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Customer Service: A Little Means A Lot

Aug 18, 2007
I lost my composure during a phone call.

It was 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. Six hours after I left a message at my Doctors office I called again. Since I had not received a call back and the pharmacist had not received my prescription, I was afraid the matter wouldn't be handled before they closed for they weekend.

The on-call doctor had prescribed painkillers and an MRI for my injured back. His last communication had been to tell me to call a neurologist for an immediate appointment. I was able to schedule an appointment for 6 days later - a special accommodation.

I was in pain and knew the meds would not last me 6 days - or even through the weekend. The on-call doctor left early and his nurse told me to call my own doctor first thing in the morning to get the prescription I needed. I called, as instructed, at 8:30 Friday morning.

Okay, sometimes things take longer than I want them to. But I didn't think I was committing a transgression by calling again 6 hours later. The telephone receptionist let me know how wrong I was! She immediately informed me that the nurse was busy and did not have time to return my call.

Message I heard: "You are not important."

When I (in pain) tried to explain the problem, she cut me off and told me how busy the office was. She implied that I was being completely unreasonable by asking her to do anything to make sure the nurse had received my message.

Message I heard: "You are stupid for thinking you deserve any help."

Then she informed me that by law they had 48 hours to respond to a request for medication (not true, I learned later). She then told me (sternly) to stop blaming her; she couldn't do anything to solve the problem.

Message I heard: "I (telephone voice) am right and you are wrong. There is something wrong with you for wanting a narcotic."

That's when I lost it. In tears, I said, "You could at least be nice about it," and hung up the phone.

I left another message for the nurse who called back immediately and helped me solve the prescription problem.

I told the nurse about the discourtesy and she told me that the telephone receptionist had just complained to her about me! (The nurse also told me that the 48-hour law was nonsense.)

Wouldn't it have been a lot easier for the telephone receptionist to simply say, "I'm sorry for the delay; I'll ask the nurse to call you?"

Message I would have heard but didn't: "I care and I will do my best to help you."

A tiny bit of empathy would have gone a long way.

I called later and left a message about the discourtesy for the office manager. The person I spoke with at the business office was polite, professional and helpful.

I have consulted with many professional offices and I know how hard they usually work to maintain good client relations - and how a single employee can ruin a company's reputation. I'll also send the office manager a copy of this article.

Perhaps someone you know should read it also... Please pass it on.
About the Author
Communicate skillfully about sensitive subjects in business situations. Have the challenging conversations that lead to cooperation and success.
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and communication expert. Dr. Weiss has spent 35 years helping clients resolve conflict in business and personal relationships. Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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