Service Recovery And Frontline Empowerment

Healthcare is by its nature a service business.  Your experience matters.  If you don’t get your script on time from mail order, you’re upset.  If you come back to pick up your script at retail and it requires a prior authorization, you’re annoyed.  If you have to wait to see your physician when you had an appointment, you’re upset.  If your bill is wrong, you’re upset.  If your care isn’t covered due to some loophole, you’re upset. 

But, some companies recover better than others.  And, some companies do a better job of empowering their frontline employees.  Let me just give a few non-healthcare examples to make my point.

  • Recently, I stayed at a Marriott property (which by the way is my favorite chain).  This was for personal travel, and I had reserved two adjoining rooms.  They not only didn’t have the adjoining rooms, but they didn’t even have two rooms.  It wasn’t the end of the world, but we crammed into one room.  The staff at the hotel weren’t apologetic and didn’t do anything to note their mistake.  Instead, I had to escalate it to the senior team at Marriott to get resolution.  Now, once I sent the e-mail, it was less than 12 hours before I had gotten e-mails and several calls admitting their mistake and making amends.  But, this could have been solved by the front desk staff.
  • In another case, I was at a different Marriott property a few months ago on vacation.  We also had two rooms, but only one of them was ready at the 3:00 check-in time.  The other one was only 30 minutes late, but we’d been waiting around since 11:00 to get into the room.  They immediately sent up a food snack to apologize, AND when the waiter heard my kids say “I wish they’d just brought us some gummy worms”, he was back in 10 minutes with a platter of gummy worms and other candy.  It probably cost them $5 to make us happy, and we quickly recovered from the inconvenience.

Little things do matter.  The best example in healthcare that I’ve ever heard was from a plan in the Boston area.  A spouse called up to ask some questions about a hospital bill they had recieved.  The associate on the phone realized it was for a heart surgery and asked how the patient was doing.  The woman responded that her husband had passed away and she was trying to address his finances.  The associate expressed her regrets and asked the woman to hold for a few minutes.  When she came back, they chose to waive the payment due.  I think that’s overly generous, but it makes the point.

I know at Express Scripts that we empowered many of our call center agents to be able to offer a minor (I think up to $10) coupon or waiver for inconveniences at mail order.  But, all the research shows that companies that recover from service issues are more likely to create loyalty over time.

And, I find it strange that companies don’t follow-up when loyal customers churn.  I had used Avis (for example) for well over a decade and was generally very happy with them.  About 12-months ago, they changed their inventory management model to be more real time which led to more waiting after I got to certain rental lots.  I put up with this for a few times until I was late for a meeting since they didn’t have any cars for me.  I’ve switched the majority of my business now to Hertz which while a little bit more expensive doesn’t have this issue.  But, Avis never reached out to me.

One Response to “Service Recovery And Frontline Empowerment”

  1. Interesting blog. At least with hotels and rental car companies you can change companies if you’re displeased. In many instances with health care you’re stuck with the health plan your employer chose for you. Sure you can change providers within a health plan, but often times it’s the health plan itself that causes most of the displeasure.

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