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BW Businessworld

Analysis: Care Without Compromise

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Poor Dr Tara Chaitanya! Murphy’s law appears to be working overtime in her case. There are several dimensions to the problem:

1) The overzealousness of the salesperson
2) The lack of post-sale customer engagement
3) The gender debate — was Tara being mistreated because she was a woman?
Below these are the more serious ones that are being faced by the entire healthcare industry of which Tara is a part: 1) The inability of many hospitals to provide meaningful careers to bright doctors
2) The rush to buy the biggest, newest, most expensive machines — and the consequent pressure on utilisation, revenues and pay back
3) The paradox of wanting to do things the right way — but lacking the deep pockets and staying power
4) The entrepreneurship vs employment dilemma

The Awasthi model salesperson prides himself at being able to sell snow to Eskimos. He will promise and do anything to make the sale — ignoring customer needs. At the core of the issue is how companies traditionally manage performance. Salespersons are seen as hunters — and are lauded for deals struck, customers acquired and the size of the kill! Companies are now beginning to recognise this folly and rewarding repeat business and customer engagement disproportionately. While not adequate, it’s a start.

Similarly, service engineers should be rewarded for customer delight, equipment uptime, mean time to repair (MTTR) and mean time between failures (MTBF). To ensure that service engineers like Rasesh and Aman will not sacrifice customer satisfaction for better appraisals. In this instance, the company appears to have taken the easy path — of tracking revenues and costs. It is all about fixing the “what” of performance measurement before getting lost in the “how”.

Then, there is accounting nomenclature — land and buildings are tagged as “assets” but spends on brand equity building and customer service are labelled “costs”! This has to change if companies want to send the right message.

Companies like Nordstrom, a US-based fashion retailer, on the other hand, have done this very effectively. Nordstrom customers can return items without even producing receipts. This has, over the years, resulted in happy customers buying more! Ritz-Carlton allows employees a discretionary spend of $2,000 to redress guest complaints — and delight them. “Good service is all about surprise and delight,” says Diana Oreck, vice president for the company’s executive training facility. These simple actions reflect the attitude of the company, empower employees, model right behaviour and ensure that core values percolate to the last person.

One admires Tara’s courage for plunging into entrepreneurship to serve her patients better. Yet, will she be able to face up to the challenge of her investments not paying off for several years? Many doctors start as crusaders but are soon faced with the inevitable challenge — compromise on your ideals, or go under!

Is there a middle path — one that will help Tara build a sustainable business without compromising patient interest? I firmly believe that there is — by building long-term care partnerships with patients, families and communities.

Tara needs to resist the urge to be everything for everyone — and do just what the patient needs. She should stick to what she does best, and build strong referral networks to direct patients to when their condition warrants different equipment or expertise.

Best machines don’t always produce the best results. In fact, most experienced surgeons swear by techniques and tools they have developed comfort with. Most successful practices are those that operate within their means. They will upgrade their equipment when their practice demands it. Tara may like to think about this.

The road to being an entrepreneur can be incredibly tough and arduous — it is only when one takes the plunge does one realise the full extent of the challenge. Yet, to quote Thomas Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” Tara has to draw inspiration from within — and have faith in her own ability.  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 02-06-2014)