Over the last two weeks, my sister-in-law has had serious health issues.  Her family rushed her to the emergency room of one of the most established hospitals in the Makati area.  This hospital has been for many years our hospital of choice due to proximity and because our doctors are affiliated with this hospital.  It was also for many years, the only game in town in Makati.

My sister-in-law’s experience became a nightmare when they admitted her to the hospital.  Instead of a healing experience, her stay was in her words a “stay in hell.” 

Due to severe pain, my sister-in-law was given an extremely potent pain killer which caused her to heave.  Her daughter helped her but quickly needed another container for her mother’s retching.  My niece pressed the help button.  The good news is the nurse responded to the call for help.  The bad news is the nurse merely looked at them and then left the room, never to return.

At one stage, my sister-in-law needed help in the bathroom.  She pushed the help button but no one responded.  She finally managed to hobble out of her room to the nurse’s station to ask for help--with the intravenous machine in tow.  What was the response of the nurses?  “Go back to your room!” No one helped her.

Then my sister-in-law was given medicine to take without water.  The nurse left without making sure she took the medicine.  In three days, she was never given a sponge bath.  My niece had to pick up flowers that were being delivered, at the hospital lobby because the nurses refused to allow the delivery man to bring up the flowers.  Yet there were other delivery men delivering to other rooms. Obviously they didn’t like my family and were wielding their “power!”

After three days, my sister-in-law insisted on being released.  The final insult was when they noticed discrepancies in the bill.  The billing section asked the nurses to explain the discrepancies and it took THREE HOURS for the nurse to come down and explain the discrepancies and this person never even dealt with my sister-in-law.  When my niece continually challenged the billing, this nurse became defensive and started to raise her voice. 

My sister-in-law was finally able to go home but after one night, it became clear that she still wasn’t well.  We again rushed her to the emergency room but this time to a new hospital, close to the Makati area.

A heavenly experience!  Even though we were all in a panic, we all felt immediately reassured and calmer in this hospital.  A pain management team was on duty. The staff was extremely courteous and caring.  When she was being admitted to a room, we were given an estimate of how much the cost of three days stay would be. A customer service representative was on our floor and gave us progress billings.

What interested me is that some of the staff at this hospital came from the hospital that was an “experience in hell.”
So why was this hospital so much better in customer service than the other?

Training.  My sister-in-law is not Filipino and needed to be spoken to in English, so communication was difficult. But hey, that’s their problem.  I can only infer that the training of the hospital in customer service was inadequate or non-existent. The other hospital clearly had good training.  Everyone was pleasant. I felt like I was in a hotel rather than a hospital.

Supervision and leadership.  In the first hospital, there were other people at the nurses’ station asking for their medicine and complaining.  Whoever was in charge, clearly wasn’t supervising and leading. The other hospital’s service was seamless, well managed.

Systems and work processes.  In the first hospital, when my sister-in-law’s drip was finished before the replacement came, the nurses blamed the pharmacy.  When the dosage was wrong, they again blamed the pharmacy.  The billing section was embarrassed at the length of time it took for the nurses to come and explain the billing but they were powerless in this situation. In the 2nd hospital, systems became a customer service enabler rather than a hindrance.

As a customer, competition is a good thing.  For businesses, competition forces you to step up to a new game. This is particularly true for dominant market leaders.  Unless you realize the game has changed, you will be gone with the wind.
Malu Dy Buncio is the Chief Business Development Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., (www.mansmith.net), the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines. She was the former country head of Avon Philippines and Avon Indonesia.  Please send your marketing, sales and strategy questions to mentors@mansmith.net.