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He stood typing on a keyboard behind the United Airlines counter. He flashed me a look. “You don’t really see me,” he said, “because I’m not really here.” So much for asking about changing flights. Soon, I’d be watching him trying to queue up folks to board a plane – so clueless that other United staff had to do his work for him. So much for United's “bug off” brand of customer service in San Francisco.
Contrast that with Dave, a smiling waiter at the Cheesecake Factory in Newport Beach. I arrived for an early dinner, ordering a chicken dish. He inquired whether I wanted the luncheon or dinner size. “How hungry are you?” He recommended the luncheon – which more than met my needs. His shift ending, Dave handed me off, introducing a smiling Joe.
Example Number 3. I signed on to Alaska Airlines, trying to use mileage for a vacation. It was my first log-in since using the airline’s affinity program with Bank of America. “Hello Jack,” was my screen greeting. I’ve been cussed a few times, but I’ve never been “Jack” to nobody. Turns out the bank had given me and another person with the same name and birth date, the same identification numbers.
It took a few long phone calls and several emails – during the holidays – to get this ironed out. I went through Alaska Airlines – who, through personal experience, I’ve found to value their customers. The big banks – forget about it.
The importance of being recognized as a person, not merely breathing freight or a badge number, is something healthcare providers are increasingly paying more attention to – as well they should. And given the unknowns, the anxiety attached to medical care, the humanity of knowing your caregiver – by name – is a stress reliever of the first order. Then, seal the deal – deliver good care.
Dave and Joe at the restaurant didn’t do anything spectacular. They did what we all expect from any merchant – but that experience has become so rare, that they stood out. I left feeling like I’d been fed and served.
Alaska Airlines – at every point of contact – was determined to correct a bad experience. They were a visible presence on the phone and via email. I will continue to reward them with my business.
The chuckleheads at United Airlines and other carriers seem to have forgotten how the nation bailed out the airlines financially in the wake of 9/11.
Those of us in healthcare, whether we are hands on in life-or-death situations, giving instructions on prescription interactions or trying to explain an invoice, should always go the extra mile. Including key words at key times --- How can I help? I’m sorry for your trouble. How can I make it right? And, yup, you really can hear a smile on the phone.