Every dental practice may receive some degree of negative patient feedback at some point. Learn how to handle it the right way, by turning a negative experience into a positive opportunity to grow.
1. Address Patient Complaints Immediately
Don't wait to address negative feedback. Although you may be unsure of what to say or how to defuse the situation, letting a complaint go unanswered can only serve to upset the patient more. If the complaint was made in a visible place, such as in your Google Business reviews or social media platforms, this could also add urgency to responding. However, because of privacy issues, you may not be able to respond publicly. You can try to resolve the issue with the patient and, if the matter is resolved, ask them to delete the public post.
Ensure you have at least one staff member in charge of monitoring online channels of communication and addressing patient complaints, depending on the size of your practice. Try to take the conversation offline by reaching out to the patient privately.
2. Take a Step Back Emotionally
When a patient begins criticizing your practice and even your skills as a dentist, it doesn't take long to reach your boiling point. It can be difficult not to take things personally, but it's important that you take a step back emotionally from the situation. Understand that you've likely been in a similar position before, having paid for a service that didn't quite meet your expectations. Even when negative, patient feedback is a veritable gold mine in the value it offers your practice when you’re able to process the information thoughtfully and without a knee-jerk emotional response.
3. Avoid "Blaming" Patients or Trying to Prove Your Point
When a person makes a complaint, they're rarely objective. They see things very clearly from their own point of view and often have difficulty seeing the other side of the situation. This can make it tempting to try to explain your position, especially if the patient doesn't have all the information.
Don't try to prove your point, even if it's a good one. The patient is likely to become angrier, and you may come across as though you're "blaming" them or making excuses in some way. As hard as it can be to hold back details that may defend your position, handling patient complaints professionally, without seeming like you’re arguing, helps keeps your reputation clean in the long run.
4. Ask Questions to Clarify
If you're not sure you heard your patient correctly, or you want to make sure you're understanding the message they want to communicate, don't be afraid to ask questions to clarify. Not only will you get the information you need, but you'll also show patients that you're actively listening to what they have to say. Asking follow up questions can indicate that you're invested in the conversation and seeking their satisfaction, which can help to reassure the patient and begin to defuse the situation.
Even if you don't genuinely have any questions, you can always ask something to the effect of, "I'm hearing you say this...is that right?"
Patients need to hear you're sorry. Whether your dental practice was truly in the wrong or not is largely irrelevant, although it may not seem like it. Even if your patient is mistaken about what happened, they still had a less-than-stellar experience at your office and that's something you should care about regardless of who may have been "at fault" in the matter.
Make eye contact when you offer your patient an apology, even if it’s apologizing for their unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Don't follow up with "but," or "although," or make any attempt to shift the weight of the matter off your shoulders. Apologies can be uncomfortable, but it's often important that you offer your patients a genuine one without excuses.
6. Work Towards a Resolution as Quickly as Possible
Unfortunately, not all matters within a dental office can be resolved in minutes, or even just a day. When a resolution takes time to reach, already upset patients can get even more frustrated. Even if you explain the legitimate reason for the delay, your patient may not be understanding or feel like it's an acceptable solution. While there's only so much you can do, it's important to communicate to your patient that you're doing everything you can.
Do what you can to work towards resolving the issue as quickly as possible, even if that means exploring multiple options or looking into new ones. If a resolution will take time, it's critical that you keep your patient updated on the status of the matter. Even if you have no new news to give them, hearing from you will remind them that you're still working on it and you haven't forgotten them.
7. Discuss Complaints with Your Staff Behind the Scenes
If a staff member was involved in the matter, avoid discussing it with them in front of the patient, especially if you haven't listened to your employee's side of the story. Take a few minutes to step away from the front desk and ask your employee to recount their experience. Likely, neither your employee nor the patient is 100% correct, and the truth of the matter is usually somewhere between the two. Listen to both to get a better idea of what really happened.
You should also avoid throwing your staff under the bus, even if they did make a mistake and the patient's complaint is clearly legitimate. Inform your patient that you will handle the matter internally, but don't give details about what that entails. Take care of any disciplinary action behind-the-scenes, ideally also avoiding discussing the matter too much with other employees beyond using the situation as a teaching example.
Discover More Opportunities for Growth in Our Free eBook
Improving the patient experience within your dental office is one important way to help it grow. There are many strategies you can use to help improve care and the quality of services you offer. Get our free eBook today to learn more ways to expand your dental practice and become a leading provider of quality dental health care in your area. Download your copy here.
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Treloar & Heisel, Inc. and its divisions do not offer legal or practice management advice. Please consult a professional concerning these topics.