Customers vote with their feet when they stop using a product or a company’s services. By doing this, they send a strong message that they are unhappy. Hospital department heads sometimes vote with their feet when they refuse to use our biomedical engineering services. When they do this, they may be sending us a strong signal that we need to change. We need to spend more time listening to them and focusing on their needs.
I once worked in a hospital where the purchasing director complained that department heads made every effort to avoid using the correct purchasing processes. They avoided him because his systems were so cumbersome and detailed that it was impossible to fill out all of his required forms correctly. Even when people did manage to fill out his forms, he would try to convince them to change brands and buy something less expensive. Working with him was such a hassle, that department heads rebelled. They were busy managing their own departments and all they wanted was to be able to write purchase requests¬¬¬ and receive their items without any stress. Things reached a climax one day when the hospital CEO told the entire management team that he intended to purchase waiting room furniture, but rather than wading through the hospital’s cumbersome purchasing process, he intended to use his personal credit card and then submit the receipts to the finance department for reimbursement.
The purchasing director’s problem was that he was paying too much attention to his own internal department processes and not listening to the needs of his customers. When they avoided his department, he did not realize they were sending him a signal that he needed to change. He was unwilling to accept that busy department heads did not have the time or patience to fill out his complex forms. He also failed to understand that purchasing the lowest priced products might not be always be in the best interests of quality patient care. Instead of asking department heads how he might improve the purchasing processes, he focused only on forcing them to do things his way.
His problem was not unusual. Like many hospital support service departments, he tended to work in isolation rather than in cooperation with other departments. He was more interested in improving his department’s efficiency rather than in improving teamwork with other hospital departments. When his customers found ways to avoid him, he did not get the message that he needed to make his procedures more customer friendly. If he had viewed his role as a facilitator to help department heads obtain the products they needed he might have had more success.
If you have departments that are reluctant to use your services, it may be time for you to ask yourself if they are sending you a message. It may be time to take a long look at the way your department operates. Are your procedures customer friendly? Do your customers feel that they are valued and that you are always working in their best interests?
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