Laurie's Blog


11 May 2019

Customer Relations versus Policy


The premise of this blog hinges on when and whether to make an exception to the rule for the purpose of maintaining customer relations or whether to stick to policy and ‘teach a lesson’. So, here’s an interesting story.  It comes from a client of mine and pertains to her experience with a human physio clinic she attends for her carpal tunnel syndrome.  


This client has been seeing a physio for her carpal tunnel syndrome for over a year now.  She had been to other practitioners, and had medical interventions, injections and such, but since seeing this physio, she has actually been much better.  The client finds that some amount of regular maintenance is required to keep her pain at bay, and so she’s happy to come once or twice a month for therapy.


She’s a good client.  She’s always been on time, never misses an appointment, and likes the therapist and the clinic.  In fact, she feels like she has established a friendly rapport with the therapist, and notes that they often discuss kids, vacations, life and many things not related to her physical ailments.


However, just before her last appointment, as she was getting ready to head out the door for what she thought was a 5:30 appointment, she got a phone call telling her that she was now late for her 5:20 appointment.  She apologized that she must have inputted the time wrong, but that she was on her way and would only be about 5 – 10 minutes late.  She was told, “Sorry, you’re too late.”  She said, “But it’s a 45-minute appointment, I’m happy to have a short appointment, and pay full price.  I’m honestly only 5 minutes away.”  Nope.  They cancelled her appointment.  Furthermore, when she asked if there was anything in the next two weeks before her subsequent appointment, again, she was told, “NOPE.  Sorry, we can’t see you before then.”


When she did arrive for the subsequent appointment, the client brought up the incident with the therapist (who is also the owner of the clinic).  She was told that it was policy and to please refer to their website on the matter.


So, here’s what the clinic doesn’t know.  This client proceeds to tell me that she feels betrayed.  She feels insulted to be referred to the website by the therapist that she felt she had a professional friendship with.  She’s saddened that she couldn’t have been given a partial treatment.  She was flabbergast to be told that there was zero availability in the next two weeks in order to make up for the lost appointment.  And she feels unappreciated as a good long term client of that clinic.  What she told me, is that she will no longer refer her friends to this clinic.  She thought long and hard about whether to continue on there as a patient herself, but recognizes that the therapist has helped her more than any other practitioner in the past, so she will keep going.  Additionally, she has vowed to keep her conversations with the therapist and clinic staff to physical ailments only, and maybe the weather.  Essentially, her trust has been broken.


Now isn’t this interesting!  What would you have done in that situation?  Would you have hidden behind policy or made an exception for a one-time mistake of a long-term client? 


Not until writing this, did I realize that on exactly the same day as this client told me the aforementioned story, I had a similar dilemma posed to me.  Later that day, I answered the phone at my clinic!!!!  (This is a big deal.  I don’t answer the phone at my own clinic… but it was chaotic and I was behind the front desk, so I decided to help out.)  Fortunately, it was a client calling to say that she was going to be a little bit late for her upcoming appointment.  “How late?” I asked.  “About 10 minutes,” she said.  I told her, “That’ll be fine.  We can make that work.  Drive like the wind!”  She arrived 2 minutes late for her appointment and was so thankful that I told her to come and that she had made it to us in good time!  


What I figured is that 10 minutes is not an unrealistic time to be running behind going into the next appointment if we needed to use the entire time with her dog.  I looked at the schedule and knew that the next client was another easy going, regular client who might actually enjoy spending more time chatting with the front-end staff and having them fuss over his dog.  I knew that the client who was calling was a good long standing client.  Without even thinking about it, I decided that breaking a rule would be more important than being strict.  And as a result, I hope it was taken as a gesture of good will and a chance to strengthen our relationship with that client.  


Sure, that was me, the clinic owner.  But, we have empowered our front desk staff to do the same.  Problem solve on the go.  Make exceptions if need be (unless it becomes a habit and it’s a matter of being taken advantage of).  I’d encourage you to do the same.  Happy building your practice with a lot of happy clients this week!


Cheers!  Laurie


Tags: customer relations , policy , exceptions , client retention ,

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