Laboratories are notoriously hidden in basements, outbuildings, storefronts, and historically have been hard to find, difficult to get to, and in many cases, an afterthought in facility planning. It couldn’t be farther from the truth that “labs should be seen and not heard.” Those of us who live in the lab don’t give it much thought…until we have to get OUR blood drawn, that is!
We all know the scene where someone has a “lab complaint.” It typically centers on having their blood drawn, getting stuck multiple times, having a result not ready, or heaven forbid, having to suffer a “re-draw.” If you think about it, the service we provide that has the customer-facing moment is the specimen collection phase. Our pre-analytical capabilities are where our patients/customers/clients judge the quality and strength of our laboratories. I have often described it to students in this way; if you want to buy a house and its gate is broken, the paint is peeling, the door hinges rusted, and the yard is full of weeds, you automatically assume the house is also “broken down” on the inside. It may have upgraded electricity, brand new appliances and plumbing, and the structure is solid and weather proofed. But you decline to delve further based on the appearance. The second house you see has fresh paint, new hinges on the doors, a little grass and flowers in front, and a nice walkway to the front door with a shiny new mailbox. You are charmed…and, sadly, it has a leak in the main drain, the paint inside is lead-based, the electrical system must be rewired and the structural walls are rotting and soon the stairwell will cave in. Nothing you can really see from the outside, but not something you can judge from the street.
I find that the elements of customer service and the way we present and appeal to our patients/customers is the “face of the laboratory.” Professional presentation and treating each patient and each specimen as if it were your mother’s or your child’s specimen gives our clients the confidence and trust they need to feel good about their test results. Communicating, making eye contact, soothing and reassuring those with “difficult veins” makes any situation go more smoothly. And, since most people are unable to judge the quality of our laboratory work—they have no training or understanding of what goes on in that “black box”—remember the house example. We all tend to judge by our first impressions.
Customer Service is a universal concept, and one that is a challenge in every laboratory, everywhere. One of the most popular international training programs ASCP Global Outreach provides is for pre-analytical phase quality improvement, and it always includes a heavy dose of customer service. Not only with patient engagement, but also with other departments, physicians, hospital staff, and even in community outreach. It is universal all around the world, that customer service makes the difference in how people evaluate the laboratory profession. You may be the best clinical scientist or clinician on the planet and your lab may have won awards for superior performance; but no one will know or care about that if they have a bad pre-analytical experience! The buck really does stop EVERYWHERE!
Next time YOU have to have your blood drawn, take a close look around and notice what your patients and customers see. I guarantee you will always be surprised by something, and will leave the drawing room with at least one idea of how your lab can do it better. Next time, we’ll talk about some ideas I’ve learned about customer service in other countries. And, if you have a great example of stellar customer service practices, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m always in the market for new ideas to share.
–Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.