Up Your Business |  December - 2017

A Cure for Imperfect Memory

It’s been a while since I’ve written an article about a customer complaint, a small claims court or arbitration matter, or an example of bad customer service. The fact is that I rely on you folks contacting me with your own real-life adventures and misadventures in customer service.

Lately, the well of stories has gone dry. Maybe it’s because you’re all getting so good at keeping customers happy that you aren’t having any more customer disputes. Wouldn’t that be great?

This article is my personal story about a positive customer experience, but first I need to set the stage. Many of you know that I recently experienced a severe back injury that required surgery. My article in the September issue tells the whole “back story” (excuse the pun), but what I’m going to share with you hadn’t occurred when I wrote that article.

The Anatomy of a Customer Dispute

Can we all agree that even the most customer-centric companies have an occasional customer dispute? In over 25 years as an arbitrator and mediator, I’ve observed that most customer disputes are due to unmet expectations. I can trace nearly all of the disputes to misunderstandings about one or more of the following:

  • What work was needed
  • Why it needed to be done
  • What the outcome would be
  • Guarantee matters
  • Confusion over the estimate

About now you might be asking, “What else is there?” The truth is, not much. If you’ve read my column over the years, you know that I’ve always said, “The best defense against lawsuits is to not have them.” Make sure your customers are happy with their experience with your company because happy customers don’t sue you. And yes, even the most customer-centric companies do occasionally have irresolvable disputes.

Good communication is the key to having happy customers because they aren’t confused or caught off guard about what to expect. On the other hand, when communication is lacking, expectations are whatever the customer believes them to be. This is a recipe for a dispute. You need to be diligent and impeccable in your communication with customers.

Routine repair or maintenance services are more transactional and aren’t typically problematic. But explaining expensive, complicated repair estimates requires care. Explain these kinds of jobs as though you’re explaining them to a judge or arbitrator, because someday you might have to. Remember, without understanding, communication hasn’t occurred.

Don’t assume customers understand or will accurately remember everything you’ve told them. Many customers are upset, worried, and confused over their broken vehicles. While it’s just another day at the office for you, an expensive transmission rebuild is anything but routine for the customer.

In addition, the customer often represents only half of the family unit, and he or she will have to explain the situation to the other half later in the day. The better they understand, the better job they’ll do with their explanation.

Notice that nearly all of the dispute causes I’m describing relate to things that occur prior to performing the repairs. That means either the business failed to explain all the important details or the customer authorized the repairs while in a state of confusion; not a good situation in either case. This is why so many disputes come down to the customer’s story against the shop’s story.

Happy customers feel informed and confident, not confused and fearful. Happy customers can’t wait to tell their friends and family about your company.

I recently went through one of the most confusing and fearful events of my life, but as you’ll see, I’m confident and happy with both the process and the outcome. In fact, I can’t wait to tell you about it as well as what our industry can learn from it.

My Doctor’s Cure

There’s perhaps no industry that deals with fear and confusion more than the medical field. Of course, just like our industry, there are the routine things like checkups, or prescriptions for colds, flu and other minor ailments. But serious diseases and injuries that require complex treatment plans or surgeries need to be fully explained and understood just like our customers with their broken cars. While similar to car repairs, the medical field’s list of potential communication-related disputes includes such things as:

  • What treatment or surgery is needed
  • Why it needs to be done
  • What the possible outcomes are, both good and bad
  • Disclosure of possible risks
  • Confusion over the price or insurance coverage

Note that, like our industry, it all comes down to managing expectations through good communication.

Doctors share the same goal with respect to building lasting relationships with their patients as you do with your customers. I was fascinated with a new tool that my surgeon, Doctor David Fusco, used during my presurgery consultation to make sure I’d fully understand and remember every aspect of the surgery, including the associated risks and the likely outcome. It helped calm my anxiety and manage my expectations.

Doctor Fusco is associated with Barrow Brain and Spine, “A World Class Destination for Neurosurgery” here in Phoenix. Patients travel from all over the world to access Barrow Brain and Spine for their unparalleled expertise in brain, spine, and neurological diseases and injuries.

They’re using existing technology in a new way to communicate with patients regarding their surgical plan. They make a video recording of the entire consultation and save it for future reference by both the patient and the medical practice. Medical Memory is the company that provides the secure audio-video service that leads to a truly memorable experience.

I have to confess that, at first, I thought it was more for their benefit than mine, but, as you’ll see, it truly is mutually beneficial. As I explain how it works, I think you’ll see how the idea could also work in your world-class auto repair business to provide your customers with a memorable experience, too.

My Experience

Before we began my presurgical consultation, my doctor’s assistant explained, “When Doctor Fusco comes in, he’s going to discuss a lot of important, detailed information about your surgery. Because there’s a lot of information, we always make a video for our patients. We’ll send the video to your email so you can review anything that might get fuzzy and for answers to questions that may come up later. Is that okay with you?”

As she was saying all this, she was setting up the recording device as though nobody ever objected, and I’m sure no one ever does.

She was right: The doctor went over an avalanche of detailed information. Combined with the stress of the upcoming surgery, there’s no way I could have remembered everything. The presurgery instructions alone were daunting enough to justify the video.

By the time my wife and I got home from the appointment, I’d already received the email with a link to view the Medical Memory video. It required registering with a secure login and password. Its value became apparent to Sue and me within a couple hours, and several more times leading up to and since the surgery.

For example, when a friend called to ask us about my operation, we both had different recollections of what the doctor said he was going to do. I remembered laminectomy and fusion of L4-L5, But Sue remembered laminectomy with no fusion to L2-L3. We queued up the video and within minutes we found the answer: It was laminectomy with no fusion to L2-L3. Yes, one more time I had to say, “You’re right, sweetheart.” The point is, we easily and quickly found the answer.

It gets even better: The Medical Memory system i s a relationship builder. It’s a unique, memorable experience that showed me how much Doctor Fusco cares about his patients’ wellbeing and peace of mind. It also provided an efficient communication link between the office and me.

About a week later, I received the following email from Medical Memory. The subject line read: “A few questions to help your doctor and Medical Memory.”

Hi Thomas,

We hope you were able to easily set up your Medical Memory account and found the video of your recent medical visit at Barrow Brain and Spine helpful. If you have any questions about your video and login process, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Our patients’ opinions are incredibly valuable to us, and we’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for being a valuable member of our Medical Memory community.

Please don’t hesitate to respond to this email or give us a call with any questions.

This email contained a link to a survey. My responses were favorable, and, a few days later, I received an invitation to share my experience online. This email contains some brief videos and comments from other happy patients as prompts of things I might say in my post. Additional periodic emails have followed, providing an easy way to communicate any comments, concerns, or questions, as well as to share my experience with friends and family.

It became clear to me that the Medical Memory system becomes an automated communication channel that keeps Doctor Fusco’s name top of mind and encourages me to share my experience with others. This steady stream of communication builds a strong relationship.

In fact, a friend that had surgery with Doctor Fusco last year practically dragged me to the office when he heard about my back injury. Now that’s a strong referral!

What Could This Mean for Your Business?

As I said at the beginning, your goal should be to have happy customers who can’t wait to tell their friends and family about your company. We also know that even the most careful, customer-centric shops occasionally have customer disputes. Since most customer disputes are due to a breakdown in communication, what if you could employ a system like Medical Memory in your shop?

Just think of the possibilities: The word-of-mouth buzz about the customer’s unique experience, the ease of the customer explaining the repair estimate to a spouse, the ease of clearing up questions, and the improved customer relations and retention through automated periodic contacts. The arbitrator in me asks, “How about recalling what was actually said in the event of a dispute?”

If this sounds like something that could be useful in your shop, send me an email or call me. If enough of you are interested, since they’re based in Phoenix, about 20 minutes from my house, I’ll contact Medical Memory and explore the possibility of creating an affordable auto repair version. When you reply, feel free to offer any suggestions that you feel would make it better or more applicable to our industry.

To get your creative juices flowing, check out the short video clips on YouTube about how Medical Memory works for the medical field. Just go to YouTube.com and type The Medical Memory in the search field. One of the videos is by Doctor Randall Porter, a Barrow Brain and Spine surgeon and the founder of Medical Memory. He tells his personal story about how and why he developed the idea.

I’m excited to hear back from any of you who are open to exploring the possibility of integrating this technology into your shop.

Share Your Stories

If you’ve personally experienced a weird or unusual customer dispute and wouldn’t mind sharing it to help your industry, please contact me. You just tell me the story and I’ll do all the heavy lifting to write it.

We can make it an article about you, or you may remain anonymous. The main thing is we want to share stories that will help others avoid similar problems. Call me at 480-773-3131 or email me at coachthom@gmail.com.

About the Author

Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 30 years.

He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.

Thom is always eager to help members of our industry and continues to be proactive in pursuing ways to improve your business and your life.