Sunday, October 7, 2012

This user vs customer differentiation is tough!

I am writing this entry sitting at the Tauranga Public Hospital with my father, who has been unwell for a couple of months now, first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer - which is inevitably a terminal condition - he is now a mystery. This is quite an interesting quandary to be in...while the thought that he may not have cancer, and could well be with us for a lot longer is, to say the least, pleasing - the fact that we now have absolutely no idea what his future holds is frustrating in the extreme.

But this blog is not about that! Using the public health system for the first time in years, as opposed to accessing private care through health insurance has really brought home the difference between being a customer and a user, and highlights just how the service you receive varies as a result.

© Vladislav Kochelaevs -
In the private system you are a customer, you pay, either directly from your own pocket or via your health insurance, a considerable amount to have your treatment in a private facility. Because you are paying for it, nothing is too much trouble. The accountability for the final price lies with you as the customer, you either pay or contest the price, but it is your decision. You get to decide on the value of the service, and the service providers go the extra mile to make sure that you are happy with it. You have a direct route to complain about or complement the service via requests for customer feedback through customer satisfaction surveys and, in my experience, any concerns are taken seriously and followed up. 

Now, please don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for the treatment that my father is currently receiving, which is not available in the private sector in New Zealand, but it is very obvious that your status in the public health system as a user puts you well down the pecking order in the accountability stakes. I guess in some convoluted way you are still the customer in the public health system, as it is ultimately your tax dollar that is paying for the "free" service you receive - apologies to those of you who don't benefit from a free healthcare system - but the accountability of how these dollars are spent lies a bit further up the chain...the customer is the NZ government, via the District Health Board and the Ministry of Health. 

The difference I am seeing is the value that is placed on you and your opinions as a user as opposed to how this feedback is actioned when you are a customer. Your own perception of the service you are receiving also changes when you are not footing the bill directly. As a user you expect to have to wait, you are less likely to complain and you tend to just be grateful that you are receiving any service. 

© koya79 -
Do we do the same thing to our users? Do we value IT consumers less if they are not the ones paying the bill? Do we expect them just to be happy that they are receiving a service at all? I have a sinking feeling that, in many instances, this is what happens.

It is a balancing act, whatever service you are providing, giving the end users everything they want will not make the customers happy because the financial cost is likely to be well above budget. But, on the other hand, if you only provide the bare essentials of service to your users, the customer will still not be happy as they are likely to have dissatisfied staff or consumers on their case.

We have to try to balance the needs and wants of both our customers and users to ensure that we provide the best quality of service we can to our end users while still meeting the accountability standards set by our customers...not an easy ask!

Well, writing this has killed off a little time, while we keep waiting to see the specialist we are waiting for - 6 hours and counting...

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