Service Woes of EHR Vendors

 

One of my clients had their service representative notify them that they were leaving the company on Monday.  Her last day would be that same day. Then she laughed maniacally.  OK, she didn’t do the laugh, but there were some nervous giggles.  Given the abruptness though, her supervisor was contacted, apologies were issues, and assurances made that the two specialists replacing her had more tenure than 9 months or so of the previous one (Perhaps combined?).

Let’s face it, being a service representative (or customer service, or implementation specialists, or a rose by any other name) for an EHR vendor is a thankless job.  You get roped in just after college even though you have zero experience in either healthcare or IT, tough it out until you can no longer take it, or become so educated on the software that you can make more money elsewhere, so you leave.  Calls are a consistent barrage of people upset that things don’t work they way they were told they could, software bugs, or things that are so badly designed that you’d swear are bugs. Speaking from experience, you want to help, but most of the time you can’t.

On the flip side, what is a customer to do?  By the time you get through a few iterations of software and service reps, you now know more than the current rep.  This isn’t just limited to the MEDITECH world either.  Top gun, Epic follows the same service model and faces the same complaints.  Their issue is consistency.  The great service people are loved by their clients, but you can’t guarantee everyone will be great no matter how you “mold” them.  Clients know deep down that the service representative is a good person, but their frustration is with the process.

My advice to clients in dealing with their service representatives and the vendor as a whole is always the same: Be organized about your issues and be very loud.  But what about the vendors?  Couldn’t they use a little advice too?  Please note that this is no way aimed at people. People are usually not the problem. Here it is:

  • Teach employees to diagnose issues.  This may come as a surprise, but not everyone solves problems the same way.  Develop a problem-solving process that gives step-by-step instructions on diagnosing what the customer’s issue is.
  • Transfer knowledge regularly among employees.  Develop a mechanism so employees can share information with each other easily and in an organized fashion.

Of course the best customer service is the one you never have to use…

  • Simplify your system.  Complex problems don’t actually require complex technical solutions.  Most of the time a simple, elegant solution will be best.  This may mean completely redesigning the system or certain functionality for major releases.  Patches, customization, various configurations all add complexity under the guise of flexibility.  There really aren’t that many process variations in healthcare operations.  Notice how this has nothing to do with customer service, but has so much impact on it.  Call me if you need assistance!
  • Let the customers collaborate.  Customers of products do amazing things when they have a chance to get together.  I’m not talking about your once-a-year conference either.  Let them ask questions of each other, share content and yes, even complain without having to go through you, the vendor.  Can anyone name an EHR that allows templates to be imported and exported between customers?  Build this into the system.  Apple owes much of its success to its excellent user communities and creativeness displayed in their App Store.  They thrive on their ecosystem. They not only allowed people to create content, but they gave them the means to share it as well.
  • Know how your system is used.  Keep close ties on how customers use the software.  It’s helpful knowledge.  Trust me.
  • Test your system.  After you know how your customers use the system, test it how they use it.  Then test it again….and again.  If you want to cut back on testing see the “Simplify your system” suggestion.
  • Provide as many answers as you can in writing.  Manuals, in-system help files, other customers’ help.  Most people aren’t that  lazy.  Just give them the resources to find the answers themselves.  Quick math problem: which is cheaper, a handful of document writers or a platoon of service representatives?
  • Focus on process, not people.  Companies make a big show of having customer support full of “local” people and while that certainly stokes my American pride, if you’re inefficient, you’re still inefficient.  Good outsourcing technical support companies are successful due to their processes in place.  I’m not saying the customer needs to be asked if their computer is plugged in every time they call in, but see above to “Teach employees to diagnose issues”.
  • Be transparent.  Give updates often and frequent for urgent matters.  Don’t be a black box.

Oh, and did I mention you need to simplify your system?

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