By Joye Daugherty

Many years ago, someone I knew was at the Nordstrom’s in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, looking for a new pair of shoes. When he finally zeroed in on the shoes he liked, the sales person retreated to the back room to locate the right size. The sales person emerged, but didn’t have the right size. They tried on a pair that was a half-size smaller. It was too small. They tried on a pair that was a half-size bigger and it was too big.

“Let me ask you something,” said the sales person. “Are you going to be in the mall for a while?”

My friend said that he and his wife had some more shopping to do and they were going to have lunch as well. “Great,” said the sales person. “Come back in about an hour and I’ll have the right size.”

An hour or so later, my friend returned to Nordstrom’s and, just as he’d promised, the sales person had the shoes in the correct size. They were a perfect fit.

As my friend handed over his credit card to pay, he asked the sales person how he’d managed to get the right-sized shoes so quickly. “I called other Nordstrom’s stores in the area,” said the sales person. “I found your size at our store in Springfield and I drove there and back to get them while you were having lunch.”

Think about the companies that are renowned for customer service. Nordstrom rises to the top, but brands like Disney, Ritz-Carlton, and Starbuck’s probably come to mind as well. They are the companies that invest in hiring the right people and which operate with an uncompromising philosophy of putting their customers’ needs on a pedestal.

Now, make the pivot to healthcare, where we substitute the word “patient” for “customer,” but where the concept of customer service nonetheless takes on outsized significance. Hospitals and doctors’ offices have become more acutely aware that their performance is no longer judged purely on an outcome basis. Patients expect to be treated with the care they expect in other walks of life. Would patients compromise the quality of their healthcare for friendly service? Well, of course not. But what patients have recognized is that it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You can have quality care and quality service. It’s why you see a conscious effort in emergency rooms and waiting rooms to bring a more personalized, compassionate approach to every touchpoint with patients.

By the time patients land in the laps of a medical billing agency like ours, the dialogue shifts abruptly to a dollars-and-sense context. For the purposes of efficiency, it becomes tempting to migrate to a “just the facts” attitude. It’s simply easier to deal in numbers and cold hard facts, this when things like diagnostic coding, deductibles, and the exacting requirements of insurance companies have sterilized and de-humanized what remains of the customer/patient experience.

Does it take more time for a medical billing agency to provide the highest caliber service? Certainly, it does. It takes more time to listen to patients, to provide them with counsel and guidance, and generally to provide a degree of compassion. But can you think of moments in people’s lives when they need help and compassion more than when they pick up the phone or send an email related to a discrepancy on a medical bill? I can’t.

Certainly a medical billing agency can take a few extra minutes with patients to ensure they have done all that is possible to answer questions and to solve problems. It’s at least as important as the a sales person at Nordstrom’s making sure his customer’s shoes are the correct size.