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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tired of Squeaking

In America we have a saying, “Squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  According to UsingEnglish.com, “When people say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, they mean that the person who complains or protests the loudest attracts attention and service.

If you have worked in any service industry for any length of time, then you know this is true.  You also know it is true as a customer.   As soon as the transaction starts to go bad, the first thing out of our mouths is, “I would like to speak (squeak) to your supervisor.”

I would like to say, unequivocally, that I am tired of squeaking. We should be better than this that this is our default strategy when delivering customer service. 

The Situation
Unfortunately, I have many situations to demonstrate this, but I will highlight two.  One makes me scared and sad, and the other is simply needless.


Situation 1
My friend’s mother has been in the hospital for a few weeks.  Her condition has put her in a great deal of pain, and to help her doctor prescribed morphine.  It is a serious drug, and it is understandably seriously regulated. 


My friend waits in his mom’s room for over an hour for the morphine to be administered.  Nothing.  He goes to the nurses’ station and asks what is the delay.  The nurse replies they are waiting for the pharmacy to fax the prescription due to morphine’s high regulatory procedures.  More waiting.  Mom is still in pain.  My friend returns to the station, upset, and still no fax.  My friend(!) ends up calling the pharmacy, and the pharmacy said they faxed it.  My friend said, “I am standing right at the fax machine and there is no fax.”  Within 3 minutes the fax comes through, and the drug given to his mom.

Situation 2
Every Sunday, the newspaper’s travel section features a column with travelers who have a service recovery issue. They have squeaked through all the proper channels with the company, and out of lack of fair resolution or frustration write to the columnist to tell their story.  The columnist is consumer advocate Christopher Elliot. (Check him out at
http://www.elliott.org/. )

Nine times out of ten, Elliot will talk to the company and reach a settlement.  It is almost always overturns the decision made at the lower levels of the organization and reimburses the travelers for pretty much the entire amount in dispute.

Summing Up
Of course, it is situation one that makes me sad and scared.  What scares me is many patients do not have someone to squeak for them.   I understand staffing is short, and the regulatory practices make it difficult to keep things together, but our population is aging so this is only going to get worse.

The second situation makes me crazy.  Crazy as in it isn’t until the organization receives negative press that they simply fix the issue.  Yes, there are contracts and policies, but there is also doing what is common sense fair for the customer.  They should not have to squeak all the way through negative publicity.   When I put a negative comment on Facebook about service I received within minutes someone from the organization contacts me via email.    And I always go through the proper escalation phone or email channels before I resort to Facebook.

The Guru’s Solution
This applies to all service providers that you have to develop procedures to manage ad hoc request.  The pharmacy not faxing the sheet was probably an innocent mistake, but an individual’s health is at stake.  I am sure there must be an emotional detachment somewhat to keep sane, but I hope health professionals keep just enough of a connection to realize how important it is to follow up with every promise or procedure they make to a patient and their family.   Someday it will be them in that bed.


The second, I would be interested in conducting a cost analysis to see how much money it really takes to solve a customer issue.  For those issues that eventually the consumer feels so strong to contact a third party (legal or otherwise), my guess is several people from the company have worked on the issue, costing labor dollars and resources, so from a cost perspective it is works to benefit the company to do the smart thing sooner than later.  If it does not violate policy or a legal rule and can be done, then just do it.  

Final Thought
Pay just as much attention to those customers not squeaking.  To be a business of integrity and success, do the right thing at all times whether the customer complains loudly or not.  It should not take someone repeatedly complaining to make this occur.  Be compassionate with your customers.  They do not want to yell, but you have conditioned them to think that is the way to receive fair treatment

To quote the great Native American Chief Joseph, "I will fight (squeak) no more, forever."