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December 3, 2009
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The Robert E. Nolan Company is an operations and technology consulting firm specializing in the health care industry. For 35 years, we have helped clients redesign processes and apply technology to improve service, quality, productivity, and costs.

Our staff members are all senior industry experts with 15+ years in the industry. Visit www.renolan.com to for health care articles, white papers, and client success stories.


Success is Customer Perception
Hayden Jones
Senior Consultant

By now, many of you know that I enjoy sailing. I also enjoy taking guests (let's assume they are my customers) sailing. But what I enjoy about sailing might not meet the expectations of my guests. I may be having a great time while the boat heels to 35 and water rolls over the gunnels, or when the boat sloshes up and down (and up and down) through the waves, or when we listen to Jimmy Buffett CDs while sitting in 98 heat with no wind to be found. I may think it's a great sail while my guests turn a color somewhere between yellow and green and begin begging to go home.

You may think things are great, but your customers may be turning yellowish green because things are not great for them. My point is that you must measure success not by your standards, but by your customers' standards.

A few years ago, I was working with a training department. They were extremely proud of the number of classes they held, the number of trainees they "got through" the claims training program, and their graduation rate. As I recall, they graduated 97 percent of the people who took the classes. They were sailing without regard to their customers' expectations. They looked at the training activity and the graduation rate as measures of success. However, of the 97 percent who "got through" the training, 30 to 40 percent were unable to perform the job for which they had been trained.

The managers of the claims department (the yellowish-green customers) who were receiving these newly trained employees were frustrated by the high number of the new employees who couldn't perform their jobs at an acceptable level. Many had to be retrained by the claims department. Those who could not be trained the second time were let go after a lengthy termination process.

In this situation, the training department felt it was doing an excellent job, whereas the claims department felt the training department was a failure. It's the classic example of judging success by an incorrect standard. Instead of looking at the number of classes conducted or the graduation rate, the training department should have studied the impact or results of their training effort. An outcome where 30 to 40 percent of the graduates are ineffective and require retraining does not reflect success. In such a case, it is critical to get the two departments to work through the problem to:

  • Revise the curriculum and testing to meet the claims department's needs; and
  • Revise the training department's measurement of success by using statistics from retraining and forced turnover (for inability to learn the job) in the claims department.

When I sail with guests, we discuss their expectations and I try to measure the success of the sail not by my standards but by those of the people who will truly judge my performance. After all, it's their perceptions of the sail that really count.


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