Me and Matlock in the hospital

WARNING:: Don’t read this if you get nauseous easily.

I believe! Tom Peters. (!) The healthcare system is broken. And not just for the obvious reasons…

A bit of background to for you to fully see the foul mood I’m in…

On Monday night after supper, I became violently ill. Not just a mild sickness, mind you…but a full blown “wishing-my-gastrointestinal-system-wasn’t-part-of-my-body-oh-yeah-that-is-what-I-had-for-lunch-I’m-going-to-sue-the-restaurant-that-made-me-this-sick” kind of illness. After a night spent on my knees in front of the porcelain mercy seat, I felt well enough to work on Tuesday. About noon, I started shivering like I had never shivered before (on an 80 degree day anyway). I couldn’t stop. It was disconcerting and I felt horrible. So I headed to the nearest ER. I did not find George Clooney there.

I was shivering so much that I couldn’t fill out the intake form legibly. The check-in “guy” didn’t offer any assistance. He did shove me into a wheelchair and pushed me over to the wall out of the way. After about 15-20 minutes, I was taken (pushed) to “triage” where two nurses actually offered me a blanket and attempted to find out my history. They quickly pushed me to the financial desk where I told my entire life history and all my vital numbers to a woman between dry heaves.

I then was pushed to the middle of the waiting room…where I sat in my wheelchair while hearing parts of one and a half episodes of Matlock, an episode of Little House on the Prairie, and about 15 minutes of Ellen Degeneres (that’s about 2 hours and 45 minutes for you non-TV junkies). Also during this time, the hospital’s intercom had the following message playing about every 15 minutes “Because of above average patient volume, your waiting time may be longer than usual”

Thoughts running through my mind at this time…
–I’m going to be like that woman in the wheelchair at the NOLA convention center
–Those people in that chair don’t look that sick…I bet I go back before them.
–I bet they play the “above average” message all the time…I need to come back and check
–Those people in that chair don’t look that sick…I bet I go back before them.
–Matlock needs to figure out who killed Laura and Paw. Maybe it was Ellen.
–Those people in that chair don’t look that sick…I bet I go back before them.
–This will be blogged.

My wife arrived at the hospital (after arranging childcare for the boy and driving from a town 30 miles away) and we finally went back where I was poked and prodded. “Cultures” were taken. And I was given a shot that knocked me out from 5pm to 7am the next morning.

I feel better now. Thanks.

But here’s the thing. This morning and a few times today, I saw some advertising for the hospital. Actually, they “market” the hospital quite a bit. They talked alot about their customer service in the ads and how good they are for the community and their patients.


Like I said the other day with another much less serious failure of customer service, good operations and taking care of the customer are the best marketing you can do. How about plowing some of that marketing money into some OT for a doc when “above average patient volume” hits? How about realizing that your customers in a healthcare setting are already not happy because of their conditions and doing everything above and beyond? What about just being treated the way you would want to be treated.

Medical and healthcare providers HAVE to stop thinking about patients and need to start thinking about customers (which I have said before and before)

Now obviously, I wasn’t having a heart attack or didn’t have a severed limb, so you may think I’m overreacting. But in those cases…you don’t really make the healthcare choice…the ambulance driver makes it for you. The majority of healthcare decisions are made by a thinking consumer. And I think, I will make a different choice the next time.



I had a horrible lunch today.

It was the type of small bakery/sandwich shop that we like to go to. There’s always one or two in every town….located in a reclaimed-refurbished building in the older part of town….mismatched furniture…lots of funky local art…interesting people sitting around….freaky spaced-out employees…etc

But today…we stood behind three other people waiting to place orders while the employees stared at all of us from the kitchen.

Finally, I ordered the Cuban sandwich and soup. (It was on the menu) “We stopped serving the Cuban a couple months ago.”….I was told.

I decided not to get a beverage because I would be charged for a refill of iced tea…quite possibly the cheapest beverage to produce and make a profit off of. The cooler of other drinks was nearly empty.

When we went into the dining area, I started to get the highchair for the boy. I left it because it was broken and was “sticky”. He sat on the tabletop.

The wife’s kettle chips and cookie were left in an undisclosed location and had to be searched for by the girl who brought the food to the table.

Her asiago chicken sandwich was missing the chipolte mayo…and oddly, the asiago cheese.

Of my soup and sandwich…the soup was cold. The roast pork sandwich on focaccia (I thought it would be a decent substitution) came out as a “Julia” which was hummus, artichoke hearts, sprouts, etc. I ate it while the pork came out.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Meanwhile, Bowling Green is getting a Panera Bread over in the corporate-mall-generic-no-personality-mall-big-box part of town.

The people won’t be as interesting. There will be no community connection. The employees may be slackers….but they’ll be fired if they slack too much.

But, they’ll (probably) get my order right. The right ingredients will be on my sandwich. I’ll actually have the right sandwich. They’ll give me a “bonus” of some bread (or at least crackers) when I order soup. And it will be hot. I’ll drink as much iced tea as I want for one price. The highchairs will be clean. It will be a “safe” place to eat. And it will get many more customers than the local downtown establishment.

The marketing question is this….why can’t we have both? Why can’t the community place get the SOP right? And why can’t the chain be interesting?

Operations IS marketing…..and you have to build marketing INTO your operations.


Customers. Not Patients.

As I talk to healthcare groups about the new world of healthcare marketing, I emphasize one point that’s sometimes well-received and that’s sometimes cast aside: The healthcare industry must stop thinking of terms of “patients” and need to start thinking in terms of “customers”.

These “customers” have choices: to participate in the treatment, go across the street to another healthcare provider, find alternative treatments, or not be treated at all. Healthcare marketing will influence the decision they make.

I was encouraged by this recent article in Wired magazine The article talks about a few hospitals “getting it” and taking notes from the hotel industry.

It’s a lesson that all businesses can take away. Even if you deal in a commodity that the consumer “has” to have, there’s a need for marketing. And marketing doesn’t necessarily mean more advertising and promotion. The best marketing you can do is to improve the customer experience. The dividends will come soon after that.


Customer Barriers

Download our FREE article…white paper…research study…info packet…etc…etc.

I see a lot of these type offers as I graze around on the web looking for marketing info. Sometimes I bite. They’re usually a hassle. The one I just did took the cake. I went through about TWENTY different steps before I finally got to the info. Some pages were dead ends and I had to go back to the main page and start over as “a member”. (Membership does have its privileges) I had to check my e-mail THREE times to officially opt-in.

I understand (and totally agree) with making sure that people want to opt-in before adding them to a list. But, I wonder with this site…has the owner ever sat down and gone through the process as a new user to see how hard it is to get in? I wonder how many potential clients he loses when people get tired, fed up, and dump out after Step #8 or 9?

Whether it’s online or in a real world context, have you ever tried to enter your business as a new customer with fresh eyes? You should try it. It may explain why you’re not getting as many customers as you want.


Your Account is Currently Overdue

This is a marketing sin that is primarily committed by healthcare organizations, but any company can be dumb enough to do it.

With an infant in the house, we have quite a few medical bills in the mailbox. Here’s a typical situation: We take the boy for something medical in January. In March, we get the first bill from the healthcare provider. On the bill, the amount we owe is in the “60 days overdue” box, and there’s a memo stating that our “account is overdue. Please pay the full amount soon.”…(which is invoice code for “you’re a deadbeat who won’t pay the bill”.)

Frankly, it ticks me off everytime. How can the first bill I get from someone already be 60 days overdue?

Of course, I work with marketing in the healthcare industry all the time…so I know what’s happening. The billing people have waited to send me a bill while waiting to see what our health insurance will pay. After insurance does what it’s going to do, they send me a bill for my part. Insurance companies aren’t known for their speed…so it could be a couple of months before it’s “my turn’ to pay.

I’m sure on the top floors of the hospital that the healthcare marketing people can’t figure out why people aren’t latching onto the brand. Here’s why: It’s because while the marketing department is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on feel-good-generic-ads that tell me why they’re my hometown/personal/friendly/etc healthcare choice….the billing department is spending 39 cents to call me a deadbeat loser who won’t pay his bills.

Guess which message gets through to me the best?…The one with my personalized name and address.

Here’s the thing. Stuff like this happens all the time. The marketing folks are sending out one message while another part of the organization is sending out another. It could be billing. It could be the person at the reception desk. It could be on the Internet. It could be ANYWHERE that your customer has contact with your organization.

Like this billing problem, it’s probably easily fixed, but it keeps happening everyday. The bigger the organization, the more times it’s happening….and it’s slowly killing your brand.

Marketing is not just a department. It should be built into every touchpoint you have with the consumer.


I hate Alltel

Normally, I try not to spew hatred in a general non-focused sense…but I truly hate the company Alltel on all levels.

In a business sense, I have to deal with their Yellow Page con men in the Alltel Publishing division. (Full disclosure::I’m not a huge fan of 99.9% of all Yellow Page publishers…but Alltel takes the cake for bad business practices.)

Today, I have general vitriol against them with my personal lines. I spent some time in Alltel’s “All of our customer service associates are busy” purgatory today. It turns out that Alltel charged some things on my bill that I’ve never subscribed to. They signed me up “for my convenience”. The “customer service” rep tells me that I did use these services that I’m not subscribed to. (how did that happen?) She won’t remove the charges and pretty much says I’m lying.

We also have a heated discussion about charging me for the privilege of having long distance service along with the toll charges I do make.

Here’s the best part…
At this point, I’m fairly irate on the phone…and she trys to upsell me additional services. Of course, this is not her idea…some marketing moron higher up is telling all these reps to ask “Would you like fries with that?”

This is akin to me finding a severed finger in my meal and the restaurant asking me if I would like to purchase dessert as well.

The traditional telephone business is dying everyday. It looks like Alltel would be looking for ways to IMPROVE the customer conversation…not make me mad.

But here’s the thing….This happens daily in thousands of other businesses. Some corporate schmuck is handing down “big ideas” to improve the bottom line. It sounds good in the boardroom. But when they execute the idea on the ground…it winds up ticking me off.


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10 items or less – Cash only

Companies say they respect their customers’ intelligence. Here’s a quick example of what a lie that is…….

In any given store (department, grocery, etc) with a checkout line, there is usually a “10 items or less” line. We all know that sometimes people bring 11 (or more!) items into these lines. The cashier is better off to go ahead and check them out since it would demonstrate bad corporate karma to kick someone out of line unless they’re just blatantly coming through with a cart full of items. We (the customers) are breaking the rules…and the customer is always right. (actually, they’re not always right. Start believing that and watch your customer service improve.)

Here’s where the store thinks you’re an idiot.

Sometimes those “10 items or less” signs have a subtext that states “Cash Only”. Look at the register. There’s usually a credit/debit card reader with a PIN pad.

Why would we need that in a cash only line? Think about it.

Bad checkout experiences happen to everyone.

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