If you have recently flown on an airplane, purchased an appliance or had one repaired, been a patient in the hospital or gotten a haircut, you’ve probably received an email requesting your opinions about the service. A survey. We are asked if we were satisfied, would we recommend the company to a friend? What could they have done better? Was it clean? Was is complete? Was is worth our time and money? Will we come back? Companies, large and small, want our opinion. Or do they…
We live in a society now where we expect, we demand, to be heard. We want our say. Because, as the consumer, I always know what is best for me. I mean, my opinion is pretty darn important. Amazon and Delta and Hilton are always asking me what I think. Apparently, I’m a pretty big deal! But seriously. Does my little free text comment about the stale peanuts on my last flight really mean anything at all? I doubt it. I wonder if we have let these surveys go a bit too far. Instead of improving my experience, I wonder if the surveys are eroding my trust in the people who have a long history of success in their craft, well before surveys were a thing. I can criticize the mechanic all I want about how he decided to fix my car, but the truth is, I know nothing about cars. I am at his mercy. I really don’t have the right to criticize him. I can’t do his job. But by giving me the power to rate him, evaluate him, there is the insinuation that his expertise is not enough. He should have performed it more quickly; he should have smiled when he handed me the bill; there should be better magazines in the waiting area and more fragrant hand soap in the restroom. But where is the question that simply asks: Is your car fixed? Ok, good.
When I was interviewing for surgical residency, I boldly asked a very well-respected, internationally renowned, senior surgeon if residents were involved in the development of the surgical training curriculum. I was certain he would reply, “Why yes! We collaborate with residents to gauge their wishes, gather their input and then develop a well-rounded and crowd pleasing curriculum.” Instead, he simply said, in his syrupy southern drawl, “Dear, the student doesn’t know what he needs to be taught; the teacher will decide.” Insulted and irritated at the time, I now see the very sage wisdom in his words. The consumer doesn’t always know what he needs, or what he wants, or even what’s best for him. The expert knows.
As a surgeon, I give (ok, the hospital, gives) surveys about my care. Did the doctor explain things to you in a way you could understand? Did you understand the purpose of the medications you were given? Was the bathroom clean? Was your food hot? These aren’t bad questions. And it’s likely that we have room to improve in all of these areas. However, I would offer that we could spare a lot of trees (and in-box space) if we’d just ask one question. One. Hard. Question. Did our staff (physicians, nurses, therapists, janitors…) do the right thing? That’s it. Did everyone Do The Right Thing? You might not have the outcome you hoped for, because really crappy things happen to really good people, but what we all desperately want in life is to be treated right. What if we could build trust in each other’s expertise, and be satisfied in knowing that giving and receiving The Right Thing is far better for our souls, for our relationships, than any temporary feeling about getting what we only thought we needed? Recognizing that we are getting The Right Thing removes our sense of criticism and arrogance; giving The Right Thing centers the purpose, the mission, on one profound, simple principle, not a moving target of temporary satisfaction. In the end, I believe, The Right Thing will make us all feel better.
Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.