Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.” Erma Bombeck

What do dead plants in the waiting room have to do with the skill of the doctor? Logically nothing, but to the customer, everything.

When we are sick, we go to the doctor because we do not know what is making us sick. The doctor is the expert. Even if he misdiagnoses the illness and prescribes the wrong medicine, we would still take his word for it since we have no experience in medical diagnosis. We assume that the doctor is the trusted authority. In fact, we assume it so much that we don’t ask the doctor to prove it. No one has ever walked into a doctor’s office to ask “Before you examine me, from what medical school did you graduate?” We take his expertise for granted because we have no benchmark.

But we can judge a doctor on what we do know. We know what clean and orderly looks like. We know what friendly looks and sounds like. We know what waiting too long feels like. And we certainly know what dead looks like. And with past experiences we can judge how our doctor visit stacks up to those experiences. And based on the entire experience we will decide whether to come back or not, and depending on the experience, will either refer our friends or tell the world to stay away with an on-line bad review. Is that logical? Of course not, but as management consultant Tom Peters says,

“Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!”

When there are dead plants in the waiting room, the customer is saying to himself, “If they can’t even take care of the plants, why do I want them taking care of me?”

While a general manager at a resort up north in Michigan, I served as an adjunct instructor for many years teaching customer service at the local community college. To their credit (pardon the pun), the college made my customer service class a prerequisite for the office administration and medical administration paths. They understood that it is not what you know; it is how you say it. At the end of the semester, a survey was given to the students on how I did. Was I on time for class? Did I cover the objectives defined in the syllabus? Was I available after hours? All the survey questions were focused on the instructor. As part of the class session discussing customer feedback, I surveyed the students on their school experience. My question was, “If there was anything you could improve in your education experience, what would that be? Very few answers were specific to what the administration thought was the college experience. Rather the improvements ranged from the parking lot to the restrooms. What does the parking lot have to do with higher education? Logically, nothing. But to the female student who is taking night classes, everything. She perceives a burned out light in the lamp post as an unsafe parking lot. What does the restroom have to do with the education offered? Nothing. But as a female student wrote in her survey, “During the winter, the restrooms are so cold, I can’t even think after going in there.”

Several weeks ago, I needed to see a dentist. When I asked a friend for a referral, she gave me the name of her dentist. I asked why she thought the dentist was so good. She said the waiting room had Wi-Fi, they offered free bottled water and juice and there was a large flat screen TV in the waiting room. And, as an afterthought, she said the dentist was nice, too. The most important aspects of her dental experience were the touchpoints that eliminated the waiting time and angst of the perception of visiting the dentist for the first time.

So don’t be too focused on just your expertise. Your customers have no way to judge you on what you know. But they can grade you on the other touchpoints that they have experienced before. Take the time to look at your entire customer experience. Identify all the potential dissatisfiers and remove them. Then replace them with something positive.

What potential “dead plant” dissatisfiers in your customer experience are you leaving unattended?

2 Comments

Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Service

2 responses to “Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.

  1. Nice post Bill,

    My local Chinese take away serves excellent food, bout the waiting area has damp, the menus are old and tatty and the carpet is stained.

    They are never busy

    Mind you, if it was a debt collectors office…

    • Thanks for your comments, James. Yours is a great example that customers judge businesses, not on what is their expertise, but rather on the other touchpoints in the experience. If we go to a restaurant and I have the best steak I’ve ever had, but she goes in the restroom and it’s filthy, do you think I’m every going back to that restaurant? Not unless I go alone. Her belief is that if the restroom that she can see is dirty, how clean can the kitchen be that she can’t see.

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