The Total Customer Experience

Being great at what you do is about more than being a competent professional or a skilled craftsman. It’s not enough to deliver a great product or service. It is about the total customer experience, from the first encounter until the last—and everything in between.

Female Doctor Smiling - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #3709313

Photo courtesy of ©

A few months ago, my eye doctor discovered that I had a “bubble” on my retina. He sent me to a renowned retinologist in our area. This new doctor confirmed that I was at risk for a retina detachment. He recommended that he “spot weld” the retina with a laser to scar the tissue so that it wouldn’t tear. It was a simple procedure and went without a hitch. No question, the doctor was very, very good.

However, last week I went back for my follow-up appointment. Based on what the doctor had told me previously, I was certain this would be a quick “in-and-out.” I assumed I’d wait 15–20 minutes—which had been typical in my experience with this doctor—and then a quick five-minute check-up.

As I expected, the nurse saw me almost immediately. She dilated my newly-repaired eye and then asked me to have a seat in a second waiting room. “The doctor will be with you in just a minute,” she assured me.

Not so much.

The waiting room was jammed. That should have been my first clue. There were only two seats left when I entered. That made me nervous, but I didn’t think too much about it. Still believing this would be a quick appointment, I had not fully charged my iPhone (which has a notoriously short battery life) nor had I thought to bring a book. That proved to be a bad decision.

An hour later, my iPhone gave up the ghost. None of the magazines looked appealing, so I watched CNN on the TV in the waiting room. The sound was turned down, so I could only watch the video and the headlines as they scrolled across the screen. I was bored stiff.

I tried to be patient, but I kept looking at my watch. I wanted to scream. One by one, they called the other patients. But I continued to sit. Finally, after nearly three hours—I am not making this up—I asked the nurse if they had forgotten me. She said, “Let me check.” She came back after about five minutes. “Mr. Hyatt, it looks like you are next.” Right.

Soon another nurse called me into an examination room where I sat for another 10 minutes. The doctor eventually came in, laughing and flirting with his nurse. He didn’t apologize. He simply said, “I’m running a little behind today. We’ve had a few emergencies.” He then took five minutes to examine me, decided everything was as he expected, and then sent me packing to the cashier.

Suffice it to say that I was not a happy camper. Unfortunately, I just written a post about being patient with poor customer service. (Note to self: don’t write any more posts on patience!)

Regardless, it was a good reminder about the need for anyone in business to focus on the total customer experience. I extracted five lessons that I want to instill in my own business:

  1. Appreciate the value of your customers’ time. Yes, the doctor was busy. But so was I. I had several things planned for that afternoon, but they were all scuttled. I seriously thought about sending the doctor an invoice for my time. Do I value my customers’ time?
  2. Don’t make your customers wait. My primary care physician does this best. He has a sign prominently displayed in his office: “If you have waited more than 10 minutes, please see the nurse.” I have never waited more than 10 minutes, and that’s one of the reasons I keep going back. How long do my customers have to wait? on the phone? in the lobby? for shipments?
  3. Keep them updated on your progress. If you must keep your customer’s waiting, then, at the very least, update them on your progress. Set their expectations. In my case, the nurse did set my expectations—but not in a good way. With her fingers crossed behind her back, she said, “The doctor will be with you in just a minute.” That was basically a lie. What am I doing to update my customers on the status of their orders?
  4. Apologize for poor service. It is amazing how forgiving customers can be if you simply acknowledge and apologize for the inconvenience or the delay you have created. If the doctor had said to me, “I am so sorry for your long wait today. I know your time is valuable, and we seriously dropped the ball here. I’m afraid we had several emergencies and were a little overwhelmed.” What would this have cost him? Nothing. But I would have left feeling totally different. How good are we at apologizing when we blow it?
  5. Give them an incentive to come back. I left vowing that I would never return to this doctor, although he said he wanted to see me in a year. It’s not going to happen. With an apology and an incentive to come back, he could have salvaged the situation. “I know this doesn’t compensate for your lost time, but I’d like to give you two free movie tickets, hoping in the future that you’ll give us another chance.” My total procedure cost $1,200. The movie tickets would have cost $20. This would have been a small investment to save a valuable relationship—and his own reputation. When we fail to deliver on our promise, what do we do to make it up?

Your product or service encompasses more than you think you are selling. It includes how you respond when you don’t deliver on your promise. These problems can become great opportunities to salvage and even improve customer relationships. But only if you act thoughtfully and with intention.

Question: How are you doing in managing the total customer experience? Does your organization see every interaction as part of that experience?
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  • Dennis

    Thanks for this post. I have had a similar experience at a dermatologist's office. I also had a much worse experience when my family was left waiting for a table at a restaurant only to receive a series of excuses that made no sense. This was a national chain and I have not been back since. Yet as mad as I was over these experiences I did not think about how my delayed responses to people who contact me via my blog are no different. You have given me something to think about.

  • Kathy Green

    This is a pet peeve of mine. My dad used to threaten to send the doctor an invoice for his time. I have a freind who makes about $200 an hour in her job (I'm in the wrong business) and her doctor is a personal friend. Once, he kept her waiting and she handed him an invoice for $400 when she finally saw him. He laughted and of course didn't pay it but I think he got the point.

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  • @MandoRon

    A good friend had a similar experience with a follow-up visit after a cancer surgery. She drove across town with 2-yr old in tow only to be told that the doctor was tied up, and probably didn't need to see her anyway.

    She got home, put the kid down for a nap, and the doctor's office called asking her to come back immediately so he could take a look.

    Not the best way to treat a young mom with cancer…

  • Tom LaForce

    To follow this through, email your post to the doc and see how he responds, if at all. I’ve done this and have found that even after telling the provider what they can do to potentially win you back, they still drop the ball.

  • kathy Howarter

    I can't for the life of me figure out why they call themselves professionals. Thanks for the post.

  • MichaelSGray

    Great post. Your ability to turn a potential gripe-fest into a learning experience is one of the reasons I respect you as a leader. Sometimes I envy the ability of others to create life-lessons from all kinds of experiences, especially when pessimism tends to be my default mode. Were you ever a pessimist, or does it come naturally to see the bright side? If so, what changed you?

  • @leonderijke

    There is one positive thing in this situation: you got 3 hours of learning experience. There will probably no training program, text book or advice from a well-paid consultant that will provide you this same experience.

    Learning 5 important lessons in 3 hours isn't bad at all! :)

    But, apart from that, of course this is poor customer service. It should get the doctor thinking: if your clients have to wait 3 hours and you say that your running a *little* behind schedule, then you'll probably work long hours…

  • @SRivera

    I hope that posts like this one will get noticed by Medical Schools & Medical Associations. They need to start teaching the the business side of their professional practice to the medical community.

  • Rick Brown

    Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George gets charged for missing an appointment, but when the doctor cancels on him, he tries to charge them and they won't budge.

  • Laurie Cutter

    Just added this to my facebook page. I only hope my next wait at the doctor's office isn't as long as yours!

  • Veronica Jones-Brown

    This post resonates. Waiting extended periods of time in a health professional's waiting room exceptionally peeves me. Luckily, I haven't had this experience in over two years. However, the next time it happens I may write a letter briefly discussing the inconvenience and include a link to this post.

  • C Graham

    I work in a physician's office and I feel the need to write to clear up a few misconceptions. I, of course, am not able to speak for your doctor, but follow along to see that there is a second side to this story. Each and every day, we have patients that are 15-30 minutes late for their appointments. We could send them away, but in many cases, they need to be seen. They are worked into the schedule, but invariably make other patients wait a bit longer than necessary. Then there are emergencies. When we valiantly try to leave openings in the schedule, they are not always filled at the last moment, and leave the doctor with down time and no income. In these days of lowered healthcare payments, every minute is important. Then, we contend with patient's who never bother to call to let us know that they are not keeping their appointments. They just don't show up, or they forget. Even spending employee time and money to call to remind them, they still don't make their appointments. And this happens 3-5 times each day. Then there is the patient who comes in for one thing and ends up with a laundry list of complaints. Should we tell them that we will only care for one problem per visit? The physician is probably in the business because he desires to heal, so in his compassion, he addresses each complaint, which throws off his schedule even further. I hope that I have given you a tiny glimpse into the other side, and just know this, no doctor ever begins his day by planning to make his patients wait. Oh and by the way, if you believe that the wait is bad today, please understand that it will increase in the near future, when the healthcare bill is passed. Then you may not be able to even get an appointment, and a wait will become a luxury. I guess it boils down to perspective.

    • Jason

      C Graham:

      You haven't described anything different from what EVERY business has to deal with. Somehow, however, most businesses manage to deal with it professionally, or at least make amends when they end up inconveniencing their customers/clients/patients. It is not a question of difficulty, it is a question of attitude.

    • Vicki Small

      I know all the contributing factors you mentioned are real. However, the professional and his staff could still alleviate the situation. Consider:

      1. When the patients check in, they should be told that the doctor is running behind and asked whether they have other appointments; they should be offered a chance to reschedule at the earliest possible time.

      2. If the doctor is running reasonably on time but encounters one of those patients with the long laundry list of complaints that require a conscientious physician's attention (I recently followed such a patient), waiting patients should be told that an "emergency" has arisen and the doctor may be a while. Follow that with #1.

      3. If patients have been waiting long (and not nearly 3 hours!) but do eventually see the doctor, an apology should be the first thing out of the doctor's mouth, when she or he walks in. And whoever takes the patient in to an examining room should also apologize.

      There is no excuse for just leaving patients to wait a long time–and then not to apologize.

  • Joe_Riley

    Tying to your previous post, how do you best complain about poor service (to the service provider) — with understanding, gratitude, patience, and grace?

  • Cassandra Frear

    Good post. We have all been in a similar situation.

    It all boils down to SEEING the other people around you. No matter how you are interacting with other people, it's still a relationship.

  • Astrid

    I have acutally been told when I customer has to wait ( I work in a retail setting) to say 'thankyou for waiting", in possibly agravated settings saying sorry opens up to a possible customer rant which wastes more time.

    Whereas say thankyou for waiting with a sincere smile, acknowledges the customer inconvience in a more positve way, you see them change expression.

  • KNicholls

    This is a great post and I appreciate it. I recently wrote about a GOOD customer service experience on my blog, which can be found here:

    Having worked in health care for a long time, I have grown to appreciate those docs who stay on track with their schedules. My time is valuable as well. Yes, emergencies do happen, but at the very least the physician should apologize. I had one doctor who, after keeping me waiting for an hour for an appointment apologized profusely and explained why he was late. When I said it was okay, his response: No, it's not. Your time is important too. I always loved that doc!

  • Eric S. Mueller

    I've had some notoriously bad experiences waiting at doctors offices. When I broke my arm, I had to go in for regular check-ups. I'd wait in the waiting room for up to an hour after my appointment time, then I'd wait in an exam room for two more hours. Then the doctor would come in, spend 15 seconds to a minute with me, and leave. Ifr anything had to be done, an intern did it. It always seems like the amount of time the doctor spends with me is inversely proportionate to the amount of time I'm in the waiting room.

    I had another office I went to for a while when I first got married. I could spend more than 3 hours in the waiting room past my scheduled appointment time, and once again, the doctor was in and out as fast as possible. I always wanted to ask him what the heck he was doing.

    I had a friend who claimed he was thrown out of a doctor's office for asking how much longer it would be. They called the police and told him not to come back. He claims he asked nicely, and he was hours past his scheduled appointment.

    I get the feeling that doctors are forced to run businesses, yet most have absolutely no business training. They can't seem to hire office managers who have business training either.

  • Vicki Small

    Michael, my reply (above) to another commenter notwithstanding, I can tell you that, under no circumstances I can imagine would I sit in a doctor's office for nearly three hours. After an hour, I would be at the desk or counter asking for a realistic estimate as to the remaining time before I would actually see the doctor. And if I had other appointments or obligations that morning or afternoon, I would make that known, nicely, in a spirit of cooperation, once I realized that the schedule was not going well.

    I do second the comment, above, that you send this post to the doctor, if you can. Or write a letter.

  • Cheryl Lemine

    Mr. Hyatt:

    It's amazing how full of lessons life is. I, for one, am thankful you take unimaginable experiences, sift them through your spiritual life filter and then share your insights – not just gripe about.

    Personally, I don't always learn from situations like this but thank you for sharing your lessons.

    I've learned one good question to ask upon check in. I find it reasonable and I ask it politely. It helps put my mind at ease, too. I simply ask, "How is the doctor running?"

    Cheryl B. Lemine

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  • Dave Spiker

    Hi Michael —

    Great blog, great lessons learned (and conveyed). With some businesses, they seem to start their day on time and the little delays (as outlined earlier) are additive — they accumulate. So with doctor's appointments and airline reservations, I try to book them for early in the day — before the little delays have accumulated. It seems to help.

    God bless,


  • wisdomcalls

    Thanks, Michael, for the post. I look forward to each post and am happy they are sent directly to my email.
    In today's blog, I love that you took an exasperating circumstance and created a learning experience for yourself and teaching experience for us. Way to go! Nice Job. Great tips.

  • Chad

    The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence is a great systemic solution that addresses performance excellence in a systematic manner. Issues like this are address in the criteria. The Baldrige criteria is a great resource for any organization looking to accelerate their organizational performance exponentially.

  • Juan

    Hi Mike, That are precisely the questions in my mind :
    How are you doing in managing the total customer experience?
    — At my company there seems to be an accountability problem from operations, material buyers, expeditors, quoting agents, and whs personnel; everyone is just there….no caring really about giving out a total customer experience level. They complaint about everything; they seem to have an excuse for everything and a reason to do a mediocre job; this is for a company that is the leader in distribution.

    Does your organization see every interaction as part of that experience? They care about their position; this is a silo-mentality decease.

  • Anonymous

    Let me get this straight. You just wrote a blog about getting cranky waiting for someone who has probably just saved two people before you from going blind in “emergencies”.

    And then because he came in being friendly with his staff after you were waiting for an hour (probably for other people worse off than you) you are thinking about charging him for YOUR time?

    Harden up, mate and grow a pair. Typical american self-important businessman rubbish.

  • Mike @ CRT

    A good view into leadership in an industry which is very much about sharing and delegating responsibility. I like your view that when all else fails you should simply apologise. So many customer facing roles simply forget that particular element.

  • Nicole Wick

    Excellent post. I totally agree with these 5 lessons. I also emphatically agree that the iPhones battery life is way, way too short.

  • Juan

    Health care services are most expensive in this country and worst customer service care. That is the reality in our medical industry, Doctors, Nurses most of them they do not care giving at least a good customer service experience.
    We need changes and they are coming, they need (medical industry/ health care) to be also measured like any other business. Internet, regulations and new technological and developments will open the competition, also other countries at some point could also compete for our business, things then will change. For example Doctors from China & India would at some point offer a great competition for our monies.

  • Tiffany Colter

    I liked this blog very much. I think we really forget there is someone else out there. When I’m working with business clients I try to remind them that customers are not dancing dollar signs. We get way too focused on the bottom line.

    Next, it comes back to professionalism in all we do. Are we as writers respecting the time of our readers? I read a majority of my books on CD [time issue] and yesterday I read a book from an author I usually love. I think she had to hit word count or something because the last 20 minutes of a 9 hr book were POINTLESS!! I actually turned off the CD…then went back thinking “no, this is a good author. There’s a reason.” NO there WASN’T. Not only that, but the primary issue of the relationship of the H/H was not resolved [it was an RS]. And this was a stand alone title.

    We need to recognize that we have to respect the time of people when we’re marketing, when we put up blog posts, when we go on blog tours [I hate copy/paste blogs that have the identical Q&A on multiple blogs.] and in our stories.

    One final comment. Where did you get that really cool drop down that asks me to share your blog. I LOVE that!!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your kind words.

      The drop down that asks you to share the link is called Active Share by Orange Soda. It is a WordPress Plugin. I liked it, too. However, several of my readers (including my wife) found it annoying, so I disabled it today. :-(