I do most of my banking online and through the ATM. Recently, though, I needed to conduct business in person at a JPMorganChase branch. I knew the branch closed at 6:00 pm so I broke away from the office, dodged North Dallas traffic, and rushed into the branch at 5:58 pm, sliding in just before they locked the doors. Or did I? When the manager saw me she asked, “Did you rush to get here?” I said, “Yes…and I barely made it.” Then she said, “Well, just so you know: although the door says we close at 6:00 pm, typically we don’t lock it until 6:15, just to make sure we’ve served everyone who’s trying to get to us before closing.” What a great customer service philosophy—hang around until every customer has been served!

By contrast, I called an urgent care center to inquire what time they closed. They said “We close at 8:00 pm but take our last patient at 7:30.” To which my response would be, “Well, no, you close at 7:30”—because if a consumer cannot access a center’s services, in effect it’s closed. By advertising it closes at 8:00 pm, such a center likely turns away multiple patients each evening who arrive between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. Turning away patients not only results in foregone revenue, but also creates bad will with a patient having to seek services elsewhere (especially the ED), likely never returning to the center, and maybe telling others to avoid it as well.

Because consumers measure their urgent care experiences against other retail and service providers—not necessarily other medical facilities—retail elements of the urgent care delivery model such as opening hours should be modelled on other service industries (such as the bank).

Most likely, the urgent care center adopted its “last patient” policy to avoid paying overtime, but consider:

  • If patients are still in the center upon “closing,” typically only the provider and one staff member (a medical assistant who has been cross-trained to discharge the patient) are needed. The rest of the staff can go home on time.
  • The typical hourly rate for an urgent care physician is $95 (exempt from overtime); for an MA it’s $12-15 (roughly $20 w/overtime). Let’s say the incremental staffing costs for 30 additional minutes of labor thus equals $60. If a patient brings in an average revenue of $120, the incremental margin is roughly $60; the center still makes money on that last patient, even after paying overtime—and may have made a great first impression that will lead to still more business.

Being “penny wise” in regard to paying overtime—turning away patients who show up at the end of the day—is often not a wise financial move. And from a customer service standpoint, wouldn’t it be so much better to have patients who are satisfied that the center accommodated their time and treated their issue without waiting until the next morning?

For a center that closes at 8:00 pm, rather than adopting a “last patient seen” at 7:30 policy, what if the policy instead were “last patient seen at 8:15 pm?”

You Close at What Time!?
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