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A Staff Problem Can Torpedo Your Best Marketing Plan

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

complaints drive away businessPatients don't complain, they just quietly fade away.

In more ways than one, this is a sad tale...and a lesson learned much too late. In fact, 20 years too late,

Following is a true story...

Recently we were working with an ENT practice in the southeast that had employed a nurse by the name of Dolores. We'll assume that Dolores was professionally competent - perhaps hard working and good at her job.

But Dolores was noticeably crotchety - meaning "subject to crankiness or grouchiness." Over the course of many years, the doctor and other staff members learned to tune-out the negative vibes. It became a standard routine in the office to apologize to patients for Dolores' ill temper.

Now anyone can have an occasional bad day, but with Dolores, this was a constant, and crotchety was the norm. And it was that way for 20 years.

Remarkably, when Dolores finally left the practice, business went up by 30 percent in one year. Perhaps this should not have been a surprise, but that's a huge increase.

We could not identify any other significant variable to cause this change. The marketplace did not change; strategies and tactics did not change. The only difference was the Delores departure - and the practice jumped 30 percent.

We did the math. A 30 percent increase in practice revenues over 20 years was the difference between a comfortable retirement for this doctor and not being able to afford to retire. Even with the most conservative numbers, the loss over 20 years would have meant a nice vacation home at the lake.

Making improvements...

Our true story could have had a better ending if the problem in the office had been handled better. Most solutions would include:

1. Don't ignore a problem, confront it. Making excuses or apologies does not lead to a solution. Be specific as exactly what's wrong.

2. Create a plan for improvement. Specify what's expected and by when.

3. Evaluate results after a reasonable period.

In our experience, there are three typical outcomes. About one-third of the time the person will elect to move on to another job; about one-third of the time the person will correct the behavior; and about one-third of the time, the individual will have to be dismissed. Any of these outcomes would be preferable to allowing a problem to fester for decades. Clearly the loss to this practice was significant and protracted.

The finest marketing and practice development program can bring patients to your door, and a difficult staff person can seriously damage these results quickly. For the most part, patients don't complain, they just quietly fade away.

One more thing - in Spanish, "Dolores" means "sorrows." Be confident that there isn't a "Dolores Factor" undermining your best efforts.

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