Empathy 101

by Marianne Richmond on September 28, 2005

This morning’s WSJ had an article titled "Teaching Doctor’s To Be Nicer". I’ve linked to it, but since it is a subscription site, for those who can’t get to it, the point was that medical schools are offering students classes on professionalism, empathy, and communication skills. Mostly the article focuses on examples relating to the "callous" behavior by doctors towards patients in hospitals that medical students observe. Educators note this poor modeling as:

"the negative messages medical students get in
front-line, residency training that seem to contradict everything they
had been taught about ethical behavior, compassionate care and
professionalism. Researchers say the most powerful influence on future
physicians is the behavior they observe on a day-to-day basis in the
medical-school environment. And what they often learn is how to be
cold, intimidating, authoritarian, narrow-minded and disrespectful of
subordinates and patients."

I would like to note that I cannot comment  from personal experience in hospitals…fortunately.  However, I can comment about the bad manners of doctors from personal experience in waiting rooms as my 9AM appointment is "shared" (aka triple booked) with others because our time is valued less that the doctors
….oh, I know we are told that we wait because the doctor had a medical emergency, a problem patient and so on; check their appointment book!

OK, so the point is customer service, customer relationships, customer experience. Yes, I think it applies to doctors, also. I also think most doctors don’t view their patients as customers. However, if medical schools are offering courses in "professionalism, empathy, and communication skills" someone must be thinking in this direction. When business people talk about poor customer service and poor customer experiences we might use the very sentence "cold,  intimidating, authoritarian, narrow minded and disrespectful of subordinates and customers {patients}…not patience, what customers are euphemistically thanked for instead of "thank you for putting up with our rude,  inconsiderate, and non-empathetic behavior. Lawyers, I will note are another group of professionals who would benefit from a customer service focus.

  The article goes on to mention that there is growing criticism that medical students were not adequately prepared for the changing health care environment where patients "are demanding better communications, concerned with slipshod care, medical errors and patient safety are eroding their trust in doctors". I think what we are talking about is that patients, or consumers of health care, have access to not only medical information and current research but also access to information about medical errors making them better informed, more demanding consumers. (We won’t discuss the the ever circling trial lawyers within the context of this post.)

I think what all this really means is that patients are customers and doctors are professional service providers….and that just as the bar has been raised by consumers/customers of products and services who demand positive experiences and service in exchange for their loyalty and trust, patient/customers are demanding more from their doctors. And the corollary is, if markets are conversations among people/customers then a large dose of empathy and empathetic listening will lead to better relationships for businesses and doctors.

So, now here is the real question: Are things really changing?  We read and write about customer focus, creating positive customer experiences. We are now even making doctors learn to be nice. We blog our complaints about this bad customer experience and that bad customer service…we even have conferences on Word of Mouth vs. Advertising that debate this.

But, it still seems to me that if I posted all my close encounters in just one week with the wide world of self proclaimed customer centric corporations: Sprint, Charter Communications, Geico I wouldn’t be telling a different tale than I would have before the Age of Customer Centricity was officially declared…except that now before we receive a bad customer experience we are assured by a recorded voice that tells us "for quality purposes this call is being recorded" (WHAT does that mean anyway?) and then after we receive a bad customer experience we are asked to particpate in a customer {dis} satsifaction survey. I mean, all the data is recorded but into what pneumatic tube does it go ????? Maybe if we added a little emphathy into the customer conversation we would be better customers and providers and have better relationships.

As Jennifer Rice says on "What’s Your Brand Mantra?", All companies are people companies. She goes on to say that what is needed is new people practices not new business practices…"If we’re all
really honest with ourselves, what we really need are psychologists and coaches
and relationship experts". Now where is that Empathy 101 signup?

 

 

 

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