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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Sounds Like a Personal Problem to Me

Published December 28, 2013 4:38 PM by Glen McDaniel


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 precipitous slope.


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 defrosted.


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.

  • This is what I am doing about it

  • Give an expected, realistic timeframe for resolution, if possible

  • Provide result ASAP and inform customer

  • Followup 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.


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