One Size Fits None – Internal Focus at the Expense of Customer Relationships

By now everyone has heard about the 69-year-old passenger who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, suffering a stunning set of injuries including a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two front teeth. Most of us probably have seen enough of the coverage to have learned the reason behind all of this as well: to make enough room on the flight to transport a separate crew so that a United flight the next day would not be disrupted. This story has justifiably received media attention (and strong reaction) all over the world, and we have been discussing it here at Lexitas as well. In the end, this surreal and violent event was a result of a misguided adherence to policy at the expense of people.

Those working in clinical research can relate to the complexities and challenges that an airline faces to successfully balance regulatory requirements and safety responsibilities with customer satisfaction. It is easy to become procedure-laden and drive a culture of strict adherence to policy.  Rules and regulations are necessary for companies to create operational order, flow, efficiency, and ultimately profit margin, but there is more to running a business than writing and following a rule book. Consider this far less serious true story that illustrates the same point.

One of us recently walked into a major donut chain to fulfill a weekend ritual: enjoy a cup of coffee—only something went wrong on the way to the counter. The customer was told that “the system was down” and they could not sell any of the hundreds of donuts and various assorted other items (including pots of hot fresh coffee) that were ready and waiting—until the computers were “fixed.” The strange and frustrating part of the story is that even after telling the employee that this would be a cash transaction and that the change could be kept as a tip, the customer was still told it was a no-go.

Obviously, what happened at the donut shop pales in comparison to what happened on the United plane, but both instances speak to the same core issue. In both cases, it was more important to “follow policy” than serve the customer.

At Lexitas, we achieve operational efficiency in a regulated environment, but not at the expense of our partners and customers. With each new or proposed change to a procedure, we ask ourselves: is this necessary and does this benefit our customers? A “one size fits all” approach may be optimal for operational efficiency but may not necessarily result in the best customer experience—so while we work within a structured framework, we tailor our approach and execution for each unique relationship. 

Some customers need a partner with deep therapeutic area experience to help them with protocol development; some customers have the science and medical expertise, and need a CRO to simply execute; some customers need a CRO to be an extension of their operation (and culture); still others are focused on meeting a corporate timeline to meet shareholder expectations and need creative operational solutions.  Is your CRO asking how they can help you, and more importantly, are they listening and responding to your specific challenges?

If United had the big picture in mind—which clearly should include customer relationships–perhaps a different approach would have been taken. It does need to be pointed out that passenger safety needs to be upheld first and foremost, and that upsetting one customer to protect the safety of all the others is understandable. But in this case, expediency was the issue, not safety. Because United was so focused on following the policies and checking the boxes, they lost sight of what they were in business to do: safely fly customers to their destinations. And on a far smaller scale in terms of consequences, doesn’t the donut shop exist to sell donuts and coffee to paying customers?

Building and fostering relationships is one of our core values. We make it a point to keep that in mind every day, knowing that how we work with each other, our customers, our vendors, and our investigators is a focus and a priority. We are in tune to the signs and symptoms of an operation that is too internally focused, and we work diligently to prevent it. Our clients come first, and we strive to be highly competent, easy to work with, and focused on what is important to them. It’s not just WHAT we deliver, it’s HOW we deliver that makes Lexitas unique.

Additional Resources

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