Manage Your Practice

Carlitos and the Crisis of Customer Service

November 26, 2012

There’s a lot medical groups can learn from the service aspects of other industries.

Take Carlitos Cafe Y Cantina restaurant on State Street in Santa Barbara, California for instance. The food is great — great enough to have attracted my business on a very regular basis for the past 7 years. But over the past 9 months or so, the service has become so bad, the servers so uninterested in their jobs, that it’s a miracle they’re still in business. I certainly won’t be back.

When I sat there, embarrassed that the referral source I took to lunch had to ask three times for the spicy salsa that never came, or when I had to get up to go from the outside patio into the restaurant to find the server (who was chatting away with two other employees) to get an iced tea refill, I realized that Carlitos is the perfect poster child for the soft underbelly problem of many medical groups.

Like the great food at Carlitos, many groups provide great medical care. And, like Carlitos, great food or great medical care is not nearly enough to ensure continued success. Without great customer service you’ll still go out of business.

For most medical groups the issue of customer service is more complicated than for Carlitos because there are multiple classes of customer: patients, referral sources, and facilities.

But the solution is the same: competent management, clear service expectations, hiring the right employees (and, if you’ve made a hiring mistake, firing the “wrong” employees), and supervision.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many highly skilled and highly trained groups lose their facility contracts, lose their referral sources, and lose their patients because their group members fought with the “customers” or treated them with the expectation that they’ll always be back.

The group’s leaders are always shocked when, for example, they get the call from the hospital CEO that their contract won’t be renewed and that the hospital is looking for other options.

The fact that they’re shocked is just another example of the deficiency that resulted in the termination.

Carlitos Cafe Y Cantina had many chances to win back my loyalty. You have many chances to win the loyalty of your customers, too — many chances each day. What you don’t want is for the hospital CEO to come to the conclusion, as did I about Carlitos, that despite the great “product” it’s time to cut you loose.

Leave a Reply