Any business that works with the public will have to deal with customer complaints. It is difficult to make everyone happy, even in healthcare practices. Sadly, some patients are never happy, and they will let you know. Others will only complain when there is a valid reason. It is nearly impossible to avoid complaints, so it is important that you know how to deal with them in a positive way. Patients appreciate when their healthcare providers and their office staff listen with an open mind.
All too often, customers who complain have strong emotions about the situation. Sometimes those emotions include fear and vulnerability, which means that it is important to treat the situation carefully. The person who complains might be a patient or a patient’s representative, like a parent or adult caregiver. There are several goals for listening. The first is to listen to the situation and make it right. The second is to learn from the situation so it will not happen again. The way you deal with the customer complaint speaks volumes about the quality of your organization.
These are the steps your organization should take to deal with customers complaints in healthcare in an empathetic and professional manner:
Before doing anything with a customer complaint, the first step is to listen closely. Sometimes, patients just want someone to listen to them and you might be the person. When you are listening, let them talk. If you are listening while on the phone, take basic notes. If you are listening face-to-face, maintain eye contact and non-threatening body language.
While listening, do not argue or issue any solutions. Listen and keep your emotions in control. When they are finished, repeat what they have said so, they see that you listened and understood.
After a patient has shared a complaint, you should respond in an empathetic way. As a patient in your practice, they know that you have sensitive information about them and they may not feel comfortable with that knowledge. No matter what the complaint, you should not blame them or make them feel like their feelings are inadequate or unnecessary. Before you respond, you should think about how they feel. Then, show them that their feelings are valid and that you care.
You might respond with empathetic statements like this:
- “I’m sorry you are going through this.”
- “I can see how that would be difficult.”
- “It makes me really sad to hear this happened.”
- “Thank you for sharing with me.”
- “Is there anything else you want to share?”
Get More Information
After listening and responding with empathy, your next step is to get more information. You do this by asking questions. You want to learn as much about what happened so, no one in the office makes the same mistake. If you aren’t the healthcare provider, ask the patient if they would like to speak with the provider. Take their name and phone number so the provider can call them back.
Inform Patient about the Next Step
Your patients should know that you are listening and what you will do in response. Inform the patient that the office will look at the complaint and create a response. Let them know that once management has been able to look at the problem, you will let them know as soon as you hear back about the situation. Your patient will appreciate knowing when you will reply. If the response is not available by that time, you should call the patient and let them know the status.
Many patients appreciate receiving not only a follow-up phone call but a letter of apology, too. The letter should explain the situation and be signed by management and/or the provider, too. This is good customer service.
Develop a Protocol
Each time that you speak with the customer, write down what happened. It is important that your office develops internal procedures for managing patient complaints. Those procedures should include how you record the complaints, where you store them, and how you share them. You should also have a timeline for dealing with them so patients do not have to wait too long for a reasonable response.
Patient complaints will happen, so it is proactive to develop the protocol for dealing with them before they happen. Dealing with complaints in a timely and efficient manner can improve your relations with customers. Ignoring them will do the opposite.
Every time that you talk to patients, take time to thank them for choosing your office. Thank them for sharing their experience with you, and let them know that their satisfaction is your priority. No one likes to listen to complaints, but it is simply a part of doing business in today’s world. If you are having trouble answering calls, you can always hire a medical answering service. Having a method of dealing with them makes the process more pleasant for everyone involved.