My kids are a pretty healthy bunch but after the fourteen year old had been lying groaning on her bed and refusing to eat for five days I thought I might take her to the doctor just to check that she was not dying or at risk of starving to death (there is not much to her as it is). But then I thought again. It was a Friday morning and I knew from previous experience with my GP that I would be lucky to get an appointment before Tuesday by which time she would either be back at school with her slap on, her hair straightened and her phone making that really annoying BBM tinkle every thirty seconds – or she would indeed be dead. Or I would have taken her to the walk-in centre. I thought I might as well wait.
A small miracle
So I waited the weekend and she was still pretty ropey. By this time I seriously needed to get her out of the house and back to school so, with a sinking heart, I rang the doctor on Tuesday morning at around half past nine. Imagine my surprise to have the following conversation with the receptionist:
ME: I wonder if I could make an appointment for my daughter to see the doctor.
HER: Is it an emergency?
ME: No, but she is quite unwell.
HER: Can you tell me a bit about how she is?
ME: Well she has been flat on her back groaning in bed and has not eaten anything for about a week, she has a sore throat and a very bad headache and she can’t sleep.
HER: OK, the doctor will call you back within the next half an hour and talk to you and decide whether or not you need to bring her in.
What a brilliant idea! And he did. He called me back fifteen minutes later, asked a few sensible questions, told me it might be a virus or tonsilitis or a urinary infection and could I bring her in at 3.20 THAT AFTERNOON. This has NEVER happened in my practice. I don’t think I have ever had an appointment less that two days after calling in my entire life or those of my five children.
When we got there, the practice was covered with notices explaining this new regime and that it had been trialled in other parts of the country where it had proved popular with patients (surprise surprise). Another miracle! Part of the health service learning and being prepared to admit that it has learnt from not just another practice, but one in another part of the country. Hallelujah.
We are all doomed
So I told the receptionist what a great idea it was and what a difference it had made to me. And here is where it all went pear-shaped. “Oh Gawd, do you really think so? It is complete chaos here. It is a disaster. I have no idea why they are doing it”. She groaned and shook her head in dismay. My heart sank again.
Normal organisations love compliments. They can’t get enough of them. You can’t discuss complaints processes with them without them insisting that you use the words “and compliments” every time you use the word “complaints”. Given the number of times I have sat in my surgery and heard the same woman being harangued for the chaotic service (and giving as “good” as she got – or better), you might have thought that she would have been pleased to hear someone say something nice but perhaps it is just too late for her.
Note to Managers
What this sort of behaviour means in our experience as customer service consultants is that staff think that the improvement has been purchased at their expense and imposed over their heads. So they assume the role of wreckers – ready to sabotage anything that smacks of the new and the hard to do. Someone forgot or failed to get buy-in from the troops – now the organisational Cassandras are bending the customers’ ears.
Word of mouth, as we all know, is probably the most powerful marketing tool of all but when your own people can’t even feel positive about the service they are providing when people are trying to thank them, you realise bits of the NHS have a long way to go before it gets its head around the concept of customer service.
But if we get used to excellence and make it the goal of everyone from top to bottom in the NHS we will ignore the meanie-mouthed and insist on great service not being occasional and astonishing, but every time and totally satisfying.
The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive health, care and education organisations. We are ready to work with and support all those who want to make sense and a success of the new structures of patient and public engagement within the new arrangements for health and social care commissioning and providing. Click here for further info about what we can do to help. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.