“We’re dead today,” Jim told me, shaking his head, “I’ve got three people out, and we can barely handle things with our full crew. It’s going to be chaos.”
Now, I’ve been in Jim’s bagel shop when it was packed (and I’ve written about Jim before), so I could easily conjure up the image of wall-to-wall (and increasingly irritated) customers. That image gave me a thought.
“Jim,” I asked, “do you use a take-a-number system?”
“No,” he said. “I actually like to have everyone kind of huddling around the counter.”
Somewhat taken aback by this response, I said, “Jim, when I’m in a crowded place that uses a take-a-number system, I’m much more relaxed. I’m able to check my email or make a phone call or read the paper, and not worry about remembering who came in before me or who’s angling to get ahead of me.”
I continued, “But when I’m in a place that has no system, I’m very anxious. I have to keep totally alert of when my turn will come, and be ready to jump when I hear, ‘Who’s next?’ And, if instead of asking, the attendant simply moves to the wrong person, I have to say something like, ‘I’m sorry, but I think I’m next.’ The whole thing is very unpleasant.”
Probably too focused on the upcoming tempest to absorb my words, Jim said, “Well, we are going to put up a sign that asks people to bear with us because we’re three people down.”
“I think that’s a great idea,” I said. “People like this place and they like you, so they will certainly have sympathy with your perfect storm. Also, it will let them know that the ‘chaos’ they are seeing is not something they can expect to encounter every time they come in here.”
On the surface, Jim’s problem is how to handle customer management operations when things get busy, but on a deeper level — on a level that will either make or break his struggles with countless challenges — is his ability to step into the shoes of, empathize with, those he is trying to serve. That he did not take this critical step, is shown by the fact that his explanation started with: “I like … ”
Considering all the pressures on hospital IT departments today, perhaps no group of individuals is more likely to disappoint a large number of their “customers” than hospital CIOs. This is simply because there is too much work to do, and too few resources to do it with. What results is a hospital/store full of waiting, and increasingly irritated, customers.
As the aforementioned example illustrates, waiting is much easier when you know you’ve got a place in line, when you are able to see your place in that line, and when you know why (if worse comes to worse) you’ve been skipped. This is, of course, about good governance and communication.
But why is it that the concept of proper communication, which sounds simple on its surface, is so difficult to execute on? It boils down to two factors — ego and laziness. Communication flattens levels of hierarchy because those with whom we communication, we validate. There is, of course, no better way to indicate, “I’m above you,” than by ignoring you. Extensive communication means leaving your ego at the door and engaging with all relevant parties extensively.
And how can laziness thwart proper communication? Because communication is rarely a one-way street, though the communicator often wishes it so. The communicator must accept the fact that the tennis ball of communication will often be hit back in the form of a question, and answering those questions takes up our time, while often exposing deficiencies in our performance or plans.
As the marathon that is healthcare IT transformation continues, customer expectation management will likely become one of the key skills that separates winners from losers. Put yourself into the shoes of those waiting for service, think of what could make that experience easier, and then implement them. Fight tendencies that inhibit your willingness to carry out such changes, and you’ll be in good shape to weather today’s storms. Like Jim, I’m guessing many of your customers are waiting for you and your team. In turn, remember that, as Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part, and strive to make it as easy for them as possible.