Dr. House’s So-Crazy-It-Just-Might-Work Guide to Customer Service

House makes for some great television. It’s one of my favorite shows ever, in fact. Something just keeps drawing me back, despite the repetitive format, sour attitude, and ridiculous storylines.

However, don’t confuse the entertainment aspect of House with the real world. When it comes to reality, Dr. Gregory House, M.D. would definitely not be working in a hospital. He’d most likely be unemployable, in jail, in rehab or any combination of those.

Let’s face it, Dr. House doesn’t exactly have people skills. If you consider his patients to be his customers, then he has one of the worst customer service track records of all time. But behind the one-liners that make for good TV, there underlies helpful customer service tips. You have to dig deep to find them, though! This so-crazy-it-just-might-work customer service guide will help you locate House’s pearls of wisdom.

Here are 3 things we can learn about customer service from everyone’s favorite cynical TV doctor:

  • Everybody Lies – This is the over-arching theme of Dr. House’s philosophy, but there’s a hint of truth here. Most customers aren’t hiding a drug habit, but they do forget things. It’s also possible that they’ll give you incomplete information if they’ve made a mistake or simply because they aren’t experts in the field you are assisting them with. Therefore, it’s up to you to parse the truth from the information they do give! Guilty until proven innocent isn’t always the way to go and people won’t always lie to you, but don’t be afraid to dig deep and ask questions if that will help you crack a case.
  • Keep Your Distance – House doesn’t like to get to know (or even meet) his patients. He feels that his lack of attachment gives him the objectivity he needs to do his job. While that’s an extreme example, it’s important to have the CORRECT LEVEL of objectivity so that you can treat your customers fairly at all times. If you’re too close to them, then they could possibly try to take advantage of you. If you’re too distant, then they’ll most likely leave for greener pastures. You don’t have to keep everyone at arm’s length, as Dr. House does, but you should find a balance that works for both you and your customers.
  • Make Your Own Rules – If House was a real doctor, he’d have lost his medical license in, oh, about five minutes. He’ll willingly break any rule to save a patient, no matter how insane it seems. Although that’s a noble effort, you simply cannot break every rule and hope to keep your job, let alone your customers. However, sometimes you do have to go the extra mile and think outside the box for creative solutions to your customers’ problems. Every so often it’s okay to bend the rules if they’re at all flexible. Sometimes the ideas may meet resistance, but it’ll be worth it when you solve a problem no one else can. Just don’t induce any heart attacks (leave that to the crazy TV doctor, please).

Absurdity is fun to watch on TV, even if it makes for a terrible business model. But if you can spot the core truths behind the zaniness of House, then you can use the valuable information you’ll find there. I had never thought that Dr. House could be reasonable, but there is a method to his madness! Decipher his searing one-liners and sarcasm and you could actually learn something from this infamous character.

What else does Dr. House teach us about customer service? How can we learn from his successes and/or mistakes?

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  1. cyberneticSAM

    Ugh, don’t be mad but I am going to refrain from discussing this show, as I am in a bad mood and….well, all I will say is, Jeff this is a very good post about a show I very much do not like. So job well done!

    • JPorretto

      Thank you? I think…

  2. Amanda

    “Something just keeps drawing me back, despite the repetitive format, sour attitude, and ridiculous storylines.” and “He’d most likely be unemployable, in jail, in rehab or any combination of those.” are my great quotes from this post! You had me cracking up Jeff! =)

    I have never seen this show, but your post makes me think that I would like it. I picture him similar to Dr. Cox in Scrubs….hilarious!

    And great tie ins to customer service too….keeping the right amount of distance in your professional life is a hard thing to balance, but it is very important to do….well done with this point especially!

    • JPorretto

      Dr. Cox!! What a great reference from another one of my all time favorite shows!

  3. Jana Quinn

    I do love me some Dr. House. While his bedside manner is traumatic for most, his primary job at the hospital is to cure people that the touchy-feely doctors can’t.

    House does have the advantage of having limited – if any – competition.

    The stakes are always high because they’re generally the patient’s life/ability to walk/see/hear/breathe. Read: This is not a luxury purchase that a customer can walk away from.

    As Jeff demonstrated, though, there’s still tons to learn!

    I’d love to expand on the first one: “Everybody lies.” To extend the quotation from the pilot: “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what.”

    Is the customer lying because they’re embarrassed about the truth? They may say they went with another business because it’s run by a family friend, but they may be too embarrassed to say that they can no longer afford your prices.

    Is the custom lying because they think they can get a better deal? A customer could be playing stupid (or pretending to have more information than he/she really does) just to see if they can get a better deal.

    Like Jeff says, the best strategy for dealing with someone you suspect may be skimping on the truth is continuing to ask questions. There’s no need to get accusatory, but it’s much harder to juggle lies than it is to be straightforward. After a few innocent (but direct) questions, they may simply come forward with their actual concern – and your opportunity to fix it – just to make things easier.

    Another Dr. House tip – let non-work distractions be a source of inspiration! How often does House look at a design on a pillow or listen to one of Wilson’s woes and suddenly gets that “Eureka!” expression? LOTS.

    • JPorretto

      TOO MUCH “Eureka.” Seriously.

      I’m glad you wrote all this. I wanted to keep going about lying, but I didn’t want the blog to be too long or unbalanced. But you basically wrote a pt. 2 for me! Sweet!

  4. Scooby DOO!

    Jeff, this WAS a great show, but unlike you, I am tired of the repetition. If I have to hear another differential where they all guess Sarcoidosis, test it and then it fails, I think I’ll throw my remote at the tv in hopes to break it. I think one really good point to add though is that through trial and error, hard work, and teamwork, just about anything is possible. Well, other than bringing back Wilson’s girlfriend. Oh, how is #14 these days? I miss Kumar too.

    • JPorretto

      I get sick of the repeated A-HA moments, but other than that it just hasn’t bothered me.

      It’s 13 btw. I think that’s her name because it’s her rating out of a possible 10.

      • Jana Quinn

        CTB was the best non-regular character they’ve ever had, and I was sad about the end of season 4 (although it made for EXCELLENT television).

        Her name is 13 because that’s how many unnecessary subplots she’s been the center of. Or maybe it’s the age where a prepubescent boy when he has her same physique. Can’t remember exactly.

        • JPorretto

          Thirteen. Out. Of. Ten.

  5. Joseph Giorgi

    I’ve never seen an episode of “House,” and unfortunately it’s not available to watch instantly on Netflix. The second it becomes available, I’ll give it a look. 🙂

    Nice tips here, Jeff! I like number two. When it comes to the customer, it’s definitely important to maintain both a professional distance and an appropriate level of interest. It’s a tough line for any business to walk, but it’s an important part of delivering great customer service.

    • JPorretto

      Hee hee. You like number 2…..

      Thanks! It is important, and the lines get blurred with Social Media nowadays…

  6. Jill Tooley

    After watching one episode of House, I can see where you’re coming from with this post. He’s not personable, chatty, or overly empathetic, but the man knows how to get s**t done!

    My favorite point is “keep your distance.” It’s not cool to completely isolate customers or refuse to interact with them as House does, but it makes total sense when you put it into context. Clients who double as friends can be dangerous because they expect you to break the rules for them and give them extras that the general public may not otherwise be entitled to. Clients who feel ignored will flee the first chance they get and possibly even spread negative feedback. There has to be a happy, smiley medium in order to reach that perfect level you mentioned. 🙂

    I love this one – strong work, J-PO.

    • JPorretto

      My goodness do the “C’mon, Hook Me Up” people annoy the crap out of me. How about no?

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