Reality vs. TV

Nov. 25, 2009
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, says solid customer service is the right way to promote the profession.

Last summer, Bruce Price, past president of the Portland, Wash., chapter of the Association for Facilities Engineering, invited me to keynote the Washington State Society for Healthcare Engineers conference in Yakima. Several years ago, Bruce left the manufacturing world to become the facilities engineer for a hospital in Walla Walla. He learned that the healthcare profession also is fighting the maintenance crisis and thought that I could offer some ideas to help them deal with this critical issue.


The hospital world hits close to home. My father, a doctor, often dropped me off in the hospital waiting room while he responded to emergencies or made his rounds. That’s where a six-year-old child learned that what was depicted on TV didn’t necessarily reflect real life.

For example, on the “Flintstones,” whenever a man cried, the laugh track fired up. If Fred dropped a bowling ball on his foot and cried, everyone laughed. I will never forget the first time I saw a real man cry in the waiting room of the hospital. I did what I thought you were supposed to do, I laughed. Soon after, my father appeared in his surgical gown, pulled me by my ear over to the vending machines, and asked me why I was embarrassing him and laughing at the crying man. I said, “Daddy, I learned from TV, when a man cries, you’re supposed to laugh.” He said, “Son, that man’s 15-year-old daughter fell off a ladder and will never be able to walk again. How is that funny?”

I shared my teachable moment with the attendees to highlight that TV doesn’t depict reality. Then I asked them what body part a plumber is known for. Everyone responded, “posterior cleavage” or the non-PC term, “plumbers’ crack.” I asked whether that image helps or hurts recruitment of future generations to pursue this career.

Despite the economy, 12 of the attendees had open technician positions that pay more than $20 per hour. More than 80% of the audience was in their 50s and several were beyond retirement age. They also complained that the pipeline for qualified replacements for their management positions is very small or doesn’t exist.

To change the image of our profession, we must all do our part by upgrading our customer service levels. Below are the points of my presentation:

  • Be reliable and provide reliable care
  • Do what you said you were going to do when you said you’d do it
  • Do it right the first time, on time
  • Be credible when you give the customer assurance the job will be done right
  • Be attractive because sloppiness affects quality perception
  • Be responsive when machines are down: the company is losing money
  • Be empathetic: put yourself in the customer’s shoes
  • Never ignore a customer’s opinion: listen to what they tell you, don’t tell you and can’t express
  • Provide answers to customer questions before they ask
  • Make customers feel good about being your customer
  • Each day, ask yourself, “Are you’re ready to meet customer needs?”
  • Get your staff more training to handle more problems
  • Don’t just give excellent customer service — subtly make them aware of your great service
  • Ask customers about their unmet wants
  • Treat customers as life-long partners
  • If you don’t already have a service strategy, set service quality goals and rewards
  • Select and train your front-line service staff carefully
  • Get out of the office and find out what’s really happening
  • Be patient but never be satisfied
  • Become responsive to customer needs and those internal customers will become more responsive to yours
  • Show more respect and you’ll get more respect
  • When complimented, simply say, “Thanks, and we could do even better for you if we had a (fill in the blank).”
  • Provide responsive service and your requests for resources will be taken seriously

After I finished my message, an engineer shared his story. To help elevate patient care at his hospital, they have a rapid-response team that goes in after a patient leaves to repair scratches, disinfect the bathroom and shower, touch up paint jobs, replace cracked laminate, repair leaky faucets — anything to help leave a pristine room for the next patient. At first, nurses resisted releasing the room. After piloting this project and seeing satisfied patient responses, they now support the move.

Perhaps we in manufacturing could learn from this and implement rapid-response teams to perform PMs, like racing pit crews, to elevate our customer service image. And if proactive, customer service-sensitive engineering and maintenance teams became the standard, we’ll minimize the disastrous effects of the maintenance crisis and relieve future crying moments that will certainly not be funny.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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