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My Right Foot

A few years ago, I smashed my foot on a piece of furniture – nothing heroic, just an accident. The result was a crack in my in my ankle bone, which filled with fluid and developed into a cyst an inch wide – and growing. The only solution was to operate, so I went under the knife…twice, in fact…in the last two months.

I thought the biggest challenge would be the surgery itself – but, as anybody who has had surgery can attest, it is the recovery that is the problem.

I was completely shocked by the lack of follow-up care during this stage. The doctors were very attentive before the surgery – making appointments, ordering tests, discussing options – but as soon as the surgery was over, I was on my own. I held onto the comfort of a single follow-up appointment, ten days later, and tried to manage as best I could.

But I needed to know how much pain was normal, and if I should worry that my toes occasionally turning blue. I needed help managing heavy-duty painkillers – I was clear on the dosage, but unclear on what my individual response to long-term use might be, and totally unprepared for the serious side effects.

It made me wonder how many people end up being readmitted to the hospital during the post-op recovery phase because they don’t know what to expect, and so misread their symptoms, or have an atypical response to painkillers (as I did). How many suffer, when access to information – such as regular follow-up calls from a nurse or doctor – could provide a dependable map to recovery, and give them the encouragement they need to get there?

Then I thought, Do I do that to my customers?

Sometimes we spend so much time chasing new customers that when we finally get one, it’s easy to move on to looking for the next. If customers are our lifeblood, we need to keep them healthy. We must treat them well, give them the experience they came looking for, and then go above and beyond that so they return and bring a friend.

At the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on what makes a business healthy, and the answer is:  happy customers.

Review your customer service policy, especially your follow-up plan. What happens after customers do business with you? Do you check in with them, maybe with a newsletter? Do you stay connected with social media? Can your follow-up care be improved?

Review your customer database. Note which customers have left during the last year, and ask yourself why. How about calling a few of your ex-customers, and asking them why? That’s a hard pill to swallow. They might actually tell you.

That information is gold.

Have a representative – not an employee – conduct a survey; customer responses will be more honest and your feelings won’t be as hurt. You’ll get the results as actionable data. Make sure your old customers know that they don’t have to participate, but you’d like to know why they left – not to bring them back, but to improve business for new customers.

Having surgery on my ankle has been hard…but it’s awakened me to the importance of follow-up care. Here’s to a new year dedicated to improving business the old-fashioned way:  Putting the customer first.

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