Customer Service In The Age Of Information Overload

Information is everywhere. But does it all effectively communicate what we want patients, customers, and clients to know, and do we put out so much information that important messages get buried or not timely updated? A colleague told me the following story, which reflects on this problem of information overload.

Real World Story:

I waited an hour and a half. And I was the only person in line. I had done everything possible to ensure that I would walk in, get my booster shot, and leave. I thought 30 minutes, tops. But I waited and waited to get my fourth COVID-19 vaccination.

Days earlier, I had scoured my healthcare provider’s patient portal website for instructions on booster shots. Where do I make an appointment, where do I go on the day of the appointment, and what do I need to bring with me? I easily find the general information about COVID-19: why get vaccinated, who should get vaccinated, reasons for masking up, social distancing, what to do if you have symptoms, a hotline number to reach a nurse with questions, etc. I finally found a link for appointments, but that link takes me to other healthcare facilities, not my healthcare provider whose site I’m on. I don’t want to go elsewhere; I want to go to my provider. I give up on the patient portal website and call my doctor’s office
directly to make an appointment. Apparently, no appointments are necessary. In fact, the office isn’t taking appointments to get the shot. Just come on down anytime between 8 am to 11 am or between 1 pm to 3 pm, Monday through Thursday.

On Thursday morning, I arrive at the medical campus, enter the main building, and let the security guard know that I’m there to get the fourth COVID-19 vaccine. She tells me to go to the Lab- not the new vaccinations clinic.

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Well, great. I’ll just show up on Thursday morning and get my shot. What could be easier? However, I thought about it for a while and found it odd that I didn’t need an appointment as I had previously needed. So, I called back a few hours later and again asked for an appointment, especially because I was not able to verify this new information anywhere online. But I am given the same info as when I first called earlier in the day. I then asked where I needed to go since I had previously received vaccinations at various locations throughout the medical campus. Glad I asked! The Urgent Care center has been moved to a different location, and in its place is a new vaccination clinic, on the first floor of the main building. It would have been great to have seen this information on the patient portal since this is huge, important news.

So, I head over to the Lab and stand in line, where there is no receptionist, but the windows are all covered with tons of COVID-19 literature, mostly the same information I had looked over on the patient portal days earlier. I finally noticed a self-check-in kiosk to the side of the registration window—I’ve never seen this apparatus before, so it must be new. Maybe add that tidbit somewhere online? At any rate, I check in and a numbered ticket automatically prints out. Piece of cake. Shortly afterward, my number is called by a tech who pokes his head out from behind a door, and I say I’m there for a COVID-19 shot. The tech looks perplexed and says, “No, you need to go to Module B.” I head over to that area, but again, no receptionist—and no self-check-in kiosk—and all the same COVID-19 information is affixed to these windows. While I’m waiting and looking around, I notice a sign standing on the floor several feet away, in front of a line for the next window over. It has a red arrow pointing to the left and the words COVID VACCINES. Hmmm, maybe center the sign between the two windows to make it easier to spot from either line? So, now, I head to Module C. By now, there’s a line of people waiting for a variety of doctor visits. I wait my turn. When I greet the receptionist, she asks if I have an appointment. I say I don’t. I had called twice and was told I did not need an appointment for my fourth COVID-19 shot. She looked at me a bit perplexed and said that she needed to check in the back. She doesn’t think anyone is there yet, so she needs to check. She comes back and says she needs to make an appointment for me for 8:30 am. I’ll need to come back to her in 30 minutes.

Okay, a bit of a hassle at this point because I intentionally came early in order to come and go quickly. I had done everything possible to access the right information to make my visit as expedient and efficient as possible. But, no problem. I sit in the waiting area for 30 minutes. When my time is up, I go to the front of the line, which draws angry looks from the people who are now standing in a long line. I let the receptionist know it was now 8:30, so she checked me in, and I then sat back down to continue waiting.

At the one hour and fifteen-minute mark, I finally get my shot. While I’m sitting for the mandatory
15-minute after-shot evaluation period, I think to myself, I’m still the only person here getting a vaccine. How much longer would I have had to wait if other people were also getting vaccinated? I shudder to think!

Strategies that Turn it Around:

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  1. Accurate. Information needs to be correct. For example, if you tell a patient he or she needs to check in for a booster shot without an appointment at the new vaccinations clinic on the first floor of the main building, then that information needs to be correct. The patient should not have to run around your medical campus looking for the right location and then have to wait for the clinic to open later than you were originally told it would.
  2. Complete. Information needs to be comprehensive. For example, if your patient portal website includes information about COVID-19, then it should include all the important details about shots and booster appointments—how and where to make an appointment or if appointments are not required, where to go, and hours of operation.
  3. Reliable. Information needs to reflect other resources. For example, whichever information you get from a website should be reflected accurately if you were to call in or if you were to talk with a staff member in person. Information should not change depending on who you are talking with or where you read it. Consistency is reliability
  4. Relevant. Information needs to be needed. For example, if the CDC were to remove the 6-foot distance rule, then information about maintaining a safe distance of 6 feet from other people would no longer be needed. Access to such information would then need to be removed from your literature and online sources. Maintaining information when it is no longer relevant will
    confuse patients—oftentimes causing anxiousness and uncertainty.
  5. Timely. Information needs to be up to date. If you are implementing automated kiosks so patients can check in without having to speak with a receptionist, then make sure this timely information is available on your site and social media platforms. Keep patients, customers, and clients up to date. With knowledge comes power, so empower your patients as part of all your customer service efforts.

Remember: Patients, customers, and clients love information! Having all the right info makes things—especially medical appointments—a whole bunch easier than not knowing what to do or what to expect. However, too much information, especially information that is not timely or information that is incomplete, can leave patients feeling a little anxious —even annoyed!

How does your organization ensure that patients, customers, and clients have all the right information
at the tips of their fingers, ensuring the delivery of exceptional customer service?

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