Last week I ended up in the emergency room with acute appendicitis. I had had a CAT scan in the late afternoon which showed some fluid around the appendix and there was some concern that it might burst. My doctor sent me immediately to the emergency room with my CAT scan CD in hand, saying, “We’ll call and let them know you are coming-hopefully that will speed things up.” Upon arrival I was quickly seen by the triage nurse who then sent me back out in the waiting room, saying, “Have a seat, we’ll be with you in a few minutes”. There were nearly 20 people in the waiting room and very quickly I overheard someone say outloud, “I’ve been here for over two hours, when can I see a doctor?”. At that point, I panicked. My abdomen really hurt at this point, I had a fever and chills. Sitting was the most uncomfortable position for me and I started to worry that my appendix might rupture, since I had been in pain for over four days.
Over two hours went by. During that time a couple of nurses came out and took a patient or two back into the emergency room. But when any hospital personnel came into the large waiting room, they were very careful not to meet anyone’s eye, lest they be asked, “when will a doctor see me?” No one ever came through the room to ask if we needed anything, blankets, water, pillows-nothing. Now I know emergency rooms can be filled with people who may not be having a medical emergency. And often times, doctors send their patients there after hours when waiting until the next morning to see someone, would probably have been okay. But a patient is a patient. A customer is a customer. I know the hospital personnel had the best intentions, but it occurred to me that every doctor, nurse and hospital administrator should have to sit in one of their waiting room chairs for two and half hours with an acute pain in their belly, shivering with chills and a fever, and no information.
This made me wonder, how are we, as leaders and business people, treating our customers? Are we giving them the information they need along the way, so they know where we/they are in the process? Do we have the courage to look them in the eyes when we are clearly at capacity and things aren’t running as smoothly as we’d like? Or do we shirk around and keep our eyes to the floor so we don’t have to engage in a tough conversation? Are we proactive in asking them what would be helpful to them at that moment? Where are the gaps, from our customer’s perspective, in our good intentions?
I’m not talking about customer surveys and focus groups to get at this stuff. I’m talking about meeting our customer eyeball to eyeball and finding out if what they need and communicating with them every step of the way. What are the questions on their minds? Where do we drop the ball in the process? Whether we are a Fortune 500 company or a solopreneur, it’s important that we know how our customers feel-at any given moment. So, I invite you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and walk through the process in your business. Where are the gaps? Where does it feel uncomfortable, unclear or even scary? Are you making your customers feel more comfortable? Or are you keeping them in pain?