I’m coming off of a rough travel weekend doing some veterinary lectures in NYC. The roughness of the experience had nothing to do with why I was traveling, the weather, the traffic, the cab drivers, accidentally sleeping through my alarm, or money. It had everything to do with (supposed) customer service people who were unwilling to pay attention to the little details.
I’m going to share the whole story with you now, because I think it really translates into how we as veterinary team members can affect our clients’ experiences by just paying attention to the little details, and by being aware of the value in clear communication.
So I’m in NYC, waiting in the airport to go home. NYC. How many tourists do you think go through there on a regular basis? Tourists who have no idea where anything is? My flight was supposed to connect through Chicago and then on to Portland, but the first flight was delayed twice. Then cancelled. I went to stand in line to see what could be done. Everyone in line ahead of me was very calm (no yelling or blaming) and I followed suit. The woman helping me said that my connection in Chicago was the last flight to Portland that night, so it was pretty important that I get on that connection. I agreed. She typed madly for a couple minutes, muttering to herself about Denver, LAX, and Washington Dulles. “Oh, here, here’s a flight on (enter airline name of choice) that is leaving in an hour. That will get you to Chicago in time.” Awesome. She then handed me a partially torn piece of paper (printed with dot matrix? seriously? In 2013?) and sends me away. I stopped her and asked, “So should I just go to the gate?” She replied, “No you should go to the desk and get a ticket. Next!” That was it.
I headed back out of security and wandered by all of the ticket counters looking for (enter airline name of choice) without success. When I got to the end, I asked an employee of a third airline where I could find said desk. Her response? Laughter followed by, “You’re in the wrong building honey!” While I appreciate the term of endearment, how is that helpful? Someone ELSE informed me that I needed to go to another terminal either by walking or by shuttle bus. I chose walking, and headed in the general direction of his pointing.
As I entered the other terminal, it was 30 minutes before the flight was supposed to leave. I found the desk, handed over my dot matrix wrinkled torn paper and get another, “Oh you’re in the wrong terminal. This leaves from Terminal 3. I can get you checked in, but you’d better hurry.” I then asked how to get there, and it was by shuttle bus. I boarded the bus, got to the third terminal of the day, and headed back through security.
There were only about 8 people in line in front of me at security (bonus!). But it was switcheroo time at TSA which means ‘stand around and talk and laugh and take five minutes to move one dude out of the x-ray monitor seat and replace him with another one.’ I’m not kidding. FIVE minutes. I counted it as I watched the time get closer to this flight leaving. As I stood, feet apart and arms above my head, I heard the beep signifying that I was the lucky number to get a full pat-down and hands scanned for bomb residue.
Once all that was done, I ran up to the window to see my flight pull away from the gate. Sigh. The dude at the gate checked me in to their next flight but told me it was supposed to land in Chicago 10 minutes AFTER my connection flight left. Yay.
So I got to Chicago, checked my watch about six times, and realized that, duh, the time had changed, and I had 35 minutes to get my butt on that other plane. On another airline at O’Hare International Airport. I asked a nice uniformed gentleman to tell me which gate this other flight was leaving from, and he told me C-11. I stood staring and asked the obvious, “HOW DO I GET THERE?!” You guessed it, another shuttle. But then, like out of a movie, I was the last person to board that flight and I (barely) made it home.
It wouldn’t have been the end of the world for me if I had to spend the night in Chicago, or NYC, or in any city in between. But how many opportunities for service happened (and were missed) from start to finish of that saga? If that first person who (thankfully) found me a flight on another airline had just TOLD me to head to Terminal 3! Or, instead of laughing at me, that second person had helped me figure out where I was supposed to go! Or if the TSA employees had taken a second to realize that not everyone has five minutes to waste at any given point in time at the airport! Or, the dude at the gate had thought for a second about the time-change, my evening could have been slightly less crazy! The common thread? All of those service and communication points are minor. Simple. Easy.
People will appreciate the grand service gestures that you do for them, but trust me, they will also appreciate the little things. Take just a second and put yourself in their shoes. They have no idea what to do next. They’ll figure it out eventually, but think of the trouble you’ll save them by taking 3 seconds and telling them, “Here’s what’s next. Here’s what to expect. Here’s what I’m going to do now. Here’s what I need you to do.”
There is no such thing as over-communicating with our clients, and with each other. Even a simple “Hey guys I’m running to the restroom” keeps everyone on the same page on a veterinary team.
“I’ll be in the lab getting caught up.”
“I’m around the corner doing client call-backs.”
“You can have a seat here and we’ll have a doctor call you into a room as soon as we can, if you need anything else from me please ask the front desk to page me. My name is Megan.”
You do the same thing every day, so everything (or almost everything) makes sense to you, but that stressed client in your lobby (and that new tech/assistant/DVM you work with) might not have any idea what’s coming next. Don’t make them find the shuttle bus on their own. Take the small steps and do the little things. They can pay off big time.