I am a difficult customer, but try very hard not to be a rude one. There is an important difference; being “difficult” usually means not conforming to the Big Business’s preferred model of compliant cash-cow, being rude is unacceptable. (For instance, EasyJet’s customer interaction system is based on EasyCustomers and the whole thing falls over if you stop conforming to the self-loading-cargo type.)
Rant the first
I may have previously muttered on in this blog about the frustration I have experienced with the local GPs’ surgery and the narrow-mindedness that seems to be part of the essential qualification for medical receptionists. The reason for this is that I happen to use my second name. I always have; in fact, it was my parents’ choice to name me A B C and call me B. There’s nothing that unusual in this, in fact it’s pretty common. But, as far as the ladies behind the counter at the surgery are concerned, this is actually perverse and unlawful. They insist that my “legal name” is A C, not B C and I have had to train them long and hard to recognise me when I report for appointments and give my name as B C. They say that the “computer” won’t allow them to record my name in any other way and, when I suggest that a field be added to record a patient’s preferred name, they say that the system is Scotland-wide and that’s the way it is.
Okay. Reasons for rant the first. Firstly, my legal name is neither A C nor B C, but A B C. Secondly, I will not have some petty bureaucrat tell me what my name is or is not – it and I have got along very well for a reasonable number of years and neither of us are desirous of the change. Thirdly, I know full well that computer systems (at least the better-designed) are quite capable of storing more than one name record against an individual. Fourthly, there are many people out there who are known to all and sundry as “Jock” or “Dotty” or whatever, often all their lives, and feel disempowered and belittled by The System when it uses their formal names in a way which is reminiscent of being told off in front of the class when at infant school. Fifthly, and following on from fourth, this is actually about respecting the individual and creating a customer-focussed service delivery culture. Of course the health service needs to hold accurate personal data which links to registration of births and so on, but is can do so in a way which respects how people wish to be known and addressed. On this last point, when I told the surgery’s receptionists that I felt I was entitled to be treated like a customer, they told me I was not a customer, but a patient. Obviously their model of community health is one in which things are done to the public at large and misses the collaborative model of health empowerment in which the patient and the medical professionals (amongst whom I do not count medical receptionists) work together to make decisions about healthy outcomes. After all, if an idea has some merit, why not make the suggestion back up the line? There’s nothing to stop someone claiming the merit for the idea themselves and I won’t care, nor do ideas care who has them.
Rant the second
Actually, the second rant was going to be what is now the subject of the third rant, if you’re still reading this outpouring of bile.
Rant the second still involves the good old medical receptionists. Regular readers may recall that I am a Type II diabetic and, like all diabetics, have a single weapon in my armoury against this disease, to whit the blood-glucose meter. This uses test strips which are obtainable on prescription. A few months ago I had occasion to need a repeat prescription for test strips and, logically, rang the surgery to ask them to arrange one. The receptionist I spoke to asked me to ring a different number, which was specifically for repeat prescriptions. I asked her why she couldn’t take the details and was told that the other number was an answering machine, which was where they liked their patients to leave requests for repeat prescriptions.
Well, I am a bit of an old-fashioned curmudgeon when it comes down to it and (a) don’t see why, when you’re speaking to someone on the phone already, they can’t take and pass on a simple request like that (b) don’t see why I should have to make a separate call (they can’t even divert your call to the bloody machine) to speak to a damn bloody machine when there’s a perfectly ordinary breathing human being to whom I’m already in conversation, and, (c) would always rather speak to a human being rather than some damn answering machine because I can then be confident they’ve (i) got my details down correctly, (ii) understood exactly what I’m asking for, and, (iii) I can be sure that they’ve got the message!
So, I refused to ring the answering machine and was eventually put through to the person who listened to and transcribed the requests from the answering machine in the first place. All with very bad grace on their part.
I can understand that it’s useful to be able to manage demands on staff time and encourage people to use alternative channels of communication. Answering machines can be useful in preventing staff from being interrupted to take messages, but, after all, that’s actually part of what they are there to do. And, a courteous response would be to accept and pass on the request for the repeat prescription and then encourage the customer – sorry, patient – to use the alternative service. Actually, what would really suit me would be the opportunity to email them, then I could get a receipt and be confident that the request was not likely to be mis-transcribed or misunderstood due to telephone/machine distortions or human error when listening to messages. I haven’t bother to ask; somehow I am absolutely confident that this would be completely outside their conceptual envelope.
Rant the third
Rant the third is going to have to wait for another day. The theme behind this post is now coherent and I’d only spoil it by banging on about my digital satellite TV service.
Oh, if anyone reads this and recognises themselves, try not to. This is deliberately not written to rebuke or mock or humiliate any particular set of folk, but merely to illustrate that patients are people too and sometimes even have some good ideas and expertise in customer service. And like to be treated like people, not “patients”.