Let’s Get Physical (Therapy)

Maybe you won’t agree with this. But when it comes to sports injuries, I prefer the severe and predictable over the subtle and (typically) less painful.

When I had knee surgery a few years ago, for example, the doctor was able to estimate (nearly) exactly how long it would be until I could run again. Sure, I couldn’t even walk for a month, but every day I got steadily, visibly stronger.

Unfortunately, my current injury – a strained calf muscle – is of the less preferred variety.

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I can walk just fine and even at its worst it didn’t hurt nearly as much as blowing out my knee. But it came without warning and there’s no telling for sure how long it will stay (kind of like your brother-in-law).

And so for the last month I’ve been going to physical therapy, doing my best to get back on track.

Earlier this week, however, I didn’t feel like going. It was the first day back after the long Thanksgiving holiday and I was not yet ready to reenter a world that didn’t involve drinking in the middle of the day while sitting on the couch under a blanket next to a fire reading a book.

So I called the physical therapy practice at 7:10 Monday morning to see if I could cancel my 6:30 pm appointment that day.

“Sorry, our policy says you need to give us 24 hours notice to cancel.”

“But you weren’t open yesterday,” I said.

“You could have left us a voicemail.”

“But you wouldn’t have listened to it until 10 minutes ago anyway, when you opened the office.”

“Sorry, that’s our policy,” she said.

And you know what, she’s right. That is their policy. Not only that, I signed a piece of paper acknowledging said policy when I began my therapy. If this were a contract dispute, they’d win hands down.

But it’s not a contract – it’s a business that’s trying to thrive.

By enforcing their policy – on a first-time offender who, as a practical matter, didn’t give them any less notice than if I had left a message over the weekend – they got paid that day as planned. In terms of my complaint, I didn’t have a leg to stand limp on.

But what did they lose?

Well, imagine instead, if she had said, “Our policy is 24 hours, but I know what you mean about getting back in the groove today. Since it’s your first time cancelling, why don’t we just reschedule?”

I would have hung up the phone happy. I would have told people about my experience. I would have gone out of my way to come back to them in the future (and believe me, I’ve got a lot of PT in my near and distant future).

Instead, I remain completely indifferent to these people and this practice. I’m not mad at them, but I don’t love them either. Opportunity missed.

Here’s the thing. Policies are for employees (i.e. people with few options), not clients. I’ve got more choices for PT within five miles of my house than I do places to buy a hot cup of coffee.

And while I understand the need for rules and procedures, if you enforce them for the sake of enforcing them on people who are trying to give you money, you’re hurting your business.

Like it or not, everything you do is marketing. From your voicemail message to your holiday cards to your cancellation policy.

It’s particularly true if you sell something that looks/is the same as that of your competitors – whether that service is PT or accounting or recruiting or consulting or any number of other professional services.

The truth is, when it comes to selling something like that, the service you provide may be the least important piece of the marketing puzzle.

So take a good look at the barriers – I mean policies – you’ve put in place for those who wish to hire you. Then get rid of (or at least bend) the ones you don’t really need.

And by the way, if you’d like to unsubscribe from this newsletter, I won’t stop you. I do, however, require 24 hours notice before you click the opt out link at the bottom of the page. Sorry, that’s my policy.

 

 

20 thoughts on “Let’s Get Physical (Therapy)

  1. Mary Miller

    Michael,
    Everyone at IDD is so sorry you feel bad and we send best wishes for a speedy recovery and a new physical therapist. We are sorry that your local PT didn’t understand that ‘flexibility’ is the name of the game (being that they are in PT you would think they might appreciate flexibility.) Unfortunately, the person on the phone just wasn’t thinking. We need a policy that says the customers comes first and then we do everything we can to make them love us. That really is my belief but I can imagine that perhaps at times it doesn’t always get conveyed to our customers the same way. I only have a few policies that are hard and fast and they have to do with no new work until the ‘WAY” past – due account is current. Just last week we had a returning client, who loves us, bring a 6 month past due account current because she needs more work and I think it speaks to how she views us because she wants the new work ‘right away.”
    In any case – we send you our best wishes from Sunny Blacksburg VA and we hope to hear that you are fully mended soon!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks so much, Mary! I appreciate it . Definitely on the mend.
      And I intend to use your “flexibility” joke with future PTs I encounter!!
      Michael

      Reply
  2. Bruce Richmond

    I understand your argument about policies and their point of view as well. When I was in a similar business, we had the same policy. After instituting that policy (and collecting credit card information to back it up), our 20% no-show rate dropped to 1%. Because of the great results of the policy, we were able to be flexible with 1st offenders like you, while guiding our more troublesome clients to our competitors. In essence, we used the policy to qualify our leads and keep the valuable clients (although I didn’t know that terminology at the time).

    There’s no question, I/we put up barriers for customers to overcome. In this instance, I think the more important issue is the person answering the phone: your business’ most immediate contact with current and potential customers. If your receptionist (or webpage, voice-mail system, et al) has a lousy attitude, is inflexible, is seen as replaceable, or is indifferent about the job he or she has to do, our companies will suffer for it. If the person answering the phone is a cheerful problem-solver, s/he generates good will immediately, and provides the consultant/therapist with a client that is more likely to be accepting of the hard or painful solutions we offer.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great point, Bruce. I think the idea of barriers that aren’t always enforced and used to “guide our more troublesome clients to our competitors” is fantastic!
      Michael

      Reply
  3. Steve VanHove

    I agree with you about being not having *stupid* policies, but there is another side to this and that is giving the client and inch and then they’ll take a mile and walk all over you. I think processes and procedures are very important to a business. Difficult clients become that way because we let them [aka train them] and then let them stay. From what you are saying it sounds like if they throw a coin in our cup we’ll do any dance they want. But I still love you and hope you heal soon so you can run. I am waiting for my tendonitis to do the same!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good point Steve! Definitely a balance. I think what struck me about my PT encounter was that it was a policy with a good intention, but which made no difference in practice and there was really no thought to the reply other than “that’s our policy.”
      And thanks on the well wishes. Same to you – I’ll take running outside over those machines in the gym any day!

      Reply
  4. Ira Bryck

    Policies for clients and customers should tactfully educate them how you want to do business with them, in a ways that wins for both sides. Charging a client for a canceled or missed appointment shows you mean business, but your goal is to educate them to not do it, not to create a revenue stream. Unfortunately, many times these things are gleefully enforced by dickish employees, who don’t see the stake they have in keeping customers happy and cared for. One of my most lasting memories of my last career in my family’s 4th generation retail store was a customer who told me “I shop here because I like giving YOU my money.” (in exchange for goods and services, of course.) If my policies were punitive, always winning the battle and losing the war, she would have enjoyed NOT giving me her money. That’s often how I choose where I shop.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      A great insight, Ira, thank you. And I’m always impressed by your 4th generation story (I’m pretty sure that 4 generations ago my ancestors were still cave dwellers). What, did you guys come over on the Mayflower or something?!

      Reply
  5. Jenn

    I have an old sculpture injury that acts up every now and then. I think that’s cooler than saying I have the beginnings of repetitive motion syndrome.

    My sister though, SHE had posterior overuse syndrome high school. (A common problems for catchers in baseball and softball.)

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Jenn! I have to say I love “Posterior overuse syndrome.” So much more intriguing than a plain old calf strain.

      Reply
  6. Don Davies

    Good story and it reinforces the need for having people with compassion and common sense answering phones and dealing with customers. That person just made the company the revenue from your missed visit and probably cost them the many visits you will now take somewhere else. Just bad business.

    So…I’m wondering how you feel about phone companies that enforce contracts you never signed…charge thousands of dollars in roaming fees you didn’t know you were incurring…lock your cell phone without telling you when you purchase and then demand a fee for unlocking…or switch you to e-billing without consultation or advanced notice. When you call they simply state…”that’s our policy”.

    More and more I’m finding that the Customer Service department is really the “company service” department. Long for the days when you called Fred’s Hardware and Fred answered the phone ready to help.

    Okay…rants over. Now I’ll get back to work.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Don!
      I agree, very frustrating. I have to say though, that every time I endure one of those bad encounters I just remember my grandmother’s favorite saying: “You can’t be above average unless someone else is below average.” So bad customer service makes it easier for the rest of us to shine! Keep shining,
      Michael

      Reply
  7. Kevin Lee

    Michael,
    Another great article. Thanks! I get your point perfectly. However, you left out lying! All you needed to do with not showing up for PT, the docs, dentist, shrink, and chiropractor is to have said five simple words…. ‘I have a bad cold!” You would have heard on the other end of the line, “Thanks for calling us and being responsible. Let’s reschedule. Ha!

    Happy Holidays to you and family!

    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Ah, good point. Prior to meeting my lovely wife, Linda, I would have done that. After so many years together she has successfully trained me to her approach of telling the truth. Damn, I can’t stand that woman (I’m lying).

      And happy holidays to you and yours too, Kevin!!

      Reply
  8. Mark Wayland

    Mikey (using a maternally oriented salutation since you’re feeling poorly AND picked-on),

    Most people use policies like they use the orange coloured indicator light on their car. Simply activate them and everyone else simply needs to let them have their way. As I’m sure you’re aware of by now, the world would be a much better place if you simply did as you were told.

    The policy I love are on invoices that say, in essence, “you have 2 weeks to pay up or else” ………. we’ll start sending you reminders.

    The balancing of cash flow in SME’s is the most important skill you can develop and sometimes it’s tough….. so when I get the phone call …. “our policy is 14 days net for payment” my reply is always, “well that’s not our policy here, so let me talk to the boss and get back to you.”

    Stay warm,
    Mark

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello from Up Above, Mark (or whatever is the opposite of Down Under)!
      I like your policy reply and intend to use it.
      Stay cold,
      Michael

      Reply
  9. Bayberry L Shah

    Hey Michael,
    I’m right there with you with the calf/Achilles injury and PT. It is frustrating that I don’t know where it came from and it hasn’t gotten better although I’ve given it lots of rest, ie been lazy since triathlon season ended.
    In contrast to your PT experience, I can say that I have grown an affinity to mine. It is a good thing too since I have to spend two hours a week there twice a week. They are dedicated to getting me back on the road and listen to all of my complaints plus they have gotten to know me personally. One therapist even attended my recent art show. So, here’s a shout out to PT Solutions in Smyrna, Georgia.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Wow Bayberry, that’s terrific. I may have to drive to Smyrna for my sessions.
      And as a triathlete you have my envy. I endlessly impressed with people who can complete those races.
      Michael

      Reply
  10. Cheryl Winter

    Michael: I love your work. I think you are awesome! Your story in this newsletter really hit a nerve, since I am in the medical profession. I completely understand where you are coming from though. However, would love to have the luxury in my industry to want people to prioritize their spending on our important health services. The truth is, although people in our profession are passionate about what we do, the people we service don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on our services. People in the healthcare industry need to make money too—it’s a business! But it’s the only business where we don’t usually get paid by the person receiving the service. Instead, it’s the insurance company or the government paying the bill—-but only if the person shows up for their appointment! Although the patient may have a good excuse to reschedule or cancel, we in the healthcare industry can’t survive if patients don’t show up—–and consequently, in the long-term if we can’t survive, eventually the consumer/patient will not get good healthcare. Of course, it is our responsibility to provide good customer service along the way—no argument there. Thanks for letting me rant. I hope you recover well from your injury. I wish you the best! One day I am determined to get you to help me “glamorize” what I do so people will see that spending money with my services is far-more beneficial than having a pedicure, or the next best tech tool, cigarettes , or other frivolous expenditure!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Cheryl! And thanks for a look from the inside out. I’m sure the complications with payment take up way too much of your time every day.
      And happy to help on the “glamorizing” side whenever you are ready!
      Glamorously yours,
      Michael

      Reply

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