Last year, the astronauts on the space shuttle were tasked with replacing some of the software on the Hubble. From what I read, their first task was to remove over a hundred tiny screws, keeping track of each one to ensure the screw did not float away and goof up a billion dollar piece of hardware.
I’ve visited some of the facilities where satellites are built, seen the clean rooms up close. I was scanning NASA’s website looking at pictures of their work on the Hubble. So you can imagine my surprise when after zooming in on a shot of the telescope’s solar panel I saw what appeared to be writing. I zoomed again, doubling the magnification.
It was a sticker. Written on the sticker was the following, “For Service, dial NASA at 1 (800) GET-NASA, if nobody answers, leave a message and we will get back to you within 24 hours. Also available online at www.hubbleservicecenter.com .”
I made that up. There is no sticker, do you know why? NASA doesn’t have a call center. Why? They don’t need one. Why — sorry to be obvious about this, but there are those for which this will be eye opening — they don’t need one because they have to get it right the first time all the time. On those few instances when they don’t get it all right, people die — Columbia. A customer service rep or a technician won’t help. Neither will an IVR, or the latest CRM technology.
NASA plans for success—I actually typed in NSA—but I bet the NSA doesn’t have a call center either. I hate it when my mind wanders off without me.
The reason large providers have call centers, at least in part, is that they are planning for failure. (It’s more expensive than planning to succeed.) Call centers are an expensive and visible sign that failure is expected and accepted. When we add dollars to the budget for the call center for the following year, it is a visible indication that we expect more failure in those twelve months than we had in these twelve months.
Will your call center have more calls in 2010 than in 2009? Yes. Has the number of calls ever decreased year over year? No.
You may ask, “Why do you think we’re spending millions of dollars if all we are doing is planning for failure?” Great question; and it deserves an answer. I think it’s to take care of calls, to manage calls, to compare performance of call answering devices and people against metrics. It’s certainly not to eliminate failure, it’s to efficiently manage failure.
People at NASA don’t run around saying, “Forty percent of our missions fail. We’ve got to get that number down to 35%.” At NASA, failure yields a Congressional hearing.
What would be different if a C-suiter had to personally handle it whenever a patient didn’t understand their bill, or when a clinician missed an appointment? Do you think your executives care? I think if they cared, they would fix the problem, unless they think quality is too expensive.
So, where does that leave the patient relationship management (PRM) discussion? They care and they don’t know what to do (at least that is what the results of a recent survey indicated); or they care, and they know what to do but don’t do it; or they don’t care but they do know what to do. Lastly, they don’t care and they don’t know what to do.
Are the executives at your hospital capable enough to fix the problem? If yes, why haven’t they done anything? If no, why are they still there? According to the survey, the reason nothing has been done, even though it is a top priority, is they do not know who owns the problem. Why not own it for them?