They just keep on a comin’, surveys about my latest purchase, its packaging, its delivery.  But enough about Amazon—for now.  Even medical and veterinary practices survey these days.

I received an automated phone call the other day, and as soon as I realized it was from a doctor’s office—a physician whom I had just seen—the ugly S-word, survey, popped into my mind.  “The survey would only take a few minutes….”  Later, the voice told me they needed “just a few moments” of my time.

Let me be clear:  a few minutes is no more than four.  A few moments is a lot less.  The two are not equivalent, and I am the most time conscious person I know. I can quickly quote my age in billions of seconds and days to the nearest 5%.  I love numbers.

Because I liked the doctor, I decided to stick around to take the survey, my eye on the second hand in the kitchen clock, which had moved a quarter a way around the dial (more than a few moments) before I heard a new voice, computer-generated, a poor sound, which turned me off.  Sure, it saves money, but it is a bit tacky.  I made a honest mistake, pressed the wrong button, and the survey disappeared.  That was good, although I missed a potential learning experience from a computer-generated phone survey, and my doctor missed hearing something, too.  Alas, I’m not paid for “a few moments” of my time these days.

It’s unfortunate, because what would have worked for me would have been a nice cheerful young woman’s calling me.  Trust me, you could find one at any Dutch Brothers kiosk in Eugene, and for $15 an hour, you would have a person making good money using her personality skills AND get a better survey.  The conversation might go like this:

“Mr. Smith (Dr. Smith would have me send her flowers), this is Irina at  xxxx’s office. We wanted to thank you for your visit and ask if all your questions were answered, or if there was anything we could have done better.”  Notice the lack of  “survey,” which has become a big red flag for many, “just a few moments,” the use of “thank you” and the emphasis on “anything,” because that gets people, otherwise reluctant to comment, to say something.

“No, everything went well.  I really liked the doctor.  He explained everything and spent a lot of time with me.”

“Oh, that is so nice to hear.  If we can be of help, please give us a call.  Thank you so much for your time.”  (She acknowledges the time using only the possessive adjective).

That took 22 seconds.  Your time may vary.

Now, the bean counters and the spreadsheet folks aren’t going to like the data, because it is not numerical.  Let me be again clear.  I am the most numerical person I know.  But, this isn’t about numbers.  It is about patient satisfaction, post-visit questions, feedback and discovering potential problems in practices.  Not only that, the doctor would have my feedback three days after I saw him.  Why, I might even tell Irina the specifics of the visit I liked.  She got a response, and I bet she would get a census—every response—if she asked the question to others the way I just posed it.

Instead, they got nothing.  Actually it was worse, because I pushed a “1” on ease of scheduling an appointment, which was the wrong number.  I figured “please press 1” was coming, and I didn’t wait.  Shameful.  The computer-generated voice didn’t know what to do.  Irina never would have done that.

I understand the need for companies to get customer’s opinions.  In the old days, we wrote letters, usually complaining about something that went wrong.  When I cleaned out my late father’s things, I discovered copies of letters I never would have sent, excoriating people. It didn’t bother him.  I have sent positive letters, like to the guy at Delta who brought out something I left on the plane and gave it to me.  Good companies know how to respond to complaints.  I still have one from 43 years ago, when my wife and I, on our honeymoon, were late getting back to Woods Hole, because the ferry turned around and returned to Nantucket to drop off a workman who forgot to disembark while docked at Nantucket.  They inconvenienced several hundred people for a jerk.  The CEO told me that.  He didn’t waffle, say “we regret the inconvenience.”  If I remember correctly, he said that he had a shouting match with the Captain, and the Captain lost.  Now, that is a good, honest response to a complaint.  Don’t get many of those today.

Waiting time?  The front desk person can easily figure that out.  They know the time of the appointment and when you are taken back to the office. You don’t need to survey to get it.

People aren’t going to pick up the phone to take a survey.  Better to have an old fashioned suggestion box at the front door, with plenty of paper and a pen.  Label it “Suggestion Box”.  If it doesn’t work, then remove it.  See what happens, first.

Personalized calling is much better business.  If you use a veterinarian, notice how they call the day after a non-routine visit, to make sure everything was fine, asking if there are any questions.  Such a call shows personal interest, especially when the pet’s name is mentioned.

Doctor’s offices can do this, too.  My doctor’s day would have been made, had he heard the things I would have said.  Everybody loves a compliment.  And if something went wrong, people need to hear it sooner, rather than later, or not at all, when the patient disappears—and tells others the bad experience.

For those who want phone surveys, hire an Irina, and skip the S-word.  Jeff Bezos has a net worth of nearly $28 billion.  I suspect if 20 people a day got a call saying, “This is Irina from Jeff Bezos’s office at Amazon.  Has our service met your standards?”  Mr. Bezos would learn a lot.  Admittedly, it’s old fashioned, unlike the e-mail bombardment one gets after a purchase.  But there is an old-fashioned term given when the front office calls an customer: “courtesy.”  Jeff ought to make a few calls himself.  Wow, that would make waves in the B-schools.

Strange thing is….such a call is not at all innovative.  It used to be the norm.




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