A couple of weeks ago I was once again in the hospital for a test in the quest to determine what has been having me feel so poorly, and I had a memorable customer service experience that left me pondering compassion. I was scheduled to start the test at 10:30am. Having checked in at 8:30am, I was enjoying some reading time. Several times over the public address system in the hospital I heard codes being called that sounded critical. Code red, all available to room123. Code blue, all available to room 145. Four of these codes were announced over about a 45 minute period. I commented to my nurse that I’d never been in a hospital that was having so many emergency codes. She replied that it was unusual for them.
At about 12:15pm I was rolled into the procedure room for my test, an hour and 45 minutes after my scheduled time. There were about 8 people working in the procedure room to get me prepped for my test, and every single one of them was apologizing for the delay, stating they’d had an emergency. I said no worries several times and finally literally put my arms up in the air with the hand sign for time out and said, “Time Out!” They all stopped their hustle and asked if I was ok. I replied I was fine; what I wanted was for them all to stop apologizing. It was not a problem at all. I clarified that if I had been the person having the emergency, I would have appreciated their care. My test was routine and I didn’t mind waiting at all. They all took a collective sigh of relief, thanked me, and got back to work.
At the end of the day when I was finally released home, my friend and I walked out through the main entrance of the hospital to find a sea of sheriff’s officers, and other uniformed officers. They filled the whole outer waiting area of the hospital. My friend and I looked at each other and knew in that moment that something tragic had happened. We continued out of the hospital past the reporters and news vans. On our ride home we learned that 4 officers had been shot in a nearby town, and all had been transported to the very hospital I was in. The codes I was hearing were the officers. Each a human being suffering. One officer had passed away. One officer was still in critical condition.
A team of medical staff were apologizing to me for being an hour and 45 minutes late for a routine, non-urgent procedure when they were in fact dilligently working to urgently save lives. The realization hit me hard in the gut about how absurd our expectations and behavior have become about customer service. Brené Brown said it brilliantly in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “Everyone wants to know why customer service has gone to hell in a handbasket. I want to know why customer behavior has gone to hell in a handbasket.” I left the hospital appalled that medical professionals were apologizing to me for working to save lives. I thought; Where does compassion fit in the picture of customer service? Where does empathy fit? Where does simple respect for what’s needed fit?
The responses of my medical team made me think compassion, empathy, and respect didn’t fit at all. Our professionals who provide services feel like they have no margin for error or divergence from a plan or expectation. Our customers act as if they are the only people in the universe who matter in that moment. And in this model, humanity feels forgotten.
My challenge to you is to serve as a customer. Think about how you can extend compassion, be empathetic, or be respectful. Think about how you can raise awareness to what’s needed in the moment, especially when it might be inconvenient to you. And, then, do something about it. Act on one of those thoughts. Give up your spot in line, smile and tell the cashier it’s really OK they made a mistake, or tell someone in the service industry you appreciate what they do for no other reason than to be grateful for being served.
It’s not enough for us to think about serving, we must serve.
How will you serve as a customer?