I’ve spent a lot of time in Starbucks, and over the years, it seems little has really changed with the basic operations. The line to the register is flanked by food options and souvenirs leading to someone who takes your order and your money (The Register). Your order moves to someone standing at the espresso machine (On Bar). Other Starbucks associates are simultaneously working the Drive-Thru customers (On Drive-Thru).
Another associate is grinding beans, ensuring the coffee urns are full, teas are brewed, cups, lids and cup protectors are in place, and coolers are well stocked with sandwiches, croissants and breakfast sandwiches (Customer Support).
So, who has the most important job at Starbucks? The Register? On Bar? On Drive-Thru? Customer Support?
After asking this of different staff, doing different jobs (which rotate among staff during a shift), at different Starbucks, everyone I spoke to said Customer Support is the most critical job.
These are the people you might see but don’t directly interact with. They have the same color aprons and name tag fonts, but they don’t take your order, your money, call your drink out or greet you at the drive thru window.
But the people On Bar, Drive-Thru, or Register will tell you that what they themselves do couldn’t be done without Customer Support. If the Coffee of the Day is not freshly brewed, fresh teas are not in the pitchers, milk is not below the espresso machine, sandwiches are still frozen in the back, ice is not made or the beans are not in their respective containers, no one else can get their jobs done.
You can forget about your Venti Iced Triple Mocha Soy Latte that is extra hot, extra mocha, extra whip, extra dry, extra foamy without the Customer Support person to make sure the cup, lid, espresso, mocha, milk, whip, and any other extras are in place.
So, it hit me there’s a lesson to be learned about Healthcare, from Starbucks. I saw it in action, in a retail coffee shop, from the Customer Support guy, the Register, the Drive-Thru and the Bar.
Pathology is the Customer Support of Healthcare. Much as a coffee shop can’t exist without Customer Support, healthcare (other doctors, patients, hospitals, colleagues, other laboratories) is dependent upon pathology, often with little direct interaction. If the store runs out of cups or milk, you may not get served. If the lab can’t process a CBC or biopsy, the patient, doctor, or hospital is not served. Pathologists lead The Customer Support Team, the people others rely upon without perhaps the customers even knowing it.
Although it’s rare, sometimes the Starbucks Customer Support staff must run to the grocery store for syrup or milk or a lab must divert specimens to another lab if equipment, power or reagents fail. But again, the customer gets their beverage or test result without knowing what happens “behind the scene” after phlebotomy (On Register) or testing (On Bar).
And for companies that sell into healthcare, I think you can extend the analogy. Some of us are fortunate to communicate directly with clients and customers. We market and demonstrate our wares, highlighting the finished product, its technology and efficiency.
But the people who really matter are the people the customers never see, the engineers, the programmers, the quality assurance personnel, the people who write computer code, design vacuum systems that process tons of specimens, automate chemistry testing, or embed, cut and stain tissue. Without this team, there isn’t an opportunity at the register, bar or drive thru window.
Do healthcare consumers know this?
It depends. Certainly physicians recognize the role of radiology technologists, laboratory technologists, nurses and hundreds of other responsibilities. I gather patients appreciate their physicians are supported by a team behind them working for them.
In commercial dealings, certainly most of us appreciate the role and need for staff that can convert customer needs into functional technology and applications that allow them to use their products to improve productivity, efficiency, safety and/or accuracy.
So, next time you get your beverage of choice at your favorite coffee shop or log onto your computer, turn on your microscope, or view a digital slide, think about the folks behind the counter and behind the scenes that make it all possible.
The analogies do fall apart a little bit when you consider that in a retail setting such as this folks get experience and cross training to do multiple jobs, sometimes in a single shift.
The ability for a pathologist to run a chemistry analyzer, cut a slide or write a computer program may not end as well as your coffee shop experience normally does…