Damage Control 101: What To Do When It Hits The Fan
Dental teams have control over 90% of the reasons why patients leave, and every new patient costs the practice six to seven times what it costs to keep an existing patient. However, few dentists make any effort to know how patients really feel about the care the entire practice is delivering. In fact, for most, no news is good news, and many are lulled into a false sense of security. Don’t ask, they won’t tell.
And you’re right. Most dissatisfied patients will never say a word. 96% of unhappy customers (patients) don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (1st Financial Training Services).
While you may be blissfully unaware of what unhappy patients think of your practice, others are not. In fact, according to White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a disgruntled customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience, and around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20. And if they are posting their dissatisfaction on social media, those numbers grow exponentially.
They might have their records sent elsewhere, giving you a clue that they aren’t exactly thrilled with your business. But most unhappy patients will just fade away. So it can be particularly jarring when one of them actually makes the effort to tell you.
Understandably, the human reaction often is to assume a defensive posture or dismiss it as being inconsequential - just one of those difficult patients trying to muck up your otherwise serene view of the practice operations. The last thing you want to do is stand there and accept it, yet it’s the one thing you must do, and do it well. Why? Because the complainer is actually on your side, whether you or they realize it.
Difficult as it is to believe, this gripe is an act of genuine respect. It tells you that the patient values your practice enough to create an uncomfortable situation in order to salvage or repair this professional relationship. They really don’t want to just walk away; they are willing to stick their neck out to help you fix a problem.
Instead of putting up your guard, invite the patient to sit down and discuss the matter. The point of this exchange is to transform patient complaints into positive relationship-building experiences, which they can be if you view them not as indicators of poor service but opportunities to provide better service. From there, follow these steps to manage the complaint:
1. Listen. They want to tell you what went wrong. Give them the opportunity without interrupting. Remember this is not a personal affront; it’s a business concern that the practice now has the opportunity to address.
2. Pay attention to your body language and your facial expressions. Be careful not to indicate irritation or frustration in your demeanor. If you think of yourself as calm and concerned it will come across to the patient.
3. Take notes detailing the experience or situation.
4. Apologize sincerely to the patient for the problem, even if you do not feel the practice is at fault. Blame isn’t your chief concern, addressing the problem is.
5. Communicate. Tell them that you will look into the matter.
6. Follow-up. If it requires follow-up with the patient tell them that you will get back to them within a specified time period, such as by the close of business tomorrow, and do so.
7. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention.
8. Investigate the matter further to get the full picture. Evaluate it and consider an appropriate solution.
9. Talk to staff. If the complaint is the result of a practice system, consider bringing the matter up at the next staff meeting and ask the team for input on how it can be addressed to avoid similar complaints in the future.
10. Take action. Don’t just gather information and do nothing. Implement steps and procedures to avoid a recurrence of the same or similar problem.
Avoid putting yourself in a state of perpetual “damage control.” Get ahead of potential problem areas by regularly asking for feedback from your patients. Ask the patients if the practice is truly patient friendly. Are the staff welcoming and helpful? Is the financial policy clear? Are appointment times convenient? Ask yourself if patients are treated the way you would want to be treated. The information you gather is literally worth a fortune in patient retention.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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