Don't look dumbCustomer Satisfaction is often measured between an organization and its direct customers. But sometimes the situations that are the most embarrassing are those that involve other organizations, yours and a customer.

When there is a system or process that is supposed to work using outside firms and there is a failure, both organizations look dumb. Sometimes a third party needs to get involved to embarrass the organizations to work together.

Here are two examples I have personally encountered.

1. Bell Canada and Bell World Store conflict

I bought my son a Blackberry smart phone on a 3 year contract with Bell Mobility. The Blackberry was purchased at a store that said ‘Bell World’ on the outside. I purchased an extended warranty for the Blackberry for 2 years more than the warranty provided by the manufacturer. As luck would have it, the Blackberry needed a repair in the time frame after the initial manufacturer’s warranty.

When it came to exercising the warranty, we discovered that the Bell World store was not actually owned by Bell, but was a dealer of Bell’s, despite the name on the door. The Bell store claimed that the contract was with Bell Mobility and sent us to Bell Mobility Customer Service. Bell Customer Service claimed it was a store warranty and sent us back to the Bell store.

My son and I went back and forth and we escalated up the management ranks of both the store and Bell Customer Service. I even had them on a 3 way conference call, where the Bell store and the Bell Customer Service managers were arguing with each other, with NO resolution. Between them, they couldn’t figure out who was responsible for paying for the repair that was supposed to be covered by the warranty.

When two organizations cannot figure out how to resolve a customer issue, there is no way for the customer to be satisfied.

My son and I escalated the issue to Bell Canada executive management and a complaint manager, who was assigned, ended up providing payment for the repair out of a budget he controlled because even the executive offices, could not figure out who owned the contract I signed for an extended warranty.

When an organization does not know how their processes and offerings are supposed to work when a business partner is involved, they risk frustrating and alienating customers.

My son no longer has his cell phone contract with Bell Mobility.

2. Medical Insurance Processing: MCI The Doctor’s Office and University Health Insurance Plan coverage

2. Here’s an example that involves 4 groups. One sets policy, one sets expectations with the customer, one provides the service and a fourth provides the reimbursement. The customer is a young college student from California,  attending university in Toronto, Canada.

Canadians enjoy government provided health care for doctor’s visits. But out of country students are not eligible for Ontario Health Care. They must (as part of their tuition) purchase medical insurance. The expectation is set by the university that the health care is equivalent to Ontario Health Insurance Plan and when the student visits a doctor’s office in Ontario, they are not required to pay.

My son, who is covered as a resident of Ontario, was visiting a local clinic, called MCI The Doctor’s Office.   The young college student and I were waiting for him in the waiting room, and while waiting, we asked if this walk in clinic accepted out of country insurance called UHIP (University Health Insurance Plan) covered by Sun Life of Canada.

MCI The Doctor’s Office assured us that they accepted the coverage (that is the student does not have to pay at each visit and they would bill the insurance company directly) with no co-payment fee.

A few months later, the same college student went to the same MCI The Doctor’s Office clinic and presented her UHIP credentials. The receptionist sent the patient in to see the doctor. When the college student emerged from the doctor’s examining room, she was advised that this clinic no longer billed UHIP directly and she would have to pay for the visit and claim it back from the insurance company. An exorbitant fee was charged and the student had no choice but to pay. Had the college student been told about the fee in advance, she would have left and gone to another nearby clinic that does accept UHIP.

The UHIP claim was submitted and the insurance company would only pay a part of the fee charged based on the copy of the bill issued by MCI The Doctor’s Office.

A complaint left on the MCI The Doctor’s office website resulted in a manager at the local clinic admitting that the secretary had made a mistake on the amount charged and the service code on the invoice. She refunded part of the hefty fee but still left the student with a bill significantly more than UHIP was prepared to cover.

A new invoice was prepared by the Doctor’s Office with the implication that with this new service code, the student would get all her money back.  Later, the insurer, Sun Life, told her that this was not a valid service code and sent her back to the Doctor’s office to get a new code, further delaying reimbursement.

Here we have two organizations, that are supposed to work together to provide international university students with medical health coverage and they are failing. Each side thinks they are right and sends the student to complain to the other.

It is also interesting that other medical clinics nearby are happy to accept UHIP credentials and bill UHIP directly. MCI The Doctor’s Office seems to be the exception.

The university is implicated as it set the expectation that a medical visit would be billed directly to the insurance company, and listed a nearby MCI The Doctor’s Office as one of the medical clinics that accepted this provision. York University needs to update its website to remove the referral to MCI The Doctor’s Office.

As there are multiple universities in Ontario, each will have its own department dealing with this medical coverage for out of country students so there is also an Ontario organization that overseas the larger UHIP umbrella. Ontario’s Ministry of Health oversees it all. All these universities need to know about MCI The Doctor’s Office policy change, so they can change their websites and inform their students.

MCI The Doctor’s Office has the right to change its policy at any time but it ALSO has a responsibility to ensure that its front line staff advise customers who are not covered by Ontario Health Insurance Plan that they will be required to pay a fee and how much that fee would be before they see the doctor. In this case, MCI The Doctor’s Office, admits that they failed to provide this upfront information and has apologized to the student.

Is an apology the right response to this student? I think not. Most students incur significant debt to attend university. In this student’s case, the uncovered portion of the medical bill represented over a month’s worth of groceries.

The student has asked MCI The Doctor’s Office to refund the difference between MCI’s charge and UHIP’s reimbursement. I believe MCI should provide this refund as a concession for failing to notify the student before the doctor’s visit of their changed policy and unexpected fee.


Update: As of Aug 30, 2012, MCI The Doctor’s Office has refused to reimburse the student for her out of pocket costs. The International students’ office at  York University will be contacting MCI Medical Clinics to try to resolve this situation.


Lessons Learned

Getting a system to work as designed is complicated and sometimes the customer gets lost in the middle.

Systems that are supposed to work between organizations to serve a common customer need to be tested and checked. When there is a failure and the customer complains, and both sides think the other side is ‘wrong’, pay attention. This is a clear  indication of mistakes that make both organizations look dumb. Somewhere a process is badly broken.

1. Ensure your front line personnel and customer service personnel are well trained and have tools to help them quickly deal with customer problems.

2. Ensure front line staff has a method to escalate to your management team about mismatches like these. Find them out early and take action before they come out in the press or social media.

3. Document how systems are supposed to work.

4. Make sure there is someone who owns the process

5. Ensure someone is responsible for maintaining the process regularly with any changes by the players involved.

6. Train your staff to empathize with the customer and vow to stay engaged until the problem is finally resolved.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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