ELEVATING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

My sister had a baby recently in one of the well liked hospitals by many in Victoria Island. Their focus is mainly gynecology, maternity and pediatrics. In fact, two of my sisters have had babies in this same hospital. Many years ago, when the hospital started, the treatment and service was top notch. I remember my sister being in labour with a nurse dedicated to her for the duration of her labour, to monitor the contractions and to generally ensure that she was comfortable and the labour was progressing positively. Visitors were treated politely, with consideration. When they erred they were told about the correct requirement in a courteous manner without rancour.

You can imagine my shock when we went there recently for the delivery of her baby and the changes I witnessed. The place had become what I would say is more “successful”. This level of success was in terms of the number of customers and staff. I am sure it must be good for the profitability of the business, but I wonder about how the “success” will affect their longevity in terms of loyalty and customer satisfaction.

The first thing I noticed, was the attitude of the staff – they were no longer polite nor nice. The feeling of well-being, satisfaction and confidence their service engendered was no longer apparent. The nurses were grumpy and rude, the doctors were cold and officious. I left there feeling like I had just left one of the general hospitals we have across the country. This feeling is a big disservice to them, considering how they made you feel before and the way the establishment was regarded. Now, this has all changed. They have become a completely different organization – same name, same service, but a negative perception of their service – impersonal with very poor customer service.

I had to ask what happened? How could a hospital that was so well run and respected become what it is now? Somebody attributed this fundamental change to the fact that they have been bought over by a hospital group and been given performance criteria, which is affecting them, their customers and visitors negatively. The resultant effect of this is that what made them successful has now been eroded either by size or by the performance scorecard given by the Group that bought them over.

It is clear that their brand has diminished and their brand equity will continue to reduce significantly. What made them successful or attractive to the Group that bought into their business will become a mirage. If they do not work on their brand and customer service, they will indeed become a general hospital and lose patronage.

What has happened to them is not strange. Many of us forget what made us successful and how we must ensure that as we scale we do not lose the essence of our value. We’ve seen scale and “success” affect businesses in Nigeria. Many of us remember when GTBank started in Nigeria. They came on a platform of customer service. When success came, in terms of customer size and profitability, they appeared to lose sight of why everybody flocked to them – which was the way they treated their customers at the start. Each customer left their premises feeling like a king back then.

While, this is no longer so, they have made up for it, in the quality of their branches and with technology. MTN had the same problem. They were first to market with GSM and became the biggest, and at a time the most problematic service wise.

So, the question is, why do these companies forget what made them successful? The short answer is that they failed to take adequate precautions to optimize for the future by employing the right people, deploying tactics and processes that will solve problems that are not immediate. In addition to the above, they also failed in the following three areas according to Isabel Isidro:

Eroding Customer Service
Customer complaints increase and satisfactory servicing becomes a problem. Oftentimes, in pursuit of greater success, companies grow quickly that their back-end support system, delivery and order fulfillment sections fail to catch up.

Inability to Manage all Business Processes
Management becomes so involved with trying to administer all of the new operations acquired that it losses track of the essential business functions. A company’s risk of failure also increases given an overly centralized management team that lacks depth. A growing company must be able to recruit and retain personnel qualified and capable of taking the company to its next phase of growth.

Internal Systems and Procedures Not Catching Up
Bureaucracy rears its head in the form of more memos, meetings, and buck passing, further compounded by a defective monitoring and information systems. Growing companies must be able to obtain information (internal costs and budget, competition, inventory controls, cash flow, sales growth, among others) in a timely, organized and efficient manner.

In conclusion, don’t forget what made you successful. It’s important to grow and be profitable, but losing sight of the essence of what made your business is a recipe for disaster. GTBank and MTN were big enough to overcome their growth challenges, you may not be as lucky.

Be deliberate about how you scale and remember what made you successful.