"We need to do a biopsy."
That's what my doctor told me during a recent office examination. What started as a routine specialist visit quickly turned into two of the scariest weeks of my life — and one of the most unpleasant medical experiences I've ever had.
In retrospect, I realize there are many ways my doctor could have made those weeks less torturous. Simple planning and communication steps would have gone a long way toward easing the stress and anxiety before, during, and after the procedure.
It also occurred to me that, in some ways, this experience parallels the process our clients undergo during an audit — and that many of the same improvement measures could be applied. Unfortunately I didn't get to write my doctor an audit report, but I have used my reflections to identify a few ways auditors can improve the client experience and provide more relevant, timely feedback.
1. Involve Clients in the Planning Process
My doctor never told me why I needed the biopsy or the other invasive procedures he performed — or what he expected to find. I was uninformed about the procedure and resorted to frantically searching the internet the night before (which I don't recommend before any invasive medical tests).
It's easy to make this same mistake with audit clients. We may perform what to us is a routine audit procedure without explaining why we are performing it, what we are looking for, and what to expect. Neglecting to provide this information can hinder the audit process before it's begun by putting clients on edge.
2. Provide Pain Relief
I would rate my biopsy a 9 out of 10 on the pain scale — if 1 is a paper cut and 10 is the worst pain imaginable. My doctor chose not to use any anesthesia or numbing agent and instead handed me a grape lollipop to "distract me" from the excruciating pain. Once I stopped fuming, I began to wonder if I've ever figuratively handed an audit client a lollipop, assuring him or her that "we're here to help" without taking into account the disruption an audit brings.
The first step to providing clients pain relief is understanding the impact our presence has on their daily operations. During planning meetings, auditors can discuss ways to minimize any negative impacts — whether that's avoiding scheduling meetings during their busiest times, using a tool to pull our own samples and reports, or providing clear expectations and communication throughout the audit. We should always be asking, "How can I make this audit less painful for my clients without compromising the value it provides?"
3. Be Honest
When I asked how long the procedure would last, my doctor chuckled and dismissively replied, "Three to five seconds." After three minutes of the worst pain ever inflicted on me, I was in shock. Someone I trusted with my health had lied to me.
As auditors, we lose all credibility if honesty and transparency are not among our core values. Even when it's uncomfortable, such as sharing adverse or sensitive audit findings, we must communicate honestly and openly with clients to earn their trust.
4. Furnish Timely Results
"We'll call you within a week either way to give you the results," the doctor assured me. So I anxiously waited, taking my phone with me everywhere I went to make sure I didn't miss the call. But that call never came, and I feared the worst. When I couldn't wait any longer and called the office, I was told my results couldn't be disclosed by phone.
I found out nearly two weeks later at an appointment that I was cancer-free. I'd spent needless days fearing the worst due to the doctor's failure to communicate timely.
At the beginning of every audit, I tell my clients they'll receive feedback from me throughout the audit, and I notify them immediately if I find anything significant. I've realized that providing great service throughout the engagement includes a continuous feedback cycle — whether that means frequent meetings with the department head or regularly sharing positive feedback (instead of communicating only when an issue arises).
5. Solicit Feedback
Although my experience was needlessly painful, my doctor probably had no idea he was causing harm or doing anything wrong. And because there is no patient feedback loop in place at his practice, it's unlikely he'll improve.
It can be uncomfortable for auditors to request feedback from audit clients. We fear they may use the feedback cycle as a weapon to seek retribution for critical audit findings. But the alternative is worse. If we aren't actively seeking feedback, we may fail to improve, and our value will decline.
Do No Harm
The next time I start an engagement, I hope I'm a better auditor thanks to the lessons learned from my procedure. I certainly intend to focus more attention on the client's experience, knowing that the audit will be more effective and add more value as a result. Perhaps I can't eliminate the inconvenience or discomfort of an audit, but I can help make the engagement less disruptive and stressful by endeavoring to be a pain-free auditor.