The unsuspected relationship between customer support and malpractice

Mathilde Collin

Mathilde Collin,

CEO & Co-founder at Front

17 April 20200 min read

If you feel like you’re not giving your best customer experience, you might be interested in how doctors are taking action to avoid being sued for malpractice.

If you feel like you’re trying your best to deliver the best support experience, but customer satisfaction is still disappointing, you might be interested in how doctors are taking action to avoid being sued for malpractice. As it turns out, the challenges they face are a lot like yours!

Some doctors just don’t get sued

Patients who feel they were neglected sometimes turn to the judges and sue their doctor for medical malpractice. In theory, it’s fair: if they weren’t provided with adequate care, and as a result suffered an avoidable injury, they are entitled to a compensation. Likewise, the doctor responsible for the mistake should be held accountable for it.

Doctors are well aware of this risk, and have been looking for ways to avoid being sued. The common techniques include: subscribing to an insurance policy; keeping up-to-date with the latest research; gaining experience with all kinds of rare situations; and probably just being overly cautious in their diagnostics. This sounds like a reasonable plan, right?

But as reasonable as it sounds, it wouldn’t be enough. A thorough analysis of medical malpractice cases suggests that* the doctors who get sued are not the ones who make mistakes*. Some highly-skilled, experienced doctors are sued quite often, whereas some who make lots of mistakes are never sued.

As it turns out, the most important factor to determine whether doctors will be sued is how they treat their patients. Doctors who clearly communicate their procedures, who take the time to answer a patient’s questions, or personally follow up after a surgery, are never sued. Alice Burkin, a medical malpractice lawyer, put it simply: “People just don’t sue doctors they like”.

She continues: “When a patient has a bad medical result, the doctor has to take the time to explain what happened, and to answer the patient’s questions — to treat him like a human being. The doctors who don’t are the ones who get sued.” In other words: responsibility doesn’t matter nearly as much as communication. The doctors who don’t want to get sued must learn to talk to their patients.

In customer support, it’s exactly the same

When something bad happens, customers don’t sue you. They “just” take their business somewhere else, and in the process, advise their entire social network to avoid your brand in the future.

Just like doctors can take steps to not be sued, you can take steps to avoid customer resentment, and the resulting loss of business. When a customer reaches out to your support team, obviously they expect a prompt resolution of their issue. But even if you can deliver such good service, the manner in which you do it matters so much more. Even if you quickly resolve their problem,if the way you communicate with your customers doesn’t come off as authentic or empathetic, the interaction will leave them with the wrong feeling.

Many companies use Front to manage customer support, so we have a pretty good idea of what “customer support done right” looks like. Here is a compilation of communication tips:

1. Do not ever ignore a support request. If a ticket falls through the cracks, it’s on you.

1.a. The faster you reply, the better — even if you just acknowledge the request.

1.b. Don’t cut corners here: do not fully automate the interaction. Customers know when they’re “talking” with a robot. Also, directing them to your FAQ, literally one second after they sent you a support request, is mildly insulting. A first reply within the first minute of a support request is not a good sign.

2. Apologize profusely. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, the fact that the customer felt the need to reach out to the support is a failure in itself.

3. Show empathy. When a brand acknowledges that a mistake was made and shows understanding for the frustration of the customer, no matter how bad the mistake, the situation is automatically defused and it’s very hard for the customer to remain angry.

4.a. Be crystal clear about the steps you’re taking to have the issue resolved, and the timeline the user can expect.

4.b. If you can offer a temporary solution until the issue is fully resolved, now is the time to shine.

5. If you cannot solve the problem (refund is impossible, not your company’s responsibility, etc.), leave no doubt about it. Bonus points if you can explain why the policy is the way it is.

6. Once the issue is resolved, do not hesitate to follow-up with the customer after a while to see if they’re happy again. That’s what humans do. Some of you might, in good faith, object that these steps are not adding value for the customer — but as it turns out, customers don’t want an efficient but disembodied interaction. They want to be treated as human beings. You owe it to them to deliver on this expectation just as much as you owe it to them to offer a good product or service.

Empathy can go a long way

That’s what happened to 2K Games a couple of years ago, when a customer turned to reddit to complain about a bad interaction with their customer service. Elizabeth Tobey, who was leading customer service there at the time, was quick to jump into the conversation and followed all the steps mentioned above. She didn’t offer much to fix the issue, but instead showed empathy and understanding, and the net result was a big win for the brand.

For better or worse, the current expectations of customers when it comes to support interactions are dramatically low. As a customer care professional, you should seize the opportunity. And when people are surprised in a good way, they feel compelled to share their story, turning your customer service efforts into a marketing campaign. Showing understanding and empathy to your customers might be enough to stand out from the crowd: a simple way to over-deliver, at no extra cost.

Written by Mathilde Collin

Originally Published: 17 April 2020

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