Give Your Bedside Manner a Check-Up
Originally published: 07.01.10 by
HVACR Business Staff
4 steps to building revenues, profits, and customer loyalty.
In his book Blink, the Power of
Thinking without Thinking,
Malcolm Gladwell documents a
study that was conducted to determine
the most important predictor of
whether a doctor would be sued for malpractice
. The research found that it was
the doctor’s bedside manner more than
any factor that determined whether they
would be sued. The study proved that
patients were prepared to give doctors
with a good bedside manner the benefit
of the doubt and trust them to work in
their best interest, even when evidence
suggested that the doctor was negligent
in some way. Researchers concluded that
people simply don’t like to sue people
that they like.
Like doctors, all businesses have a
bedside manner that defines the customer’s
experience of doing business with
them. Companies with a positive bedside
manner create a positive customer
experience. They are rewarded through
customer loyalty, their customers often
give them the benefit of the doubt when
they mess up, and customers will recommend
them to friends and colleagues.
Companies that create a positive experience
for their customers also tend
to perform better. A study conducted
between 2007 and 2009, found that
companies that were leaders in delivering
exceptional customer experience as
a group “...outperformed the broader
stock market, generating cumulative total
returns that were 41% better than the
S&P 500 Index and 145% better than the
... [companies that lagged
in delivering a
positive customer experience]” .
Many companies don’t manage bedside
manner, and therefore, it is inconsistent.
Leaders give employees no direction
in this area, and the customer
ends up with an inconsistent (and often
unsatisfactory) customer experience.
However, like the doctor, we can
choose our company’s bedside manner
— and the resulting experience the customer
has when working with us. There
are four steps to developing a bedside
manner that will deliver a unique and
exceptional customer experience. Let’s
examine how you can use them.
Step 1: Determine the bedside
manner you want your customers
When you think of a doctor who has
exceptional bedside manner, there are a
number of attributes that come to mind.
They are compassionate. They listen.
They ask and encourage questions. They
don’t get defensive when challenged.
They take the time to ensure that the
patient understands their condition
and the options they have for treatment.
They tend to have a pleasant manner
and treat each patient with respect. All
this is combined in a bedside manner
that creates an emotional attachment
through likability and trust.
How can you create a bedside manner
for your business that creates the
same strong, emotional attachment and
that differentiates you? Start by deciding
what attributes you would like your
customers and prospects to use to describe
your firm. What emotions do you
want your customers to feel when they
do business with you? How would you
like them to describe the “why” in the
sentence, “That’s why I do business with
It is a good idea to get input from
your customers on this step. Even if you
feel that you currently deliver a great
(and consistent) customer experience,
beware. A Bain & Company study found
that although 80% of companies believe
they deliver a superior customer
experience, only 8% of their customers
agreed. Ask your customers why they do
business with you today. Ask them what
would greatly enhance their customer
experience in doing business with you.
Once you and your team have become
clear about what that means for your
company, you are ready to move on to
Step 2: Decide what will have
to happen in each customer
interaction to consistently deliver
the bedside manner you
defined in Step 1.
Customers experience our bedside
manner through every interaction such
as visiting our Web site, dealing with our
service technicians, or speaking with
our credit department. Sometimes the
bedside manner being communicated is
inconsistent and confusing. A warm and
sympathetic service technician can be
offset by a cold and distant (and seemingly
uncaring) dispatcher, for example.
Indifference in one interaction can unravel
years of hard work in another.
You must convert the attributes you
identified in Step 1 into actions that can
be implemented by your employees.
Start by detailing the specific interactions
a customer typically has with your
firm. Some of the more obvious are between
your customers and your reception,
dispatch, and service technicians.
Some of the less obvious may include interactions
with your delivery drivers or
credit department or simply the receipt
of correspondence including newsletters
and invoices. Once you have the complete
set of interactions mapped out,
determine how each can consistently
contribute to the customer experience
you identified. What has to happen perfectly
at each touch point to deliver on
the bedside manner?
For example, let’s assume that
through the process described in Step 1,
you and your management team decided
to differentiate with a bedside manner
that creates a customer experience of
exceptional personalized customer attention.
How do you demonstrate this
through your customer interactions?
Do you use an automated attendant for
customer calls, or are calls received by a
live person? If live, what does that person
say when answering the call? How
many rings are acceptable before being
answered? Nothing is too small to consider.
Engage your team in this step and
be specific so that it becomes clear to everyone
what needs to be done. Step 3: Identify roadblocks that
might throw you off course
There are many things that can throw
you off course. Take time to analyze what
these could be and involve as many of
your team members as you can. Consider
existing processes, current business culture,
skill level of employees, communication
needs, etc. Make an extensive
list of the roadblocks, prioritize that list,
and assign accountabilities for addressing
Step 4: Implement
Implementation is the Achilles heel
of any strategy. Studies suggest that between
70% and 90% of strategies fail. A
Fortune magazine article cited that the
major reason for this failure is due to
poor or nonexistent implementation.
Here are some suggestions to keep
you on track.
1. Develop a strong sense of purpose —
ensure that everyone is clear about
the purpose of the bedside manner
strategy and what it means for the
customer and for them.
2. Break down the strategy into achievable
components and assign a
“Champion” to each to be accountable
for its implementation.
3. Have the Champions develop clear
milestones and time lines and regularly
4. Hold Champions accountable and
post the progress in a conspicuous
5. Publicly recognize those exceptional
actions by individuals that exemplify
your bedside manner.
6. Measure customer satisfaction with
questions that focus on the attributes
of your bedside manner to get feedback
on how well you are delivering
on the customer experience.
7. Review any new policies and processes
or other initiatives based on
whether it is consistent with our bedside
In today’s challenging environment,
the greatest opportunity for sustainable
competitive advantage is to create
an emotional attachment with your customers
through the experience the customer
has in doing business with you.
The secret to creating emotional attachment
is to a) define the experience that
will be valued by your customers and the
bedside manner to deliver on that experience,
b) resolve what has to happen
at each customer interaction to deliver
that customer experience consistently c)
identify any roadblocks that could throw
you off course and d) create and implement
the strategy to make your bedside
manner a reality. n
Jim Baston is president of BBA Consulting
Group Inc., a management consulting and
training firm dedicated to helping technical
service firms leverage the untapped potential
in their business-development efforts.
Contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or
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Give Your Bedside Manner a Check-Up