Why Is Customer Experience Like Deck Furniture?

Sometimes there is value pointing out the obvious; or not. An analyst on CNN was updating the story about the missing Malaysian plane. He explained why it had been so difficult to locate the plane. “Light objects float, and heavy objects sink, and a plane is heavy.”  Physics for librarians–the evolution of the lizard brain.

Years ago, because of the lizard brain, the government decided that important decisions, decisions like launching nuclear weapons, the responsibility had to be shared between two people.  That is why two thumbs are required on two launch buttons.  I do not know how things are in your home, but in ours, for important decisions about things like deck furniture, there is only one launch button, and I do not have a user-ID.

Twice a year, in early spring and late fall, my wife and I do the lizard brain dance, and we do it regarding our deck furniture. I am the lizard. She is the brain.  The spring deck furniture dance is more difficult than the fall dance because our metal deck furniture has been hibernating downstairs in the basement all winter; metal brown bears do the same thing.

Then, when our metal furniture awakens from its hibernation, it has to be carried by hand, by the husband, from the basement, up enough stairs to make me wish I had installed an elevator, to the deck—the deck that was just power washed by said husband.  By now I am wishing that snow still covered our deck.  My lizard brain tried to explain that it wanted to watch the NCAA tournament.  The lizard lost.  I plodded along like a trained pachyderm, a number of pieces of our deck furniture raised over my head.

I was waiting for my neighborhood friends, guys like me, to set up lawn their chairs and watch the trained lizard carrying its furniture, but then it occurred to me that they were either hiding from their spouses or they were having their own deck furniture parades.

Our metal outdoor deck furniture is unlike any other deck furniture.  Unlike others in that, according to my wife, our outdoor furniture was not built to live outdoors. Not in the winter, and not in the rain.  The chairs and cushions were extruded from some unidentified man-made material whose half-life probably exceeds that of the fruitcake my grandmother made when I was twelve, but if said furniture gets wet it may do a Wicked Witch of the West and melt.

Even so, with April being the month of showers, I know I will be hauling in the cushions, the same cushions that I had just hauled outside, back inside the first time we see a cloud drift overhead.

“They don’t melt,” I tell her.

“Are we missing a cushion?” She asks.

“No, I’ve been soaking one in the guest bathtub all winter.  It looks good as new,” I tell her.

“That is not the same as leaving it out in the rain.” So much for trying to make a point.

So, how do we tie this into something that hopefully makes this few minutes worthwhile for you?  What would your patient experience have to look like in order for you health system not to have to apologize for it?

I think when it comes to assessing patient experience many hospitals think that when their patients are not in the hospital their patients are hibernating safely and soundly and without a care in the world.  Like deck furniture.

That assumption makes it worth asking the question, what do hibernating patients do?  Often they call the hospital.  They want access.  And how is access defined? A patient tries to schedule an appointment or a lab. A patient needs a refill.  Or he or she has a complication from a medication or a procedure.  Or, they simply need to complete a business task like setting up a payment plan.

Here is why something as simple as being able to successfully answer a patient’s call is that patient’s first healthcare experience for many people.  And guess what? If we cannot answer that call it does not matter how noisy your hospital is because those callers will never hear the noise.  They will do one of two things, neither of which are good.  They will choose a hospital which can answer their phones, or they will go to ED. Oh, and they will tell others.

A colleague was receiving chemotherapy at a top US cancer hospital.  She spent three hours on the phone trying to schedule an appointment.  Now she spends her hibernation telling others not to go to that hospital.  Hospitals cannot put that toothpaste back into the tube.

By the way, when they found the debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, they found a seat cushion.  That cushion survived a fiery explosion at thirty-thousand feet and had spent six months floating in seawater.  This fall I will point that out to my wife just as soon as I finish carrying my deck furniture back to the basement to begin its hibernation.

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