When the cracks begin to show

From my own day to day experiences as a customer I get great material to support my messages around delivering a great customer experience. The bad experiences make the best examples for me and unfortunately it happens far too often, but it really does help me to make my points.

The Story
I had to take my three-year-old to see a consultant recently. I’ll keep the hospital anonymous as I’m using this example to make a point, not to slate a brand. When you enter the waiting room for the children’s consultant area, the room is quite small considering that most parents tend to come together (often with siblings too). The reception desk is long and there are two ladies seated behind it. The desks are also very high which I think is a pity as this visit is all about the child so it would be nice if the check-in was on their terms – a low desk to allow for eye contact, warm welcome etc.

We checked-in and were told there’d be a twenty minute wait which was fine – these things happen. We turned to realise there weren’t any seats available (nor much standing room) apart from one row of chairs which was free but labelled strictly for use of patients of the audiology clinic. I then realised that half the reception desk was manned separately for the audiology clinic (for adults). Clearly seating for the audiology patients had become an issue due to sharing a waiting room with a busy children’s consultant. It wasn’t great seeing empty seats while knowing you’re not supposed to sit down in them.

After a short while, a seat became free so we sat and waited. A couple beside us who had a baby with them seemed a little fed up. The mother asked would it be much longer as they’d waited a long time and she was told it shouldn’t be too much longer. Her baby started to cry and she couldn’t get him to stop.

Now getting into the customer experience (how the customer feels), I know as a parent that when you’re in an enclosed space and your child cries, it’s utterly mortifying (JetBlue Airlines recognised this beautifully here). It’s so stressful and I would imagine frustrating for the parent at having to wait so long. This is also on top of perhaps being worried about your child – you’re there for a medical reason after all. This is a private hospital so your expectations would be that you’d be seen fairly close to the appointment time you’re given.

The waiting room is full, there’s lots of noise with the children playing etc. and this baby is really going for it with his crying. Suddenly, the receptionist who was from the audiology clinic, stands up behind the desk (holding the phone in her hand) and tells the woman with the crying baby to stop the noise as she can’t hear on the phone. You could hear the gasp from everyone in the room, all thinking ‘did she just do that?’. The poor woman looked mortified. She gently said that it was hard to keep a small child waiting in one place for so long. She went outside to wait while her husband waited inside (to avoid missing being called for their appointment). I’m quite sure she was feeling humiliated, angry, frustrated and stressed.

My spectator-self was utterly shocked.

My customer experience professional-self started to think about this. Why would a staff member think that’s acceptable behaviour? She was older so I expect she’s had enough life experience herself to know better. The room was tense now and you could feel how annoyed the people in the waiting room were with her.

The Message
The point I can’t stress enough to businesses is that we’re often very quick to blame staff when we’re not happy with their behaviour, yet very slow to look at the ‘why’. Why would they behave like this?

I started to put myself in that staff member’s shoes. How hard must it be to man a desk and phone in a small and incredibly noisy room filled with children – particularly when your customers/patients have hearing difficulties! How frustrating must it be to have your patients checking-in for their appointment and then having nowhere to sit so giving out to you about this. How many times has that staff member expressed that it’s a bad idea to share a small children’s waiting area with an adult service waiting area. What must that feel like not to be listened to, yet having to take the brunt of it day in and day out. For all we know, this might well be the case and on this particular day, as she was on a call, she couldn’t hear properly, perhaps the person on the phone was getting annoyed with her, and she finally cracked in a moment of pressure. The straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

Time and time again when I audit a business I discover examples like this, of things we’re asking staff to do that have a very big and negative impact on the customer. It's usually seen as poor staff performance and once I dig deeper the reasons often becomes very clear. If we don’t establish the ‘why’ and address it, we will simply never improve the customer experience. We may change the staff but the issue will remain and the cycle of non-change will continue.

We’re talking about people dealing with people and for both the experience should be positive, as it tends to be when humans take a moment to engage with one another.

CX Change