Lucky for Alice that the U.S. Post Office didnt set up shop in Wonderland, because this is exactly how my latest visit went down, no lie, no exaggeration.
I went to take care of my passport renewal first thing in the morning on a weekday and found a long snake of a line filled with grim, simmering citizens. There were three post office workers manning the battle stations. One was wearing a surgical mask and, oddly, winter gloves, and spent 25 minutes (damn right I clocked her) berating an elderly man for not understanding the eight or so options she spat out for sending his box.
He kept saying repeatedly he wanted to send it express, and then had the temerity to tell her he couldnt understand what she was saying. That led to her start shouting over and over Im speaking English illegibly! and just when I thought they had everything worked out, she sent him to a kind of penalty box off to the side of her station because he allegedly made a mistake on the shipping form. His problems were exacerbated when he couldnt find something to write with and she launched into a diatribe about her plumed pen being personal property and not something she was obligated to let a customer borrow.
Me? I waited for 45 minutes, and when I was finally cleared to approach the counter the attendant yelled Sir, I dont do passport renewals, step out of line! and then when I told her I needed it expedited, she said Why didnt you tell me that? and then walked into the back room. She was gone for 10 minutes. I asked her co-worker at the next station what was going on, and she told me to please learn to be patient, and then she announced she was going on break and walked away, leaving one postal employee in a room with more than 20 customers waiting their turn.
Eventually my attendant came back and after a delay because her label printer broke and then she couldnt find her stapler--which she needed, she said, to apply one more critical staple to my headshot on the form. I wasnt watching when she used that stapler and then slid my forms into the expedite envelope. But I just got a letter in the mail yesterday from the Passport Services office that said my renewal couldnt be processed because my picture was damagedshe had put that last staple right in the middle of my head. So here we go again.
How does this apply to health care? Im sure none of you work at an organization that has fallen so low, because I doubt any other enterprise can, to be honest. If I really wanted to dissect the issues here with lack of employee and management accountability, disparate data and other technology shortcomings, I wouldnt know where to start. But here are a few things to consider in customer-facing settings:
1. Ask staff to try to find that middle ground between treating each patient/customer like a mortal enemy or a long-lost friend who needs to be brought up to speed about the last decades joint/bowel problems or change in marital status.
2. When the going gets tough and volume is heavy, remind employees that the tough dont go to the break room or go for a walk around the neighborhood to clear their head.
3. Make sure advertised prices match up to the actual prices of services, and forms from 2005 arent in the service areas, so customers who took the initiative to calculate their charges and fill out forms arent greeted by a rolling of the eyes or a big, heavy sigh when they try to get their business done.
4. Make sure managers know that, when theyre called over to mediate a customer complaint, that Sir, youre going to have to settle down or Im going to call the police is just one, not the only, possible response to the situation.
5. Remind employees, hourly if necessary, that trimming cuticles and applying make-up are grooming tasks that are best done when customers arent standing in front of them and waving their hands for attention.
6. And people, I cant stress this enough, make strategic investments in pens and pencils.
Applying these steps would create absolutely massive efficiency gains at the post office. Do you have anything to add based on your own experiences at the post office, or a hospital or group practice, or with your insurance company? Lets try to come up with solutions here.
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