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Bad Business ? or Just Bad Phone Manners?

August 27th, 2009 by Bob Bly

It?s a small point, I know, but it really irks me.

The other day, I called my doctor to cancel and reschedule an appointment.

?Can you call me back in 10 minutes?? the receptionist asked me.

What she should have said was: ?Can I call YOU back in 10 minutes??

I am the customer. She is the vendor. Her job is to serve me. Not the other way around.

By asking me to call her back, she was in effect taking the responsibility off her shoulders and putting it onto mine ? the exact OPPOSITE of what you should be doing for your clients.

I know I am a crabby old man, but there is a slacker attitude that pervades the American work force today, and what I have described is an all-too-common occurrence.

I won?t lose sleep over it, but I can?t help being irritated.

Does this receptionist need a refresher course in customer service?

Or should I, as my teenage boys frequently advise me, take a ?chill pill??


This entry was posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2009 at 5:57 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

56 responses about “Bad Business ? or Just Bad Phone Manners?”

  1. Riya Aarini said:

    I must agree with you, Bob. Her method was way off kilter. She could have put you on hold, which is worse (who would wait on the phone for 10 minutes?). A refresher course in customer service is necessary in this case and in many other cases. Speak to her manager so it won’t happen again.

    You are right in saying that the customer service personnel are there to serve; that’s what customer service personnel are trained to do, hence the title.

    I’ve gone to a doctor’s office where the young front desk personnel practically gruff when anyone steps up to the counter. I have to stand at the front desk for a good long while before the women lift their chins up to look up at me and provide service, however resistedly. I get extremely irritated.

    Ultimately, such behavior is unprofessional.

  2. Bill Rice said:

    Oh, boy have you struck a pet peeve of mine. Here is my (similar) favorite:

    I call someone’s work number (especially if I am a customer or prospective customer) and their voice mail goes something like this…

    “Hi, this is Bill Rice. Leave your name and number and I will get back to you when I am available.”

    I always feel like leaving this message in return…

    “Don’t bother inconveniencing your busy self, because you already inconvenienced me from buying from you by not picking up your phone.”

    I think if you are selling something you should be apologizing for missed calls and promising (and doing) prompt follow-ups.

    Maybe this is just the salesman in me.

  3. Dennis Kalian said:

    I definitely agree with you on this one Bob. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, this happens on a daily basis at thousands of businesses (just judging from how many times something like this has happened to me).

    I am an absolute stickler in my businesses to make sure that anyone that is dealing with clients even if it is just to greet them is upbeat, responsive and helpful.

    You definitely hit on a nereve with this blog entry!

  4. Buy Contact Lenses said:

    I can’t agree more with this post. I still can’t believe just how bad customer service has become, as a whole – nationwide. I have noticed an “up tick” in customer service and the folks at Home Depot will actually look at you now and even come over and ask if you need help as opposed to avoiding the customers. I work in customer service for an online contact lens retailer – and we are told, every day, that customer service is what we are all about !

  5. Kelja said:

    Bob, you should tell the doctor of the incident. He/She is probably unaware how bad, how untrained the front office is when it comes to customer relations. The receptionist needs retraining or to be fired for this – unacceptable. The first contact to any business sometimes is a low-paid, untrained individual and that will translate in less business. An expensive oversight on the part of the owner.

  6. Lou Wasser said:


    While what you’re saying may seem reasonable, I have another take on things. My wife has been in the health care for many years, and I have my share of physicians in the family. Odds are that Bob’s doctor doesn’t care. A complaint to him might yield a nod or a “thank you,” but at the end of the day, notions like “customer service” or “training” might as well have originated in some other galaxy.

    Physicians try very hard to distance themselves from the business side of their medical practices. You can ask a copywriter what his fee is, you can ask a car mechanic how much it costs to replace your water pump, and you can even ask a lawyer how much she’ll charge to handle your case.

    But try asking a physician how much he charges to fix your broken leg. And he’ll direct you straight to his business office.

    In its value system, America has insulated its physicians from the every day grit and grind of fee for services rendered, and the decent “customer service” that goes along with these fees. There are notable exceptions, of course. But you’ll get much further registering a consumer complaint with a Fortune 500 company than trying to talk turkey to a Dr. about his rude secretary.

  7. Lou Wasser said:

    meant to say “in the health care business.”

  8. said:


    How old is your doctor? It’s been my experience that the older the doctor, the worse customer service. However, I think younger doctors – as in 30s to early 40s – seem to be much more aware of these issues. Perhaps it’s been just my experience. But if this is an actual trend, I think it says something about newer doctors being more aware that their medical practice IS a business and has to be treated like one.

  9. Gabriel said:

    The receptionist told you that? LOL Normally, if the receptionist can’t take your call immediately, he/she will just ask for your number and call back the customer. Luckily, haven’t encountered a receptionist like him/her.

  10. Net Biz In Buzz » ‘Bad Business … or Just Bad Phone Manners?’ by Bob Bly said:

    […] Bad Business … or Just Bad Phone Manners?… […]

  11. David Deutsch said:

    Hey, Bob, just discovered your blog.
    Great stuff. I did like finding out those 15 things about you, and I, too, love living on water — especially a bay or a lake (oceans are a bit unvarying). I grew up in Bay Ridge and Coney Island and spent years in Manhattan surrounded by water, so I guess it’s in my blood.

    And I was really glad to hear about Amy’s progress!

    All the best to you both…


    P.S. I’m glad to know I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t buy you a cup of coffee or a book on Amazon! 😉

  12. Bob Bly said:

    David: I prefer a lake, river, or bay like you do; the ocean makes too much NOISE for me and it never stops! Plus there’s the threat of beach erosion and your house falling into the sea….

  13. Ben Pitman said:

    Hi Bob,

    What you say is to true, i would say probably 7/10 when I enter an office building there receptionist will be sat there looking like they would rather be anywhere but there and then seem annoyed at me for the fact I have asked what floor the room I’m looking for is on as if thats not what they are employed and payed to do.

    I understand that alot of people don’t like their jobs and would rather not be there but when you are the front of house for a company you should make the effort.

    Good post

  14. Bob Bly said:

    Ben: it happened to me again yesterday. I called a business to check on an order I placed that had not arrived yet. The person answering the phone told me I had to speak to Ellen and to call her tomorrow. I politely suggested that since I was the customer, maybe she should take my name and number and have Ellen call ME.

  15. Ben Locker said:

    In the UK, it’s a matter of supply and demand. It’s very difficult to get an appointment to see a doctor at short notice, so the relationship between patient and receptionist has the wrong balance. It’s a matter of extreme indifference to many of them whether you come to their surgery, or go to another one down the road.

  16. Kurt said:


    Ben hit on where I was going.

    I wonder what the effect of socialized medicine will have on customer service here in the US. When Obamacare is passed what incentive will the doctor’s office staff have to be professional?

    Sorry if it is inapropiate to bring politics into the discussion but the healthcare customer service equation may change in the near future and I thought the point was valid to add.

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Kurt, Ben: I agree with you. When the demand outweighs the supply of a particular service, those in that service business have more lattitude to dictate the terms of the relationship.

  18. Frank said:

    It’s not just the receptionists… I called a real estate broker to see about selling some property. He suggested I call him back next Tuesday.

  19. Lesley Peters said:

    Hi Bob,
    I understand why you are so unhappy about your experience. I had a similar one a few years ago.
    I spoke to my doctor about it who became defensive and angry when I complained about the lack of customer service when I dealt with her reception staff. Ultimately, I stopped using that doctor and found a new one who I like much better, and who offers great customer service.
    You could try speaking to your doctor and see what happens. Best of luck!

  20. Mele said:

    Bob, I hear you loud and clear on this one. My doctor still bills me for a service he provided 4 years ago, which I REFUSE to pay.

    Here’s why: The office staff failed to update their computer system with my new insurance carrier information. So they continued to bill the old carrier and the old carrier continued to send denials.

    Finally, they decided to bill me. Now, they had the new insurance info in their paper records…just not in the computer (they admitted this to me!). The service was fully covered by the new carrier.

    The last time I visited the doctor and complained, the receptionist said: “Oh yeah, we kept billing the wrong insurance carrier. But you will have to contact the business office to get it straight”. Yeah, right.

  21. Bad Business … Or Just Bad Phone Manners? - Bly.Com Blog - Bly.Com … said:

    […] Bad Business … or Just Bad Phone Manners? August 27th, 2009 by Bob Bly. It’s a small point, I know, but it really irks me. The other day, I called my doctor to cancel and reschedule an appointment. “Can you call me back in 10 minutes? …Continue Reading […]

  22. TC said:

    Bad manners? Certainly.

    Bad business? Only if you decide to take your business to another doctor. Otherwise your health dollars will still flow into the doctor’s bank account.

    If you feel it’s not a good idea to change doctors, or it’s too much hassle, you’re not alone! Maybe that’s why doctors’ receptionists can be less helpful and welcoming than, for example, the receptionist at your local tire and brake shop. It sometimes seems that our cars getter better health care than people.

  23. Sam@roofmaintenance said:

    I advice you to take chill-pill. People are not going to treat you the way you want. Expectations always hurt. Never expect good from anyone.

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