By Larry Teren
Customer service in today’s world is an oxymoron. You can say that maybe I tend to overreact or expect to get satisfaction at my convenience rather than at the one providing service. It seems, though, that more and more the only time you get a helpful, glib, clearly understood, sympathetic customer service representative is when he or she asks you to rate the assistance he or she just provided.
If you agree with me, read on, otherwise you will think that I make this stuff up or over-embellish the facts. Here is a recent situation that caused me to want to get my pound of flesh in retribution:
A few months ago, I had a routine colonoscopy done at a north suburban Chicago hospital. I agreed to finally do the nasty procedure after delaying for so long when I found out that my private health insurance would pay it as long as it was considered pre-screening and not because the doctor suspected a problem. That in itself rates a discussion, but it is not the purpose of this narration.
Not too long after the procedure was done, I received notice from the health insurance company that they negotiated the bill down to what it costs in their network agreement. This in itself is also a waste of time and money in processing such a bill because the hospital knows that there is a network rate but they still bill at the higher rate. This costs everyone, especially health insurance policy holders, more money to have to waste time having an insurance company computer keypunch person go into the system and correct the rate.
The insurance company paid the bill as promised. I thought that was it- the episode was now complete. Not so- less than two weeks later, I received a bill from the hospital indicating I owed $377.30 for the anesthetist’s work. It came before receiving a note from the insurance company that I would get such a bill and how much they negotiated down the amount and whether I should pay it or not.
I reviewed the original advice from the insurance company and did not see anything about the anesthetist. So, I thought maybe the insurance did not cover this part of the work performed, only the procedure it self. Like a dope, I immediately cut a check and mailed it to the hospital.
I still wondered why I did such a rash thing and mentioned it to my sister who had a lot of experience dealing with doctor bills and insurance coverage. She said I should not have paid it and that the insurance company made a mistake in not paying it and that I should get back to them.
I called the insurance company and they agreed with my sister- I was a dope. I asked them if they could refund the money to me. They said “no, we will send a check to the hospital and you ask them for a refund.” I called the hospital and spoke with customer service. On May 14, they indeed got the check from the insurance company and would now- because I called- put in a request for a refund. In other words, if I hadn’t called to inquire, they would have left it with a credit to my account against future billing.
I asked when I could expect the refund check. I was told it took four to six weeks for processing. The lady laughed when I complained and said that this was their rules and nothing I could do about it. This hit a nerve and I asked to speak to the customer service manager. I was given the person’s alleged name. It could have been made up, for all I know, because even though she was supposed to get back to me within 24 to 48 hours- as of this writing, I am still waiting for that call.
After a few weeks of inaction, On June 6, I decided to write a letter to the president of the hospital corporation complaining about their refund policy while accusing them of illegally holding onto my money. In addition, to attack from a second front, I emailed on June 7th via their website portal a request to find out what was going on with issuing me a refund. The person replied a day later indicating that they had no record of any activity with me and needed to know which specific department to which I was referring.
I responded with my patient account id as well as the invoice number. Amber responded that the refund check was processed May 31. I felt better because I figured that I would see the check in the mail either that or the next day.
Nothing, of course. I had not heard back from my trump card, the president of the hospital. So, I called customer service one more time and asked about the check. The lady had no answer other than it was put into process on May 31. I asked her if she agreed that after twelve days I should have already received it. She concurred but had nothing to offer. I hung up and called the hospital and asked for the president. I was given his secretary. She said that she had just received my letter the previous evening and that the president had ordered her to give it to the vice president of patient billing to resolve. She said that she had also made sure that the man know my cell phone number, which was on the letter I had sent. I felt better.
But not for long. Two days later and I had still not heard from the vice president as to what happened to my alleged refund check which was cut two weeks earlier. Not that I believed for one second that it had indeed. So, yes- I called the vice president’s office and left a voice mail.
On June 14 in the morning I received a return call from one of his assistants. She apologized and explained what had taken place:
The hospital’s policy is to pay bills once a month. If it does not get into the cutoff one month, the recipient is punished and has to wait an entire month to get paid unless they complain like I did.
I was told that my payment was put into the hopper on May 29 but that someone slipped up so it was put on hold another month. If you think this sounds reasonable- remember, they were doubled paid and had no right to hold onto the money as soon as they recognized the situation.
Friends- this is a miserable way to do business. A patient is a customer as well. This hospital is the first to hound you to pay up in full and even suggest paying a portion in advance of a procedure as a deposit to help reduce the bite afterward. And they refuse to generate refunds twice a month to otherwise avoid end-of-month cutoff problems. I guess my hounding gave them a taste of their own medicine. I hope it was bitter to swallow. Me spiteful, yeah? Do I care if they think I am a trouble maker? No! I wish more people would act as I did.
The hospital trains its customer service representatives, as do too many businesses, unfortunately, to take the path of most resistance when solving problems. It is easier to be lazy and let things resolve itself over time. Hospital, heal thyself.