Physicians and their staff need to put on a consistent show

This past summer, I had a few parents complain to me about our staff. The parents wanted to let me know that they were treated nicely by the staff, but they had noticed things from the employees that they didn’t appreciate. They mentioned that the staff seemed annoyed and irritated, even bored at times and a bit disingenuous.

I wanted to investigate the issue before I reprimanded the staff. Things sometimes aren’t always as they appear and of course, there are always two sides to every story. What I found out was that these “customer service” issues had occurred during the peak of our back-to-school-physical season. Moreover, the incidents consistently occurred during the last few visits of the day.

Towards the end of the day, the staff was tired and the employees’ negative body language was overriding their overall demeanor. And in spite of their best effort to keep a good attitude, a spot light was shining on their true feelings.

I wanted to address the issue during our next employee meeting. But I didn’t know how to address it tactfully.  On one hand, I couldn’t come down hard on them because they had been working very hard those months. But on the other, I felt we needed to find a way to resolve this issue because if parents aren’t happy, I’m not happy.

During the same time, I went to see Bon Jovi in concert. Although I’ve been a fan since I was in high school, I had never seen them live in concert.

I couldn’t help to be brought back to my teenage years while hearing the concert. Each song brought back a specific situation in my youth like hanging out with my buddies and having a good time, wishing I had been dumped by a girl friend – ‘cause that would have meant that I actually had one – and “air guitaring” the solo to Dead or Alive in my room all by myself. I remember thinking, after 25 plus years, these guys still got it. They rocked it!

Then, it clicked. How many times has Bon Jovi played Dead or Alive in their 25 plus years? Hundreds? Thousands? Who knows … between concerts, rehearsal and appearances, I’m sure it is a lot.

Even though they’ve played Dead or Alive probably 100’s of times, they didn’t disappoint. Jon, Richie and the crew rocked it just like the very first time I heard the song, and just like every single performance I’ve seen of theirs in the past on TV.

So for our next employee meeting, I brought up the customer service complaints. I talked about what the parents had said. I even admitted struggling with the issue of how to tell them. I told them about my experience at the Bon Jovi concert and how they had rocked it.

They looked at me and said,  “… Bon Jovi… who is that?”

I said (work with me here), think of a band that you’ve liked since you were, um… less young. Now imagine going to see them rock out in concert but instead, the band got up and played a half-ass show. They just went through the motion of singing the songs, smiling, but tired. And the band’s excuse? “well, c’mon fans… this is our 200th gig; give us a break.”

I asked, “would that fly with you?” Of course not. The expectation is for the band to rock out like it was their first show. You want to see them work the crowd, dance and play like you’ve never seen them before. To you, it doesn’t matter how many times they’ve played.

I said, that is what we are doing here. We are putting on a performance. Parents have options. They could have gone to any pediatrician in the area. But they chose us. Consequently, we have to put on a consistent show. Now, I’m not saying a literal song and dance show, but rather a genuine customer service performance that is consistently good throughout the day.

It is ok to be tired, bored and wanting to go home. I’m sure Bon Jovi is tired of playing Dead or Alive too. But you would never tell. And that is the lesson I took from going to a Bon Jovi concert.

Brandon Betancourt manages a pediatric practice and blogs at Pediatric Inc.

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  • Burl Stamp

    Brandon, I like your analogy and important message that all members of the team have to be “on” for the patients and family members we serve regardless of the circumstances. That’s often not easy. Unfortunately, health care professionals sometimes don’t get the kind of spirited cheering and endorsement from patients that Bon Jovi’s customers provide to his band.

    Acknowledging that patients and families can sometimes get frustrated and be difficult to deal with is an important issue for health care teams to discuss openly and honestly. Setting the clear standard that all customers deserve the same high level of service is Step 1. A great follow-up Step 2 might be to problem-solve among the team better ways to support one another when things are especially hectic and service can suffer. This approach helps build a sense of empowerment and reinforces personal accountability for ensuring every patient is loyal to the practice and shares compliments with friends and family members about the great care they receive.

  • drdarrellwhite

    Great analogy Dr. Betancourt! We’ve taken our staff on a “customer service field trip” to buy cosmetics from different level retailers so that they can experience the difference between different levels of service, sometimes vastly differenct even though the price point is the same. It really resonates when you, as the leader, can find a way to make it real for them when you are teaching.

    I am stealing your story and your analogy (with attribution, of course) for our next staff meeting. Thanks!

  • solo fp

    Why not have the staff stagger start/end times. Some go home earlier on some days and each day is shared. Other ideas include team playing to work on getting the staff all done at once. Are the docs running behind and consistently getting staff members out 15-30 minutes past the regular closing time? Are patients running late and causing too much work at once for staff members? If the staff is bored, maybe you are overstaffed.

  • ninguem

    Here’s the backstage rider for a Bon Jovi concert.

    The comparison is not as much Bon Jovi’s 200th concert, it’s more like being asked to do a fifth encore.

  • asdf

    I was thinking just the same thing when I saw the Eagles earlier this week. Can’t say that I’d have used the analogy myself, the band is getting lots of money, great attention from fans and they are doing the things they love the most in the world. I doubt that’s the case with most secretaries.

    Somewhere I read that you shouldn’t criticize a solution unless you can come up with a better one yourself.. but I’m completely dry :)

  • ChristyKid

    I really liked the way you handled a difficult situation!! Perhaps playing some more energetic music towards the end of the day might help. For me personally, it’s listening to Indian music (Bollywood). It always gets my toes tapping no matter how tired I am. I’m not actually suggesting that kind of music, but at least something a little more up tempo in the background would help lift moods and people wouldn’t feel so tired.

  • Elizabeth Polanco

    In response to the comment about the cheering customers.. Bon jovi’s band would not have the cheers if the performance was not inspirational. Although it is true that motivation comes from within each individual, inspriation serves to help people self motivate. I am certain that a bad perfomance will not lead to cheers. We, the performers, are responsible and need to be held accountable to inspire the praise from those we serve. Lets inspire our teams by doing for them what we would like them to do for others… As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.

  • Pete

    … Don’t kid yourself…..We aren’t seen as “performers” that fans energetically come to see… we are more like the clerks analogy – selling perfume to finicky (sometimes ill) shoppers.

    You’re confusing vibes here. Some of the patients aren’t asking for autographs at the end of the day. They too are tired and want to go home.

    Unless you create a “fun” vibe at your practice, that analogy won’t hold… I hate to be the cynic.

    • H.B

      I agree with you Pete. You are very rational and not a cynic. If we health-care professionals were to get paid $500K after working a 4 hours only for 5 nights a week then we will be performing like Jovi or even better. But the reality that we are NOT. We are very over-worked and very under-paid. It becomes humanly impossible to meet the demands of the patients, the family, the supervisors, the administrators and all the other B.S. that we deal with in the health care field.
      Sorry Mr. Betancourt but you are comparing apples with oranges. It’s not a good analogy. Get me a performer who gets paid $18/hr for 38hrs a week (between 12-13 hrs shifts) who can put on a smile after dealing with codes, death and critically ill ppl and perform like it is the first time every time. When you come up with such a person then we can talk.

  • Tom Ivan

    Your analogy breaks down; your staff isn’t paid like Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi maybe does a two hour show, your staff has probably been humping hard well over eight.

    I have seen how clinic and hospitals have cut their staffs to the bone to fatten the bottom line, and expected more and more out of those who remain.

    Service is a function of staffing. Maybe you should at least add some temps at crunch time to maintain your sevice standards

  • Greg Golden

    I disagree with the analogy, BonJovi doesn’t perform the same song for 8-10 hours a day for the fans because he couldn’t do it either and nor could the fans.

  • ninguem

    I knew this semiretired pediatrician. He had a great combination of the academic savvy and hands-on practice. At least to my eyes as a trainee. He semiretired to supervising students and residents in an inner-city peds clinic.

    Had a colicky baby. Did the usual exam and the usual counseling. He then went on to tell mother that colicky babies grow up with certain personality characteristics that lead them to very often run their own business or reach executive positions.

    I asked him about that later, if there was any literature on that. He smiled, said he just made it up, and he’d been saying that to mothers for over 30 years. A harmless fib to make a frazzled mother feel better.

    Sort of a pediatric bon jovi. After seeing a few dozen kids in a clinic session, probably not bad.

    • Burl Stamp

      This wonderful story illustrates why I feel so blessed to have worked closely with pediatricians most of my career. If we’re really serious about changing and strengthening the relationship patients have with their primary care provider (or “medical home”), let’s have pediatricians lead the charge!

  • ksul

    Brandon, thanks so much. It is really great to see insight and personally reflective notions that keep us on our toes and still encouraging to our students . I don’t agree that money has so much to do with doing what you love over and over, or giving it your best day in and out. I do think however that surrounding yourself with like minded clinicians and positive staff does have a lot to do with wanting to do your work well.
    It’s the band being together, and the applause but also the sound of the music because some days there are rain outs, but most days there’s really good music.

  • ralph

    In the past how you run your practice would have mattered. Now I have patients transfer into/out of my practice based on their co-pays. I feel now a days all patients think if Dr’s are prescription writers. Most patients have no loyalty except to how much they pay for the services. No matter what you do to please them there are always some who complain too much. Just my 2 cents.

  • Binu. Gopinathan

    Dear Brandon,

    I do perfectly agree with you as consistency is the name of the show. The healthcare sector offers so much choice for customers now a days that no organization should keep their market share without consistent high-quality customer care service.

    Moreover what an excellent idea to convey this message to your employees. They were valued at the same time your were effectively able to convey your message, which undoubtedly your employees should have welcomed whole heartedly.

    Great job !!!!

  • Stephen Ferrara, DNP, FNP

    I canappreciate the analogy but like many other commenters, it is asking even more from your overworked staff without any reward. Yes, it is their job but we’ve all been at the seemingly endless sea of patients, knowing that it will be the same again tomorrow with no relief in sight.

    I suggest trying some team building exercises to address this. Perhaps arrange for staff selected catered in lunches for that week. Or a post-summer pot luck. Office staff can make or break a practice and taking some steps to anticipate and properly address busy times with a little treat thrown in will go a very long way.

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