to wait for another half hour while she conducted some office formalities. Half an hour passed and I became restless. I approached the woman, and she promptly explained, "I said it would take around two hours. Hold on for some more time." After half an hour, she appeared, took my signature on a form and asked me to leave.
My experience at the insurance desk taught me a simple lesson. If I don't set expectations (as the attendant did), a customer is free to expect anything based on his or her own experience. For better customer service and satisfaction, it is important to set expectations at the beginning and then exceed those expectations.
In my next post, I'll discuss the lessons I learned from my hospital stay, and how those could be applied to project management. What customer service lessons have you learned when you least expected it, and how have you applied them in your projects?
What you said about setting expectations is absolutely true. I was in a situation where a client had to pay for an additional 4 hours of work after the fact, and were furious at the surprise expense, however minor. But another client was informed in advance that a bug fix would cost another 10 hours of work. They weren't happy, but at least they were much calmer than client #1.
Thanks for these insights. I like these day-to-day situations for trying to grasp a bigger picture :)
I'm not so sure about your conclusion, personally. I actually hate it when I have the feeling someone is trying to set low expectations in order to exceed them. When someone tells me it will take two hours, I plan for two hours and actually don't really like to get out significantly earlier. I feel betrayed about my time that I could have planned to spend in another way, had I known beforehand I would have it. It is of course hard to give exact times when so many people and processes are involved.
One could, maybe, try to determine the average time it takes and then communicate that honestly as an average that could be exceeded or reached or underrun.
Just my 2 cents on this.
Vivek Prakash, PMP
@Patrick, Thanks for your comments. In fact you have given an excellent example. Setting expectations are especially important when things are least expected. Definitely people will not be happy hearing something unexpected but end is far better when we set the expectation in advance. I wasn't happy hearing that the processing would take 2 hours but I felt more satisfied at the end, I felt they know their work and I was more peaceful returning to hospital next day.
@Sereni, Thanks for your suggestion. I agree with you. If actual delivery deviates significantly from the set expectations, one will lose the trust instead of gaining it. It is not exceeding expectations but a surprise. On the other side, people do not like overrun/delay, even little. We should not assume that a reasonable delay would be acceptable, a reasonable under-run normally makes people happy.
I agree that setting expectations is incredibly important. In my experience in Canada, wait times are rarely provided.
My favorite example of customer expectation management is Amazon. Often, the company will state a delivery date 10-15 days in the future. When the package arrives faster than that, I'm delighted it has arrived early. My lesson from that experience: under-promise to manage expectations.