A couple of weeks back I had written about my experiences at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. Following the publication of that post, I received a call from the hospital. I must say I was very surprised. The caller was a lady who said she looked after service quality and was calling to learn more about my experiences at the hospital. While apologising for what we had to go through the hospital, she wanted more details and appeared keen to fix the problem. Subsequently I also received a call from my former colleague Usha Bannerjee, who presently heads nursing at the hospital. She too admitted that they have been having ‘service’ issues and they are trying their best to rectify these.
I would like to believe that Apollo’s problems are those typical of enterprises, who have more customers that they can possibly handle. To compound matters, they are stuck with poorly trained people and processes, which make matters infinitely worse. That they are committed to better services is great. However, the problems will not go away in a hurry.
The problem of plenty in a hospital is just as bad as the problem of having very few patients. Apollo Hospitals attracts patients from across the country and pretty much from the whole world. ( I literally live in the hospital’s shadow and keep running into enrobed Arabs, staying in rented digs in Sarita Vihar, where many an enterprising landlords have converted their flats into makeshift guest houses). The sheer numbers mean that the hospital staff is unable to give enough time and attention to each patient and there is always a rush at hospital counters. Thus, the service folks at the hospital are not interested in looking after individual patients, all that they do is ensure that the patient is lobbed in another direction, away from the counter they man. This is all too common in service establishments where there are a surfeit of customers (bus and railway stations, government hospitals, etc.)
Apollo gets away with this because it is a healthcare establishment, which has some of the best known doctors working for it. The patients flock to the doctors looking for succor and inevitably get sucked into the Apollo system. The other thing that works in Apollo’s favour is the simple fact that most Indians still consider doctors and medical establishments as demi Gods and rarely challenge small service failures, lest they offend their doctors who they believe hold the power of life and death over them. I am sure if Apollo was a hotel, its customers would be a lot more demanding and a lot less forgiving of its follies.
How can Apollo improve its services. Here are a few suggestions.
The management team at Apollo Hospitals should be clear in its customer experience goals. They must set the agenda for service excellence and establish clear and measurable goals. They must also demonstrate their willingness to bring about serious change and the ability to stay the course.
Apollo needs a complete makeover in terms of service processes and their flow. While the hospital has embraced the JCI processes, they seem to be more from the perspective of getting a certificate rather than genuinely improving customer experiences. Each process needs to be carefully studied and calibrated in terms of the delivery of the right customer experience.
The hospital needs to look at its people dispassionately and put them in a matrix based on their ‘service’ orientation. Any other consideration such as the number of years they have spent working in the hospital should not matter (there is no such thing as loyalty). Only those who demonstrate adequate customer orientation, empathy for patients and the willingness to go the extra mile to ensure patient satisfaction must be retained. Others, who have the potential and need training should be taken through a structured training program focussed on delivering the right customer experience. This process would lead to the elimination of a lot of employees, particularly those who have been with the hospital for long. This should be viewed as an opportunity to induct fresh talent, young and bright people more in tune with the needs of the present-day customers.
The change towards a better customer focus, will also entail a new cultural orientation. The hospital should aim to embrace a more open, customer friendly culture, which rewards team members going out of their way in delivering great customer experiences. The new culture should be transparent, encourage team play and the senior management should lead by example.
I know these prescriptions are easy to suggest. However, the real challenge lies in implementing these and managing the transition. Great customer service must be driven with great force and alignment of every individual including medical folks is a must.
For Apollo Hospitals, I reckon it is really high time they began.