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  05.05.05 Issue #165

The Single, Biggest Contributor to Patient Frustration

Sally Mckenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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For years, marketing and customer service gurus asserted that for every person who complained, 12 more would have liked to but chose not to say anything. Today that figure is more than double. One complaint equals 26 unhappy patients. Pretty scary, eh? You get a single patient who comments that your practice hours make it difficult for her to keep appointments and you have nearly 30 others who feel the same way but are mum on the issue. Or maybe there's that recurring situation with one of your front desk employees. You know the one, occasionally she'll take an abrupt tone with a patient or two – make that two dozen.

The bottom-line, unhappy patients typically don't say a word to you, but they do discuss lippy Linda your sassy front-desk person over dinner with friends and your “ridiculously inconvenient” hours with their colleagues and coworkers.

A few years ago, the Better Business Bureau reported that the single biggest contributor to customer frustration was the “lack of a visible and continuing means to communicate concerns”. In other words, your customers/patients want to give feedback. They want an outlet to express a problem or comment without creating an awkward situation for themselves, the doctor, or the employees. In the absence of that, they are much more likely to broadcast their irritations and/or transfer to another dentist.

A simple, straightforward patient questionnaire is the most cost effective and efficient tool dental practices can use to provide patients with an outlet to give feedback and raise concerns long before they become serious practice problems. Surveys are windows into specific areas of the practice that you seldom, if ever, have the opportunity to personally see. They are a means of gaining valuable feedback and insight from your “customers”. They are your crystal ball into the practice that enables you to anticipate the future and reexamine the past. They allow you to better understand what patients find to be helpful or frustrating.

Consider the survey as an essential component of a much larger patient relations effort:

  • It allows you to encourage your patients to communicate their concerns, as well as those things that they most appreciate, directly to you.
  • It clearly demonstrates that you are committed to patient satisfaction.
  • It gives patients confidence in your willingness to identify and address potential problems.
  • It allows you to solicit input on specific aspects of your office that directly relate to the patients, including: financial policies, billing practices, appointment scheduling, infection control measures, staff courtesy, or even how well they believe dental procedures are explained to them.
  • It enables you to identify if there are employee training issues that need to be addressed.

Patient surveys promote goodwill among your “customers”. But, most importantly, they enable you to recognize those office practices and procedures that are working well and promptly address issues that you would never have realized were creating a problem.

Next week, the simple, straightforward and effective patient survey.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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