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Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Sorry pumpkin" - The LabCorp Saga Continues

The Ugliest Pumpkin originally uploaded by Yemenia.
If you remember from Hall of Shame Inductee: LabCorp, I had a not-so-good customer experience with my daughter right before the New Year.

Bruce Friedman at LabSoftNews picked up the story in Customer Criticises LabCorp for Bad Blood Drawing Experience.

Jan. 15th I received an email from Pamela Sherry, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications at LabCorp, saying "I saw the blog and the concerns it noted, and would very much like to check into the service at the LabCorp site you mentioned in the blog. Is it possible to forward to me the address of the site?"

I responded back with general information about the location [I was traveling], and heard nothing further.

Well, I guess someone checked into the service at that site because the next thing I know I receive the following anonymous comment:

"Sorry pumpkin, actually not supose to say first and last names. Hippa Violation! It's a cinch you don't know anything about what goes on behind those walls and you have total and complete tunnel vision, I would like to say I am sorry about your experience but since you make to attempt to understand what other people may be going through, I see no reason to give you any sympathy at all. By the way did I say whinner?"

Although taken aback at first, I'm grateful that this LabCorp employee took the time to comment. It gives me the opportunity to address his/her points and also touch on the bigger picture that LabCorp, in following up, either didn't get or didn't communicate effectively [to 'Sorry pumpkin'].

By the way, this LabCorp facility reminds me of how the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles used to operate: people would come in, take a number, and sit for 2 or 3 or 4 hours until their number was called [remember BeetleJuice?]. DMV employees were NOT nice about that either. There was a machinery at work that had nothing to do with the human beings it serviced. Now, I walk out of my local Motor Vehicles Office 7 minutes after walking in; everyone treats me professionally and respectfully and I have even been offered to have my picture retaken 3 times. How's that for service?

Getting back to my note from 'Sorry pumpkin' - my one reply from LabCorp. It indicates to me that LabCorp assumed they had an easy situation to fix: be nicer or do better. Most certainly not! It's an infrastructure problem, not a "tell your employees to be nicer to the customer" problem. Which clearly upset 'Sorry pumpkin'... when s/he was told that.

Let's start with waiting time. I experienced a 2 hour wait. The woman next to me, a regular, stated that 2 hours is the norm whenever she comes. A 2 hour wait is simply NOT acceptable, especially when a good number of the tests involve a patient producing their own specimen. I accept that it takes longer when the phlebotomist [thanks, Bruce!] must draw blood, but we're still talking minutes not hours.

So, what is the root cause of a standard 2 hour wait time? That's what LabCorp needs to get to the bottom of. Are more people needed? Do triage systems need to be implemented? Then make it so. But, 2 hours are neither acceptable nor happy solutions. ['Sorry pumpkin' and LabCorp may believe LabCorp has to fill the waiting room 'hopper' with a 2 to 3 hour supply of people just to be efficient. The NJ Department of Motor Vehicles proves you don't!]

'Sorry pumpkin' brings up accepted LabCorp procedure for addressing people. If it is a "hippa violation" to use both first and last names, then use an honorific. "Mr." or "Ms." and a last name work quite well. In fact, that conveys a great deal more respect than belting out a first name - that people didn't recognize as theirs - from the inner sanctum of an office area. First names are appropriate in a more intimate setting [i.e., 1:1 or at most with 3-4 people present] when there is opportunity to develop a relationship.

Which brings up the layout of the office. If LabCorp can't hire enough people to dedicate someone to the waiting room window to process people, then it should create another system so employees aren't forced to belt out names from an unseen area to keep the system moving. Do work spaces need to be rearranged?

No, I don't know what goes on behind the LabCorp walls, and I don't really want to know. I'm sure that a lot of dedication and hard work and professionalism are taking place, but I'm also sure from 'Sorry pumpkin's' note that a broken system is at work: the folks behind those walls have it way worse than the customers in the waiting room. 'Sorry pumpkin' is not a happy employee.

If LabCorp looks through the eyes of its consumer, it cannot in complete honesty consider this experience impressive or worth holding up to the world as the end all and be all for obtaining urine and blood tests - something that I used to be able to do in my doctor's office, with familiar people, in the time that I normally spend with the doctor for a routine physical [i.e., within 40 minutes and lots of other things happening at the same time]. I particularly sympathize with all of those other folks - many of them sick and elderly - who must wait 2 [or more!] hours of their lives for every test they have to take in a LabCorp facility. Is that acceptable? I say not.

So what to tell LabCorp? More important than anything else, build an infrastructure that allows employees to service customers in a reasonable and humane way and don't ask them to put a polite and caring face on the failure to do so. Maybe that does mean more employees, maybe it will be less efficient. OR, maybe not. But the process has to be designed to put that customer experience first, not last. Only then can the other, also important issues in employee/customer interaction be addressed. If this is not done, people will begin to resist going to a LabCorp facility. Certainly, I will. And, any competitor who offers a better [and SHORTER] experience will eat LabCorp's lunch.

If done correctly, that infrastructure will foster employee loyalty. It can be done. Consider these perspectives from John Moore at Brand Autopsy relating to employee loyalty.

+ In Reichheld on Employee Loyalty, John extracts this quote from his book TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE (Kaplan, 2006):

"There is no better spokesperson for a company, product, and brand than someone who is happy with his job and respected by his employer and peers. A happy employee will, in turn, make customers happy."
+ From TRUE BELIEVERS article abstract referring to an article titled "TRUE BELIEVERS: Passionate Customers can Transform your Company" by Amy Barrett from the Winter 2006 edition of Business Week’s SMALL BIZ supplemental magazine. Here is the quote I found relevant:

"You can't create [customer] loyalty if your employees aren't putting your customers' needs front and center. Think long and hard about how you want customers to be treated, and then set firm rules about who you'll hire to work with them. Continuous training of employees is crucial to keeping them focused on customers."

Let's be clear on who is to blame [as long as we're assigning blame]. However comical 'Sorry pumpkin''s response, s/he IS NOT TO BLAME. 'Sorry pumpkin' is in an impossible situation - provided with inadequate tools to accomplish the task at hand. So, again, Shame on LabCorp for creating an evironment so bad that 'Sorry pumpkin' has nowhere else to turn than to his/her customers to express frustration. LabCorp executives should go be their own customer! Be referred for a legitimate reason by a physician and go experience the process. Maybe then will LabCorp get the big picture!

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