Customer Experience: June Cleaver, Get Smart & Robespierre

If you happen to follow last week’s news, many of you will have noticed that most news organizations lead with the story that the guy with the bad haircut launched an ICBM.

Eschewing that, CNN led with the story of a gif that was posted on Reddit.  We report, you decide.  Maybe the guy with the bad haircut hacked CNN.  Viva la Revolución!—I do not know how to write it in North Korean.

I know some of you are thinking I am attitudinally challenged.

If you have extra time in 2020, consider visiting the Telephone Museum. People will come to see the phones.  It will be standing room only.  There will be a guy at the door issuing tickets and bathroom passes.

It will be like walking into a world that was rotating at 33 1/3 RMPs.  Attached to the museum’s walls will be hundreds of diverse types of telephones.  Wires will be coming out of those phones, like intravenous feeding tubes, and there will not be any explanation about what purpose those wires served.

You will see a tall, windowed box.  A box big enough to hold a person, or a dozen people if you happened to be a member of a fraternity in the 1960’s.  Inside the box will be a smaller metal box attached to the wall.  That box will have slots where people apparently inserted money.  It looks like a slot machine.  At the bottom is a small metal receptacle.  Maybe that was where the slot’s winnings were paid.

A metal wire conduit will connect the phone to the thing people used to hold to their ear. Another metal wire will be connected to a large yellow book so people had something to read while they were playing the slots.

Next to it is a red, tall windowed box that looks the same as the first box.  The sign on it reads, “British Phone Booth.”  There was no explanation about how and why people would want to talk to anyone from inside a box.  Maybe two people would enter the box together and talk to each other in private—sort of like the Cone of Silence in Get Smart.

There are pictures of people holding these devices to their ears, people who appear to be tethered to the walls of their homes and offices.  One of the photos will be of a woman who looks a lot like June Cleaver.  She will appear to be highly educated, and someone with great elocution and diction.  Someone who was well-mannered and behaved.  A human version of a French poodle.

I recently visited the inner sanctum of the health system’s large call center.  One wall contained dozens of gray metal boxes with multiple coils of wire spilling from their tops and bottoms—just like in the phone museum.  Several large monitors were affixed to the back wall, each one streaming lines of data about the number of callers, the average wait time, the average talk time, and the day’s featured cafeteria entree.

Thirty years ago, a call center was a technological marvel.  Today call centers are technological dinosaurs.

People conduct, and prefer to conduct, all their business electronically.  A phone that needs to be plugged into a power outlet does not count as conducting business electronically.

Health systems and payers keep building call centers, and yet, nobody wants to call them.  People call because they have no other choice. Patients and consumers want to conduct their business electronically.

But they can’t.

Healthcare talks about improving customer experience.  They have customer experience committees.  Somebody will bring a cardboard box of coffee to the committee meeting.  The attendees will be hungry.  They will look at one another, the way lions look when there’s only one carcass to go around.  If the meeting was called by an executive, attendees may be provided with a fruit plate and parfaits served in decorative glasses.

Nothing will be decided; at least nothing useful.  In big organizations, every idea must be run up the flagpole before anyone knows what they are supposed to think.  The committee members will have protracted debates about where to put the comma in the meeting minutes.

Organizations are the casus belli of bad customer experience.  Robespierre said, “On ne peut pas faire d’omelette sans casser des oeufs.”  You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Healthcare’s patients and customers are waiting for healthcare to break a few eggs.

How about forming a committee whose singular charter is to let patients and consumers conduct their business electronically.


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