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Stop the Excuses

Clint Maun, CSP

Three words: STOP THE EXCUSES.

In today’s healthcare world, the customer will not tolerate excuses made to justify unacceptable care or services. They’re not going to listen to inane excuses such as “We’re working short", “That’s not my patient", “I just came on duty", “No one told me that", “I’m brand new", or “I’m a float".  In fact, 70% of the excuse-making in healthcare today consists of “We’re working short” or “That’s not my patient or resident".  Customers don’t care about the reason for the problem; they just want it fixed. (Moore)  They won’t put up with an excuse model of customer service and will take their business elsewhere if excuses are all they receive in response to a complaint or problem.  Setting the tone for a no-excuse policy as the accepted method of operation is crucial for the organization’s success.

Our research indicates that customers will buy excuses one in ten times. That’s down by 40-50% in the last decade or so. In fact, in all of business - whether it’s healthcare, hospitality, retail, banking, fast food, or whatever - the acceptance of excuses is still about one in ten.  P.T. Barnum had it right.  There is a sucker born every minute. The problem is that there aren’t enough suckers to keep your business going if an excuse model is used to deal with problems.

Before going further, it must be emphasized that it is far from a preponderance of healthcare workers in America who respond inappropriately to difficult situations, and that healthcare institutions are not riddled with people who want to make excuses. People don’t sit home on their days off, saying to themselves, “I think I’ve got a new way to drive this customer nuts. I’ve been practicing it all weekend and I’ll say this stupid thing that will just make him crazy".  Instead, they merely get cornered into situations they don’t know how to handle and, subsequently, find themselves making silly excuses.

A no-excuse policy does not preclude closed-door staff sessions with vigorous team-based discussions about scheduling issues, things that went wrong, what didn’t get done and why, and where the buck stops. Dealing with customers’ problems by offering them silly excuses is not going to satisfy them or their families.

We believe that everyone’s job description must include understanding and practicing a no-excuse policy. Performance reviews need to require workers at all levels, from housekeeping staff up through the executive level, to participate in scenarios in which they demonstrate how to handle difficult situations with customers, rather than just coming up with excuses off the top of their heads. What tends to come out when healthcare workers feel trapped in a corner are excuses. And excuses are no longer being bought by the customer.

David Kahle, the “Growth Coach,” points out that “as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain; they just take their business elsewhere. So angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving." (Kahle)

To save these customers, a proactive, not reactive, approach is needed. That means anticipating problems and providing training for how to deal with them. Working through vignettes and scenarios of difficult customer situations— whether the problems are with internal customers, among shifts and departments, with physicians or other groups with whom you partner, or whether it’s the customers, the patients, the residents or their families—will provide practice models of how to respond appropriately. Without a firm grasp of those appropriate response models, the healthcare professional will feel backed into a corner where the instinctive response is to make excuses. The customers won’t buy it and won’t be happy. They may be reluctant to pay their bills, and they’re not going to sign contracts. More importantly, they’re not going to recommend your services to other people, but they will tell them about the kind of service they received with an excuse model.

It’s interesting to note that research proves that workers who have never been in healthcare, when presented with scenarios of problem situations in healthcare, most often do not know how to make excuses. The top two excuses—”We’re working short” and “That’s not my customer”—are learned on the job. So the great news is that if you can teach it, you can unteach it. In other words, it is a habit that can be learned or unlearned.

The solution to eliminating excuses—“unlearning” one thing and “learning”
another—is found in teaching a five-step “instant remedy”:
  1. “I understand what you’re saying." (shows empathy with the customer)
  2. “Let me tell you what I know.” (exhibits honesty)
  3. “Let me look into it for you.” (shows initiative)
  4. “But let me take some action right now.” (responsibility) and
  5. “What is the action that I should take?” (involves the customer in the solution)

This approach is a proactive, no-excuse model that will work. It provides “the organization an opportunity to put whatever is wrong right, not only for the customer but also for others who are going to be. . . [using] services in the future. This 'free information'—i.e., free market research—from the customer can save dollars in the future and supply valuable input for the organization to design better products and services." (“Fast Guide in Dealing with Customer Complaints")  The model that allows workers to flounder about and say whatever comes to mind in those tough situations simply will not work, either for the customer or the organization.

If you’d like more information on Clint’s customer service speaking/consulting contact us.

If you would like more information on this topic, please click one of the following:

We’re in the People Business I

We’re in the People Business II

We’re in the People Business III

Works Cited

“Fast Guide in Dealing with Customer Complaints.” Extract from Mastering Customer Relations by Roger Cartwright (ISBN 0-333-69434-4). BPOlndia.org 2002. November 2003.

Kahle, Dave. “Dealing with Difficult Customers.” Dave Kahle — The Growth Coach 2002. November 2003.

Moore, June Hines. “Dealing with Customer Complaints.” Excerpted from The Etiquette Advantage by June Hines Moore. LifeWay 2003. November 2003