Signs of trouble in your business

A recent visit to a healthcare provider provided an excellent example of how bad customer service — even before an employee opens their mouth — can undo the most carefully crafted business image.

The facility for this healthcare provider is brilliantly designed. The interior décor is tasteful, with many deliberate touches and special finishes creating a nicely balanced comfortable and professional atmosphere. The well-mounted signage is contemporary and welcoming.

The well-designed patient check-in centers upon big beautiful windows providing privacy and security without making patients feel like prisoners forced to discuss delicate personal matters through metal portholes.

Right there … on those windows … were the signs of trouble. Homemade notices printed out of the office computer and carelessly taped to those lovely windows. One stated this was the check-in for one practice (but not the neighboring one), another referenced ineligibility for a certain Medicaid program, and the third was some sort of pronouncement in legalese.

You’ll also find these signs in banks, retail stores, and restaurants (especially at take-out counters). They clearly share missives someone felt were important enough to warrant signs. “We DO NOT take rolled coin” “Everything includes onions if you DON’T WANT onions DON’T order it with everything” “Extra sauce packets 25ȼ” You probably see dozens in a typical week.

There’s a lot to dislike about them. That’s why I call them signs of trouble. In my experience, roughly 98 percent of these signs appear when a customer-facing employee gets tired of saying the same thing more than a couple times a day. Hey, I get it. You’ve been sitting at that desk for at least six hours and you’re tired and hungry. I can’t believe four people have asked you about copays today. Doesn’t everyone know the cashier handles that, not you? Dopes.

He was the third customer this month to yell because there were stupid onions on his stupid burger and he didn’t say to leave them off. Dimwits.

That woman came in with 15 rolls of coins, and SOMEONE has to unroll and count them to make sure she isn’t cheating the bank out of a nickel or two. Idiots.

Signs of trouble are a warning something’s wrong with your customer service. Usually it means some of your employees really dislike your customers, patients, visitors, whoever comes to your place of business. So instead of making those customers, patients, visitors, whoever feel comfortable and welcome, they go on the offensive, angrily scrawling a sign and posting it for all to see, heading off that stupid question they know you’re going to ask. Fools.

Wouldn’t having to ask “has your insurance information changed?” 50 times a day just knock you off your feet and send you to bed for a week? Think of the breaths you’ll save with that “You MUST TELL US if your insurance information has changed” sign you just made. And look, you used that pretty font.

Among signs of trouble there’s a tendency to SAY THINGS IN BIG LETTERS, which is a fairly passive-aggressive approach to shouting at someone. Read the signs aloud, adding emphasis where big letters are used, and you’ll see what I mean. Most carry an obviously scolding tone.

To make it worse, they usually look lousy. Some are printed by hand. Others get designed on the office computer in complete ignorance of the most basic rules of typography. Most are poorly worded and often confusing. Many contain information that’s important only to a handful of customers, patients, visitors, whoever. And finally, they’re hung with no thought given to aesthetics or even neatness.

If you own a business or run some kind of organization, pay attention to these signs, because they’re sending a clear warning something isn’t quite right. All that money you’re investing in facilities, branding, and marketing is being undone by some customer-facing employees. (If something genuinely needs to be conveyed through a sign, buy a professionally prepared sign matching your décor and corporate identity.)

And if you’re a customer, patient, visitor, whoever be wary when you see those signs of trouble, because they’ll prepare you for the way you’re about to be treated.