I’ve recently had some dealings with healthcare professionals in the UK. They have the same need for customer communication skills as we IT workers do. I always notice customer skills, especially when the tables are turned and I am the customer.


I recently had surgery to correct a long-standing shoulder injury, but while I was resting at home it became apparent that the wound was infected. The first route back into the National Health Service in the UK is through the local doctor or GP, who then opens up contact with consultants and specialists. I sat in front of him and stated that my wound was infected.

His reply shocked me a little. It was along the line of “you are not qualified to give a diagnosis. What makes you think you have an infection?”

I would never dispute a customer who told me that their monitor had failed; I would investigate the reason for it. After I showed him the wound site, he instantly agreed with me and arranged for readmission to the hospital. I was in the hospital within two hours, receiving antibiotics via IV. Maybe, as a nonmedical person, I am not qualified to make diagnoses, but I do know my own body, much as a computer user knows their equipment and how it normally performs. I felt as though I had been “put down,” but the doctor was very quick to backtrack as soon as he saw the evidence.

I think that what most offended me was his assumption that I wasn’t intelligent enough to state the obvious. My doctor doesn’t know me; I see him roughly once every two years, so this is not a surprise. The very fact that he doesn’t know me would indicate that he needed to evaluate me before making a decision about my abilities and, even in my fevered state, I realized that help desks often make the same mistakes.

I am always cynical when a user reports a virus; there are several reasons for this assumption. First, these reports are usually received on the day when the news media are running features on the latest attacks. Second, most of the systems I work on are either entirely standalone or on well-managed corporate networks where viruses are a rarity. There is a chance, however, that there is a problem, and an instant dismissal of the caller’s concerns is not only discourteous but quite dangerous as well.

The good news is that, one week on, things are going a lot better. I pay homage to the skill of my surgeon, Mr. Fernandez, who delayed his holiday in order to carry out three further surgical procedures on my shoulder and ensure that the infection was beaten. I’m back at home now and planning to return to work in about three weeks.

These little experiences of first impressions tend to linger in my memory, and, hopefully, I will try to remember how I felt about the doctor’s response and use that feeling in my dealings with customers.