There isn’t anything that will strain customer relations more than an intermittent problem. Customers often feel like they are getting the run around or that the technician doesn’t have the necessary skills to solve their problem. However, by practicing some simple strategies you can minimize the fallout from intermittent problems and sometimes even build a stronger relationship with the customer.
You receive a stat call; the customer has a piece of equipment that is malfunctioning. You drop what you’re doing and head for the department. The equipment has been pulled from service and is waiting for you to do your magic. You try to recreate the problem and the device works perfectly. You then follow up with a complete functional check and the unit still performs flawlessly. You then try to find the user that had the problem so they can recreate it for you. This is the point were relationships are either built or torn down.
The interchange that follows can mean all the difference in keeping the relationship in good standing. You should phrase your next question very carefully. It is best to try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes when formulating what you are going to ask them. My point is this, if your mindset is “These people are idiots and don’t even know how to use their own equipment” it will show. Your non-verbal cues will give you away, and this will strain the relationship. The ideal situation is to build the relationship and be perceived as a reliable problem solver. The latter approach is counter-productive to that mission. The proper mindset would be one that recognizes that the customer obviously had some kind of problem. Either the equipment malfunctioned during use or there is an education problem, each is a problem that needs to be resolved in a way that illustrates empathy and caring.
Too often it is the less than desirable mindset that is assumed when solving the problem. Telling the customer “I can’t make it malfunction. Are you sure you know how to use it?” is all too common in this industry. There are many reasons that contribute to this mindset. Each problem should be viewed in a new light every time, without regard to any past experience or your own premises of the customer. A better way to ask is “I am having a hard time recreating the problem, can you please show me what you was doing when the error occurred?” By taking the responsibility for not being able to reproduce the problem you are less likely to put the customer on the defensive. The goal is to move in the right direction to solve the problem in a positive way.
Hopefully, once the customer recreates the situation that produced the problem, it will reoccur and you can fix it. If you observe the customer operating the equipment incorrectly, you must suggest the solution with tact and care. Inferring they are stupid for not knowing how to use the equipment will not foster a good working relationship. People do not like to feel stupid (even if they know they goofed). Offer to show them the way to get the equipment to operate in the manner they were expecting. You show them, you have them do it and you thank them for their time and enjoy the feeling that comes from solving another problem.
However, if neither you nor the customer can recreate the problem, then it is time for a different course of action. Again, base your assumptions knowing that the customer did experience a problem. Because medical equipment malfunctions can effect patients in one way or another, due diligence is necessary. Explain to the customer that because you could not duplicate the problem, you are going to take the equipment and check it out in extensively. I recommend that you check the equipment’s failure history for any like problems, perform a preventative maintenance check and perform a visual check of internal boards and components for evidence of overheating. If the device does have a history of problems that have not been solved, call the OEM for some advice.
The hope is that one of these steps will net you a solution. If it doesn’t, tell the customer everything you have done. Ask him/her if they are comfortable putting the device back into service.
Alternatively, you may want to explore external factors like the line voltage at the outlet or cellphone usage. Some intermittent problems are never solved, but your customer will feel confident that you have done everything you can to solve their problem – because you have.
Jim Fedele, CBET, is the director of clinical engineering for Susquehanna Health Systems in Williamsport, Pa. He can be reached for questions and/or comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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