Embrace the Old!
King Customer: The ‘Customer is King’ was the name of an article I published about 15 years ago which later became part of a book (Developing High Performance Organizations). While the title wasn’t very original, the logic was solid. I came across a range of good and bad customer service practices in consulting assignments and wanted to capture these in some memorable (I hoped) way. While there were different nuances across industries, there was a lot of commonality. Consultants love to produce ‘models’ – not just as a form of marketing (ok, there is a bit of that), but also to help make complexity understandable.
Fashion Business: Consulting is somewhat of a ‘fashion business’ and customer service was the in-thing at that time. When the Customer Service wave arrived, a lot of Organization Development projects were launched around this hot new topic. I had almost forgotten about it until last week when I was working with the Mater Private Hospital (MPH) in Dublin.
Patient Experience: Ensuring a positive patient experience is the Holy Grail for all hospitals and there are a number of ways to ‘test this’. At MPH, Comment Cards have been in place for some time with patients commenting on things like food, cleanliness and staff service. However, more recently, the hospital started to supplement the cards with a range of additional data collection mechanisms. These include a formal complaints process (patients and former patients are ‘encouraged’ to complain) alongside Quality Event Forms. MPH also introduced focus groups with former patients – adding depth and qualitative data into the mix. But here’s the really clever part. To ensure follow through, a Customer Feedback Events Committee systematically reviews this data and figures out what to do with it. There is no ‘search for the guilty’; just a discussion around ways to embed the improvements suggested (for free) by the hospitals’ customers.
New Stuff? The MPH example offers a number of lessons for all organizations. In the design and implementation of their customer services ‘system’, MPH is clearly signaling that patient care is the central element of their mission and continuous improvement is part of their DNA. ‘Doing’ signals values much better than sloganising. But…I can almost hear you shout, where is the ‘new stuff’ here? What are they doing that is at the cutting edge? Have they taken the basic ‘Customer is King’ model and updated it for the new millennium? In mentally posing those questions you are guilty (as I often am) of focusing on the wrong thing. In the world of organization development, it’s not whether an idea is new or old. Its whether it’s right or wrong that matters. I often have to remind myself of this, to go back to first principles in seeking solutions to organization problems faced in consulting assignments. I suspect that some of the dilemmas faced in building the Pyramids, are still relevant in organizations today. This point sometimes gets lost in the search for the ‘next big thing’. Get out there and embrace the ‘old’.
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