What my recent Madrid taxi ride taught me about the human side of good customer service


Last week I took a trip to Spain and visited Madrid and Barcelona. For anyone who’s never visited this part of the world before, I’d highly recommend it. Beautiful sites and a very definite authentic culture. Upon our arrival to Madrid airport we caught a taxi to the city center. We were greeted by a friendly taxi driver, who did his best in his broken English to introduce us to the major sites in the city as we passed by them. A bit of the way into the taxi trip, he asked us if we’d like any candy. He opened a little hatch in front of us that was filled with assorted sweets. We took a couple and munched on them as we made our way into the city. This gesture struck me. I have been in hundreds of taxis all over the world, and never once have I been offered candy by a friendly and welcoming taxi driver. A very simple thing to do, but it stuck with me and made me think about what customer service is all about. It’s really all about human contact and human gestures.

The lessons for healthcare? At a time when we are constantly talking about improving the “patient experience” and “patient satisfaction” while obsessing over HCAHPS scores, we are at the same time always forgetting what really matters to the patient. Complicated solutions and expensive gimmicks are not the answer. It’s all about communication, sincerity and spending time with our patients (in addition to obviously good medicine and a quick cure). Unfortunately the direction our healthcare system is moving is actually away from direct patient care. A study last year in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shockingly found that medical interns now spend only 12 percent of their time in direct patient care and 40 percent with computers. It’s the administrative and particularly information technology requirements that are increasingly taking frontline doctors away from their patients. The same is true for nurses. Glance down any modern day hospital floor and you will see nurses, the very heart of direct patient care, glued to their screens—rolling their carts, typing and clicking away. We are doing our patients a great disservice by having this happen in healthcare. Customer service and happy customers everywhere are usually ones who’ve had a positive human experience. The more we emphasize this in healthcare and tip the scale back towards spending more time with our patients, the better.

But back to my Madrid taxi ride. That taxi driver did his absolute best, not being able to speak much English, to give us a positive experience of his home city. While I’m not suggesting giving sweets to our patients, I do think healthcare leaders need to keep constantly thinking about what matters to the patient. In our Madrid taxi, the candy was a unique touch and just the icing on the cake. The driver was pleasant and sincere, and I don’t think he was motivated just to get a good tip. Neither is anything wrong with certain service workers wanting a good tip; but that only comes with excellent service and going above and beyond. I remember an Italian restaurant that I dined in a couple of years ago in the North End of Boston, where the friendly host approached us before taking our order, introduced himself and shook our hands. Wait—what? A waiter shake hands with the diners?! Unheard of, but such a sincere normal thing to do that we certainly appreciated that day.

Indeed, whether it’s in a taxi, a restaurant or a hospital—it’s the human gestures that count towards giving people a good experience.



suneel_aboutSuneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having practiced medicine up and down the East coast and also internationally. Suneel is the Founder & Director of MangoWell, an organization and consulting service that helps hospitals and healthcare professionals improve the quality of hospital care, deliver a better patient experience, and optimize healthcare information technology. Contact Suneel at:  suneeldhand@mangowell.com


Also visit Suneel’s blog at:  www.HealthcareImprove.com


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