Sounds Like a Personal Problem to Me
You might be familiar
with the comeback, “Sounds like a personal problem to me.” That expression is
usually used to quash a complaint or an excuse not living up to expectations. That
expression came to mind recently.
The weather is
usually mild in Atlanta where I live. However we had a steady two-week cold
snap and my steep, winding driveway froze over. On my way home one evening, I was unable to
successfully navigate the slippery obstacle course and my car slid into the
bushes, teetering dangerously close to a
I called my emergency
road service company and they sent a wrecker out to “rescue” me. The driver
arrived a couple hours later and immediately complained that he was working alone on a job
that should be staffed by two people. Not only were they short-staffed, he said, but there were lots of wrecks because of the weather. He gave me a lecture on safe winter driving,
how to navigate a hazardous roadway and the wisdom of never choosing a
residence with such a steep driveway.
He then told me he was being paid only a paltry sum by his company and so this very complicated
operation was not worth it to him financially. He warned me it was very unlikely my
car would not be scratched and damaged even if he could somehow get it on the bed
of his truck. I signed the waiver, absolving the wrecker of any liability for
damages incurred during the operation. I waited with trepidation, helping to push, pull, steer-whatever he asked me to do.
After an hour of manoeuvers
and curses, my car was safely “extricated” and rested on terra firma at the
bottom of my driveway where it spent the night until my driveway could be
I kept thinking what
lousy customer service and how unconcerned I was with all the driver’s “personal
problems.” I paid for a service and
expected the company to honor their contract without whining or blaming.
How often as professionals
do we whine, blame and play victim when confronted by a deadline or
complication? Our customers (patients,
doctors, nurses) feel pretty much the way I did as a customer, “Sounds like a
personal problem to me. “ They have
certain expectations and we as professionals implicitly promise we are
competent to deliver, and capable of making good, on that promise.
Those we serve really do not
care if we are short staffed, our equipment is acting quirky, the antibody is
“hiding” or our Wright’s stain has artifacts. You say, "Those are
realities, so why shouldn't we let them know?”
I believe it’s all a
matter of perspective and approach. First recognize we all have the same goal
of quality, timely patient care. However at any one time, our priorities and perspectives may
be different. It is normal that we tend to be ego-centic in our views. The suggestion is to acknowledge the clinician’s
frustration with not receiving a result in the expected time frame. Then calmly explain why the result might be
taking longer than anticipated. If possible, give an expected timeframe for
completion. Finally, when the result is available, go the extra mile of making sure the
decision maker knows what it is, or where it’s available to be accessed.
This sounds very
simple and almost too simplistic, but the suggestion is to explain the reality in non-confrontational and non-defensive tones. This is an opportunity
to practice the Straight A’s of responding to customer complaints: Acknowledge,
Apologize and Act.
Acknowledge: I realize/ I agree/ I know that…
Apologize: I am really sorry that…
Act: This is what is happening (this is why we have an issue
making service more complex, less timely, or falling short of what’s expected).
Then immediately go on to explain what actions
you are taking to resolve the issue.
is what I am doing about it
an expected, realistic timeframe for resolution, if possible
result ASAP and inform customer
by giving a progress report if the deadline is not going to be met
In most interactions,
we do not have to deny the reality or try to obscure the facts. However, those whom
we serve, those who are depending on us to deliver, respond very differently based
on how we present the reality.