Too often, people equate customer service with customer experience. Saying that the customer service department is responsible for customer experience is like saying the emergency room is responsible for health care.

Indeed, just as people bear some responsibility for their own health, customers should shoulder some of the burden for creating good customer experiences. We've written before that "the customer is only right provided he or she is the right customer for you." Since everyone is someone's customer, it's good to be reminded of your responsibility when you are on the other end.

A vivid reminder of the customer's role in creating a positive experience came on a recent visit one of us made to our general practitioner, when an errant patient showed up trying to get an appointment. Some background: Two years ago, the name doctors in this Manhattan practice (to which we both happen to belong) went to a concierge model. Because these two doctors have limited their practice to a smaller number of patients, they can devote more time and attention to the patients who opted in.

Promises, Promises

For a sum that's somewhere between modest and outrageous, you're promised pretty much 24/7, 365-access to your primary physician--by phone, text, email, or Skype (it's unclear how much or if the doctors sleep). You also get same-day appointments, and dedicated staff that handles scheduling, insurance issues, prescription requests, referrals, and the like.

But that's what you get if you've paid the extra fee, as we both have. As fee-paying patients, it's alternately amusing and annoying to hear: "I'm a patient of Dr. X. I was here about six months ago. He's the only doctor I ever see, and I had trouble making an appointment on the phone."

Said the very professional admin: "Dr. X now has a concierge practice. I don't see you registered as part of that, and he has been doing this for two years now. And I don't show your having seen anyone in the practice six months ago."

Countered the man, clearly annoyed at having been caught in a couple of fibs, "Well, I don't see why I can't see him if he accepts my insurance."

Infinite Patience

The admin stood her ground, with patience and equanimity, and the would-be patient huffed and puffed his way out the door. The admin was absolutely right, because the would-be patient was a bad customer, patient, client--and the wrong one for this practice.

And lest you think these doctors are uncaring or only interested in making a buck--not true. To keep the large, comprehensive practice afloat, the concierge model proved to be an economic necessity.

How do you avoid being the person who gets called out in a column for their bad behavior? Here five ways that as a customer, you can contribute to creating a good customer experience:

  1. Don't ask for more than you paid for. Businesses and practices have to segment customers. You can't expect Dover sole if you ordered the fish and chips.
  2. Be informed. Know what you are entitled to under whatever agreement is in place.
  3. Be empathetic. Empathy is at the heart of design thinking and service design. Before you ask for or expect something you haven't paid for, think about how you behave when customers or clients want more - too much - from you.
  4. Be clear about what you want, why you are disappointed, what you expect, and what makes you think you are entitled to something you didn't get.
  5. Be nice. Chances are the person you are dealing with isn't trying to screw you over (and if he or she is, well, being nice may be the most disarming thing you can do). You can always work your way up to being difficult. It's much harder to walk it back.

Following the rules for being a good customer is more than good karma. It's also a great way to learn about how to design better experiences for the customers who are right for you.