Go To Our Website

Go To Our Website


Leonard Zwelling

These have become the four worst words in the English language.

You make a telephone call hoping for service from a real human being, preferably one not sitting in a call center in Mumbai. Instead, you have to go through a series of menus, pressing various keys on your cell phone and finally being placed on a one-hour hold, BUT, “if you would prefer not to wait, you can get excellent service and answers to all of your questions by going to our website” says the recorded message. Personally, I have had enough of this nonsense.

The first reason I am fed up is that most of the time, I already have been to the web site, and Google and You Tube to try to get help and none of these has answered my question. Second, what ever happened to real service? Gone with newspapers, filling station attendants, and paper airline tickets.

I know, I know I am old. I get it, but what about getting help within your own organization? I have been troubled that as organizations, especially in health care, get larger and larger they have grown more impersonal and less apt to service the needs of the very people who pay the salaries of the employees who send you to websites.

Is there a remedy for this dilemma?

Perhaps, not.

It is not only the availability of this advanced computer technology that has led companies to replace real service people with phone menus, robots and websites. Phone menus, robots and websites save the company money in salaries and benefits for the people who actually could help you when they answer the phone.

Are there exceptions?

Yes, there are.

One that I count on is American Express. I have never failed to get through to a real English-speaking person who almost always greets me by name (after I have punched in my card number) and usually solves my problem. Most of the credit card companies are also pretty good as is USAA insurance. After that, I have to admit that it depends on personal relationships to get service and it’s pretty iffy. I tend to use local vendors as much as possible for this exact reason. Even if it costs a bit more, you are helping your community and are far more likely to get good service.

When I began my tenure overseeing clinical research and then all research infrastructure at MD Anderson, I rapidly attempted to articulate the goals for my office with a single mission statement: “service with a sense of urgency.” I always loved how I would stun a faculty member by appearing at his or her door when they had called the office with a problem and I took it upon myself to solve it. I’ll never forget the time there was an issue with the frog tanks in the Basic Science Research Building or the chimps in Bastrop or the dogs in the basement of the hospital and I would show up or make the extra effort. Half the battle is just showing up.

As new administrators are appointed by the president of MD Anderson, I hope they embrace the idea of service to the faculty being their most important strategic agenda item. The only thing more important than servicing the needs of the faculty is serving the needs of the patients.

Perhaps my favorite story of our office having to serve a faculty member and a patient was a call I got on a Saturday morning from a transplant doc whose patient had developed a worm infection and he wanted to use ivermectin which was a therapy supported by the literature, but had not been approved for human use by the FDA. I spent four hours tracking someone down at the FDA to get the green light to treat the patient. That faculty member never forgot that.

In the drive to “one MD Anderson,” it shouldn’t be forgotten who brings home the bacon at 1515 Holcombe and that servicing the needs of the faculty can never be taken for granted or met with the response of “go to our website.” Inappropriate. Inadequate. Insulting.

And it most assuredly is not service.

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