Although no one likes receiving a complaint, they present you with an opportunity to identify and rectify specific problems with your current systems or service. They can also help you to develop your relationship with your patient, by allowing you to demonstrate that you value their business by taking their concerns seriously and dealing with their complaint. So believe it or not, they are good for business. It gives you an opportunity to become a hero; however, it also means that if you don’t deal with it effectively, you can become a villain

Firstly before I go into the steps, we need to ask why it is important to deal with complaints effectively. Some of these are obvious, but it still needs a conversation with the whole team so that they are aware. These include:-

1. This really does sound obvious, but if you don’t deal with a patient complaint effectively then you will lose them. If they have family and friends with you as well, then the chances are you will also lose them.
2. I have been in sales and marketing for over 30 years and one thing that most people don’t know is that it costs at least five times as much to gain a new patient than  to keep an existing one. Keeping a complaining patient should be the top priority, and at these cost ratios, you can afford to be generous in your time and effort.
3. There is a growing culture within the UK of people taking their grievances further ie seeking legal proceedings with solicitors, or taking it to the governing bodies, such as the GDC. If this happens, then there is only going to be one winner and that’s not going to be you.
4. It’s not good for staff moral and these mistakes will be repeated again and again. People’s work standards will fall.

Another reason why it is important to handle complaints is that it allows you to look at some of the procedures within your practice and make the necessary changes, so that you don’t repeat them.

As I have already mentioned if you deal with the complaint well and go above the call of duty, then you can become a hero and you will earn massive respect from your patient.

There are several key stages when handling a complaint:

• Firstly say sorry that the problem has happened. This is not an admission of guilt, it is just good manners. This is the most important part of the whole process, if you don’t say sorry, it’s going downhill fast.
• Thank the patient for complaining – You should consider yourself lucky that the patient is prepared to give up their time and money to let you know they have a problem, instead of just walking away – a complaint is a gift. If they don’t tell you and leave you will never know and you might keep repeating the same mistakes.
• Wear your patient’s shoes- In Dale Carnegie’s brilliant book ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ one of his principles is to see things from the other person’s point of view.

You have to wear their shoes and take yours off and see what problems you have given your patient. This will instantly give you an advantage, as you will have more empathy with the patient.
• Demonstrate empathy- A great phrase to say is ‘Mrs (Patient) I am so sorry this has happened and you are right to bring this up, if this happened to me, I also would be upset’. This is a brilliant phrase to communicate and you will see visibly an instant change in the patient’s mood.
• Get all the facts first – Letting the patient give you all of the information helps you fully understand the situation AND, if they are emotional, will give them time to calm down. This is where you listen attentively, under no circumstances do we interrupt the patient here, let them communicate what they are not happy with and get it off their chest.
• Correct the mistake – Don’t leap straight to the “free gift” route. While it’s very tempting to give the customer a gift, or vouchers, too often it is done INSTEAD of solving the problem.

This can lead to more complaints about the same thing in the future, because the problem hasn’t been fixed.  Make sure that your definition of the right fix is the same as the patients.

• Learn from every complaint – Do something! Fix the process; train staff in the issue; eliminate the fault. Wherever possible let the complaining patient know that they have helped you resolve a problem – they’ll feel great and come back again and again (and will probably tell their friends!).
• Always respond – Make sure that EVERYONE who complains on the telephone, by letter, or by email gets a rapid and appropriate response.
• Listen to your staff – They nearly always care about your Practice and doing a good job. They are also much closer to the patients than you are. Ask their views regularly and make changes when they are sensible.
• Follow up- I suggest that you follow up with your patient, maybe even send them a bunch of flowers, or a card to say sorry. This will mean so much and you will impress them.

If you follow the above steps, then you can turn a complainer into a raving fan. Recently I had to complain to my Insurance Brokers, although they are a national company, I received a standard letter from their head office informing me that I would receive a reply within 2 months. On receiving this letter, I was shocked that it was going to take two months to deal with an issue I had. Speed is crucial when dealing with a complaint, do not under any circumstances brush it under the carpet, act immediately.

A complaint is a gift and you should consider yourself lucky that a patient is prepared to give up valuable time to help you improve your organization, but you must train your team in complaints handling.

Give them confidence to tackle the difficult patients and support them in their actions. Excellent complaint handling isn’t easy and can sometimes be stressful and feel unrewarding.

Your team should be aware that complaints are a top priority item for your operation, and anyone who deals with them must have sufficient authority to resolve them completely, empowering your team here is a must.

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