The timing of writing this article is perfect as I am donating blood today. I filled out my questionnaire and had to answer “yes” to whether I had COVID-19 in the last 28 days. That prompted me to call 1-888-2-DONATE to find out whether I would actually be eligible to give blood today and the person I connected to was pleasant and walked me through the rules for COVID quickly and thoroughly. To be honest, I was a little nervous calling them after my experience last month.
There is a blood donor clinic in Georgetown once a month and I do my best to get there every month I am eligible. Last month, I had an appointment booked and filled in the questionnaire in the morning. There are three questions relating to travel:
- In the last 3 months, did you return from a stay of less than 6 months outside Canada and the U.S.?
- In the last 8 weeks, have you travelled outside Canada?
- In the last three and a half years, have you spent more than 6 months in a continuous period outside Canada or the U.S.?
Having gotten back from Hawaii at the beginning of April, I had to answer yes to question 2 but didn’t think anything of it because the other two questions lump Canada and the U.S. together. Big mistake. I drove to the clinic, waiting in line to get checked in and then waited in line for the screening. As the nurse reviewed the questionnaire with me, we got to the outside of Canada question and I said that I had just returned from Hawaii. “Uh-oh”, she said. “Why uh-oh?”, I asked. She then went on to inform me that Hawaii has Zika virus and people have to wait 21 days after returning before you are able to donate blood. I mentioned that the questionnaire asked if I had traveled outside of Canada or the U.S. in the past six months (to which I answered no), so the only place I could have traveled in the last eight weeks was the U.S. She said that it was not uncommon to have to turn people away who had traveled to Hawaii. I told her it wasn’t her fault and that I would call the customer service line to suggest that the first travel question be re-written to include “(Excluding Hawaii)” after “the U.S.”
And that is exactly what I did. I had a 10-minute drive home, so took the opportunity to call to make the suggestion. I dialed the number and then pulled out of my parking spot. Canadian Blood Services has always been good at answering calls quickly, and that day was no different. I was connected to a customer service person within a minute and she asked how she could help. I explained that I had just been turned away from giving blood because I had recently returned from Hawaii and was calling to suggest that on the questionnaire they somehow ensure that people know that Hawaii is excluded from the part of the U.S. they refer to.
“That is a great suggestion sir. I have made note of that and will run it up the chain to see if we can make that adjustment. Is there anything else I can help you with?” is what I expected to hear. “But Hawaii is an island sir” is what she actually said. The response seemed to come out of left field, so much so that I actually said, “Pardon?”. “Hawaii is an island in the Pacific Ocean and is susceptible to Zika so you have to wait 21 days upon your return before you are eligible to give blood,” she said.
“Yes, I just found that out,” I replied. “That is why I am suggesting that you add “excluding Hawaii” on the questionnaire.”
“But it is an island,” she repeated.
I should pause right here to mention that nothing makes my blood boil faster and harder than poor customer service. An individual staff member can make or break a guest experience. In my opinion, any guest that has come to spend time and money at any establishment should be treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, and in the most efficient manner possible. Just this weekend, I was at a restaurant before the Toronto Rock game in Hamilton. We had made a reservation and our table was waiting for us. Our server came up quickly and asked if we were going to the game, to which we replied “yes”. He then let us know that the kitchen was backed up and it could take up to 40 minutes to get our food if we ordered. Because he told us that before we ordered, we now had the option to leave because he set the expectations. That, in my opinion, was good customer service even though the situation wasn’t ideal. The opposite was happening on the other end of the phone.
“I am aware it is an island,” I said, trying to remain calm. “But would you agree with me that is also one of the United States of America?”
“It is, but…” I cut her off. “If we agree that it is one of the States they are referring to in the question, then all I am asking is that you suggest that we add the words “excluding Hawaii” on the questionnaire.”
“They are referring to the landlocked states,” she replied.
“It’s only the landlocked states that they consider to be the U.S. in the questionnaire,” she repeated.
By now I am more than halfway home and am losing my cool. “You mean to tell me that Maine, New York, South Carolina and Georgia aren’t considered part of Canadian Blood Services definition of the U.S.”
“Of course, they are sir.”
“The are landlocked.”
“I am pretty sure the Atlantic Ocean would disagree that with you,” I had lost the battle to keep myself in check. “Do you mean “continental U.S.?”, I asked. She replied yes. “Okay then,” I said. “Let’s forget about saying ‘excluding Hawaii’ and perhaps suggest that they put the words ‘mainland’ in front of U.S. on the questionnaire.” By this time, I was pulling into my driveway and wanted the conversation to end before I really lost my cool.
“Look,” I said. “This conversation isn’t going how I expected it to. I don’t know where it got derailed but here is what I expected. I expected to make the suggestion that you add the words ‘excluding Hawaii’ to the questionnaire. You were going to say good suggestion and you would see about making that happen. I would have hung up, thinking I had done my part to help others not waste their time going to the clinic only to be turned away, and you would have moved onto the next call.”
“Hawaii is an island,” she repeated as I was walking through my front door.
“We have established that,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Everyone knows that you have to wait 21 days after visiting an island before you are allowed to give blood,” she announced.
Well, that was the straw that broke this camel’s back. To my credit, I never raised my voice, but by the end of this call, I could hear it shaking.
“With that comment, you are either calling me stupid or a nobody, because I didn’t know that. If I did, I wouldn’t have wasted my time going to the clinic to donate blood today, or try to help by making this call. And the person doing my intake told me that this happens all of the time,” I told her.
“I wouldn’t know about that, you would have to talk to the people at the clinic,” she said. “I just know that it is common knowledge that you have to wait 21 days after returning from an island.”
I then asked her to please send me the proof that “everyone knows” the waiting time when returning from an island. Canadian Blood Services does a lot of research and surveys and she was very confident that I was the only person who didn’t know that Hawaii doesn’t count as being part of the U.S. because it is an island. And because this conversation was so far from what I expected, I started to think that maybe I WAS the only one who didn’t know.
When regaling this story to some friends a few days after the incident, one of them said I should have asked if Rhode Island counted as a State or not. And another chimed in that Canadian Blood Services was always looking for new donors, so how would they know that Hawaii doesn’t count as a state.
To the customer service person’s credit, she did not at all get snippy with me and I really don’t think that she realized that what she was saying was so completely disconnected from my expectations of the call. With my blood pressure at an all-time high, I realized the futility of pushing any further. Before connecting to this customer service representative, there was an automated message stating that all calls were recorded and monitored for quality assurance and training purposes. Remembering this, I implored her to please, please have someone listen to it because I didn’t know if it was me, or her, or both of us, but the call got derailed early and spiralled from there. We were not on the same page.
“You aren’t the person I need to be talking to, and I am going to have to hang up now,” I said, hanging up the phone. Take the anger and frustration out of it, and it makes for a really funny story. But it did take me a couple of days to fully calm down from the altercation – and that is really how I viewed it. Worse yet, it made me question my loyalty to a service that I really believe in. I have been donating blood since I was old enough to do so. I care so much about the organization that I took time to call to hopefully make it so brand-new donors, or any donor for that matter, didn’t get turned off because they wasted their time when they didn’t have to. But the taste this call left in my mouth, had me thinking I was done donating my time to the organization.
Two weeks later I received a call from a manager at Canadian Blood Services. True to their word, they do review calls and had flagged the interaction with the customer service representative. She apologized profusely on behalf of the organization and informed me that the person I had dealt with was going through some additional training. I told her that I appreciated that because in playing the conversation over and over in my head, I got to wondering if I hadn’t made myself clear or if there was something I had said that caused the conversation to go sideways. She assured me that it had nothing to do with me and commented that she thought I remained very composed (even though I thought I was sounding like someone enraged). She then asked if there was anything else she could help with. I said it would still be great if they would clarify on the pre-screening questionnaire that people who travel to Hawaii have to wait 21 days before being allowed to give blood.
“But Hawaii is an island sir.”
Just kidding! What she actually said was that they had done some fact finding from the clinicians and their own research and had found that I was, in fact, not the first person to be turned away because they didn’t realize that Hawaii was excluded from the U.S. as eligible places to visit in their questionnaire. They were going to look into making the change. Hopefully, one day soon, you will see something on that questionnaire that makes it clear that you have to wait 21 days after returning from the State of Hawaii before giving blood, and you will be able to say you know the person who helped make that happen.
I guess the purpose of telling you about this experience, besides putting an incredulous smile on your face, is as a reminder that if you have created fans of your business, one bad experience can be enough to turn them off. Having said that, they are still rooting for you to come through with a solution to the issue because they are your fans. That one call from Canadian Blood Services acknowledging and apologizing for the crazy customer service experience I had, was enough to have me attending today’s clinic instead of waiting for six months or even a year before realizing I was just being really petty and should still do my part to help out. Keeping on top of your comments and reviews and really focusing on the negative ones and connecting with the people that left with a bad taste in their mouth shows all potential guests that you care deeply about the experience you want to provide them. As we head into what, for most, is the busy season, keep service and guest communication at the top of your mind and you will see the results with new visitors and more repeat guests.
Have a great day!