At this time of year, we’re gazing at some of the gifts we’ve received, too lazy to return them, if we’ve kept the receipt. Otherwise, we’re stuck with a gift we don’t like, feeling anything but thankfulness and gratitude. To make things worse, we’re wondering how many of our presents, bought with love and care, are being returned. Once we’re over this hurdle, Valentine’s Day looms, full of love and yet more gift giving, which we dread messing up.
There’s one thing, though, that will always be appreciated, any day of the year, and will cost you nothing. Incidentally, it also applies to medical care. It’s something I gave one of my students. It lasted less than a minute, required no effort on my part, and, years later, she still cherishes it. Can you guess what it is?
I was Aly’s professor at Wharton several years ago. I’d made a conscious effort to deliver my consumer behavior class in a way that would serve the students when they graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, hoping they’d remember the consumer behavior lessons, and put them to good use.
But when Aly, a top student, who also did very well in her career after school, but when she recently wrote me to ask for a grad school recommendation, it wasn’t the quality of the class she’d mentioned, it was something else altogether.
Here is what Aly wrote: “I doubt you remember me after all these years, but I do recall bumping into you on campus a couple years after I took your course, and you saw me and called me out by name. To say that I was flattered is an understatement.”
Not only did I teach her, as a student – I also acknowledged her – as a person. And that has made all the difference.
It shouldn’t have surprised me.
My analysis of 100 thank-you letters to medical centers shows that, even in a context where health, sometimes even life and death, are at stake, the human elements count. Not only does it count, it counts as much as what is supposedly the heart of the matter. Patients and their family members are as grateful for their doctors’ personality and demeanor as they are for the medical care.
And they have a memory for details and information about how they were treated, as people. Letters were highly specific on the ‘warm and fuzzy’ aspects of care, such as having a doctor help you calm down during mammogram. Or having a nurse always come and get you from the waiting room. On the other hand, compliments for medical care were mostly general, suggesting that patients cannot discern its elements. ‘Good/great’ care were very prevalent. Examples – less so.
It’s also highly valuable from the perspective of facility managers, or anyone who ever spent time in front of an Excel sheet, asking themselves how to increase satisfaction, and how much it was going to cost them. Astonishing that the answer to the second question can be – nothing.
The gift of attention, of care in the ‘caring’ sense of the word, not just as a service provider, is key for client satisfaction. It’s a gift one always cherishes. The kind of gift that, even if it had monetary value, you’d never wish to return.
Indeed, when Peter DeMarco’s wife died, at far too early an age, the NY Times published his (A) Letter to the Doctors and Nurses who Cared for My Wife’. He mentioned 15 of their names, because they all mattered to him, just like he, and his wife, mattered to them.
Even though they could not give his wife the gift of life and healing, they were able to give her the gift of care, which her husband lived to embrace.
So, whenever you’re unsure what to get anyone and how much to spend, be it, or how to increase customer satisfaction, remember Aly, the thank-you letters, and Peter DeMarco. Remember that the gift of care never goes un-appreciated.
But don’t forget the chocolates.
~ Albert Einstein