Have trouble getting a doctor’s appointment? Are your business’ systems failing your customers?
One of most difficult tasks we face these days is trying to book an appointment with an NHS doctor.
In my area, the trick is to ring the surgery at about a nanosecond past 8am when the phone lines open.
Phone a nanosecond before 8am and a voice message will tell you the surgery is closed. If you phone at 8.02am all the appointments for the day will have been snapped up.
So, whether you’re walking your son to the childminder, or trying to get to your job, or happen to be at work, you only have one option – drop everything and ring at a nanosecond past eight. You’ll then be rewarded with a message saying that you are 19th in the queue. If you’re lucky, you might then be allocated a precious appointment.
In theory, there are other options open to you. For example, I have a username and password for my surgery’s online portal. It’s very handy if you want to order a repeat prescription or you fancy taking a look at your medical records.
But if you want to use it to book an appointment, then you’ll almost certainly be disappointed. Most of the time there are no slots available for the next two weeks. If you’re lucky there might be three or four appointments available during the two weeks after that. Of course, these are rarely with your preferred GP.
I don’t blame the surgery. The situation is a classic example of demand outstripping supply. There are a finite number of appointments available, and an enormous number of people who want them.
No system, no matter how efficient, is going to square that circle. Yes, it’s great that you can now access a booking system online. But until the surgery can offer more appointments, it’s only ever going to be a booking system for a service that is – if we’re going to be blunt about it – rationed.
What I do know, though, is that frustration among patients is deep and widespread. Different surgeries have different systems, but people I’ve spoken to across the country have told me that getting a GP appointment is usually a Herculean task requiring rigorous organisation and perseverance – two qualities that truly sick people often find beyond their grasp.
I can’t resolve the issue of GP provision, but I do think the problems we encounter with surgery booking systems are replicated in the commercial world.
Let’s take a few examples. How many times have you ordered something online because the listing assures you it will be delivered quickly – only to get a follow-up email telling you it’s out of stock for the next three weeks or so?
Or how many times have you used helplines, only to be passed to and from ‘advisors’ on almost every continent – because the first half dozen people you speak to aren’t qualified or knowledgeable enough to help you out?
The fact remains, if you can’t solve the underlying problem – whether it’s lack of supply, expertise or another issue – a new system won’t solve it.
Small businesses often make the same mistake. I’ve seen many invest in expensive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Product Information Management (PIM) systems, only to realise that they still have to address a different, underlying issue. Returning to our example of GP appointments, making it easy for someone to book something that you can’t fully supply is only going to exacerbate your problem.
So, next time you review your business systems, don’t simply look at whether they work as intended. Also ask yourself whether you can fulfil the extra demand they place on you.
Believe me, it’ll be better for your health and sanity in the long run!
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