Saturday, April 26, 2008

Toyota Culture and Complaints

Our offices sit in the cities of two major Toyota plants so I have a vested interest in following the Toyota culture. The culture can be summarized in two simple phrases; Genbutsu (go and see) and Kaizen (continuous improvement) and our offices have tried to take both to heart.

So I was surprised by a bad experience with Toyota service. A couple of years ago I bought a Tacoma (a small pick-up truck) only to have the front differential go on the fritz last winter. I couldn't get it into 4-wheel drive. When I went to the dealership for the repair they couldn't find the problem on the first visit. So I took the truck and left it for a week again -- the 4-wheel worked for a couple of weeks then gave out. At the third visit, they told me I'd have to pay for the diagnosis until they knew what the problem was because Toyota wouldn't honor the warranty until a diagnosis was made. Fair enough. I got the rental car, paid for the week until the repair was found and fixed (on warranty this time!) but still got stiffed for the rental car. Head office was less than helpful all the way through.

My final diagnosis was that Toyota had done a fantastic job on the manufacturing side but needed some work on the service end. I was happy to see an interview reported at Curious Cat Management with Hao Tien, Toyota Canada's CIO about just this subject. They now have a reporting mechanism so that problems like mine are tracked and reported straight up the manufacturing chain. In theory, a problem that is systematic is quickly seen on the manufacturing floor and fixed at the source.

How does you're office or department manage complaints and problems? If a patient or a referring practitioner makes a complaint or critical comment to the front desk what are the chances that you'll ever hear about it? This is especially true in a high volume area like the ER where complaints can come fast and furious so that a systematic problem could be overlooked.

So far our office has been lax about tracking complaints but we're working on a small database to track them and have instituted RATER questionnaires for referring offices. Ironically, there is no better public relations than picking up the phone to talk to a referring practitioner or patient about a complaint and it's a unique opportunity to get some feedback and improve service.

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