Customer Service: Mexican Resort, Doctor’s Office, or Hospital—It’s All the Same

Just back from the nearly-didn’t-happen Cancun vacation (thanks so much for everyone’s well wishes and sympathies re: the passport saga). The resort was lovely and the vacation fabulous. And yet, we won’t return to that property. Why? A couple of customer service snafus that never should have happened.

This is an all-inclusive resort (read: all food, alcohol, tips and activities are included in the price). The resort has five dinner restaurants plus a large buffet and touts its “reservation-free” policy. So imagine my surprise when it announced that if you wanted to ensure seating at one of the restaurants or the “special” buffets for New Year’s Eve, you had to make a reservation, rather than the first-come-first-served policy that had been in place all week.

This wouldn’t have been a problem except that, in order to make a reservation, you had to purchase one bottle of wine for every two people from the “premier” wine list (think $75 and up). Can you say, “bait-and-switch?” Needless to say, hundreds of guests, including my family and me, were furious.

Other snafus? Tip jars in plain sight, employees soliciting tips, and horrendous, yes, bad-enough-to-make-me-walk-out, service in one of the restaurants. It wasn’t a one-time thing; several guests I spoke with had similar experiences in this restaurant throughout the week.

These missteps erased negated much of the positive side of this resort and we won’t return.

What this resort doesn’t understand is that it not only lost my family as future customers, but hundreds of other potential customers who will hear my story or read about my experience on Trip Advisor, including my travel agent and my travel-agent mother (guess who won’t be sending clients to this particular resort again?). After all, there are dozens of four- and five-star all-inclusive resorts in Cancun; why return to one that doesn’t value its customers?

I tell you this because the shortsighted manner in which the resort behaved—putting immediate profit over long-term brand loyalty—holds a valuable lesson for healthcare professionals and organizations.

That’s because hospitals (and, eventually, other healthcare entities) now have part of their Medicare reimbursement tied to patient satisfaction scores based on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. And where Medicare goes, commercial insurers are sure to follow.

While making sure the patient doesn’t die during or after surgery is certainly important, studies find that it’s the little things that matter most to patients. Was the staff polite, respectful and discreet? Was the food good? Could families visit whenever they wanted? Were the doctors accessible and approachable? Did the nurse explain what was in the IV bag she hooked up? How many channels did the TV get? How long did it take to get a call bell answered?

When I was in the hospital last summer I received excellent care, but the hospital got poor scores on the survey it sent me for things like unhealthy food, people walking into my room at all times of day and night without knocking, and a schedule designed for the convenience of the staff, not the patients.

Hospitals are stepping up to the plate. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on Atlanta-based Grady Memorial Hospital’s efforts in this area, which includes training doctors to stop interrupting patients while they are speaking; giving nurses mobile phones to patients can reach them right away instead of repeatedly pressing a call button; and adding wild salmon to the menu.

The reality is that we’re moving from a system in which our doctors and insurance companies decided who we’d see and where we’d be treated, into the age of patient choice. In the next few years, we will choose facilities and clinicians based on quality indicators, price and, yes, customer service in much the same way we choose a resort based on its Trip Advisor star ratings and customer reviews.

I did this last year when I fired my doctor (read the blog here) because he provided such poor customer service. Since posting the story of my own hospital stay and, more recently, pre-colonoscopy office visit, I’ve heard from several people with similar stories. For instance, one woman never even met the gastroenterologist performing her colonoscopy until she was wheeled into the procedure room. Another described how the recovery nurse got her mixed up with another patient. The nurse gave this woman another patient’s results and clothing, and pointed out the wrong husband.

Is this your hospital? Your medical practice? Your skilled nursing facility? If you don’t know, you better get busy and find out. It’s pretty simple, really. You ask two questions of yourself and your customers: “Are we exceeding our patients’ expectations and, if not, why not?”

Then you need to do the hard work and fix the problem. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself like I expect this resort will one day soon—with lots of empty rooms.



4 Responses to “Customer Service: Mexican Resort, Doctor’s Office, or Hospital—It’s All the Same”

  1. UKVin

    Excellent points Debra! These hold true not only for resorts or hospitals but any service provider entity. But in order to provide complete customer satisfaction, as you rightly put in, there should be serious intent, an ardent desire to cultivate patrons. And then proper procedures should be put in place and the entire staff should be motivated and trained. Moreover, this training should be an ongoing process.

  2. Alisa

    In all honesty, when it comes to healthcare customer service, it’s less a matter of exceeding expectations as it is just meeting expectations. I expect to be listened to. I expect to be taken seriously when I speak to my doctor. I expect not to be spoken to like an imbecile. I don’t ask for much, but it’s still rare to find a facility or provider that meets these basic expectations.

  3. Joan Flynn

    What is the name of the resort?

  4. Cindy

    Had the same colonoscopy experience as your friend,…didn’t meet the doc until I was already in the room, given premedication, etc….oh…and for the doc’s communication skills….English was a second language. I am ready for better customer service in health care!


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