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Use patient complaints to grow your dental practice

Nov. 23, 2019
Don't take patient complaints personally, advises Sally McKenzie. Think of these patients as taking the time to help you improve your practice. Chances are good they aren't the only ones who have had the problem. So take the opportunity to improve.

As soon as she sat in the chair, Mrs. Smith started to complain about how long she had to wait for an appointment. She waited three weeks and had a heck of a time finding an opening she could fit into her busy schedule. You smile politely as she vents her frustration, wondering why she’s so cranky. You chalk up the complaint to Mrs. Smith having a bad day, and you hope she’s in a better mood next time.

If this is how you respond to patient complaints in your practice, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity. When patients bring a problem to your attention, it’s important to listen and figure out how you can use the complaint to improve your practice. In this case, it sounds like there’s a scheduling issue, and Mrs. Smith probably isn’t the only one who’s had trouble getting in to see you. She’s just the one who took the time to tell you about it.

Yes, patient complaints can be annoying, but you really should look at them as a gift. They give you the opportunity to make positive changes in your practice, which can lead to growth in production and revenues.

Still thinking you would rather not deal with patient complaints? Here’s how they can benefit your practice.

Addressing patient complaints helps you earn loyalty

When patients tell you about a problem they’ve experienced with your practice, they’re not just venting. They want you to do something about it, and if you don’t, they might opt to make their next appointment at another office, which hurts practice production numbers and costs you money.

While you might be tempted to end conversations with patients who complain as quickly as possible, resist that urge. Instead, get as much information as possible. Then, thank patients for telling you about the problem and assure them you’ll work on finding a solution. This shows patients that you value their opinions and want them to have an exceptional experience. They’ll appreciate the fact that you listened, and this will make them more likely to stay loyal to your practice.

You’ll see more new patients come through your doors

If you use complaints to make positive change in your practice, patients will notice. They’ll see the practice is more efficient and that their overall experience is simply better. Patients will leave happy, and might even refer you to family and friends.

The opposite is likely to happen if you ignore patient complaints. Instead of singing your praises to family and friends, annoyed patients might be tempted to tell them about their negative experience, both in person and via social media. You’ll end up losing these patients and any referrals they might have made, and that certainly won’t help you grow your practice.  

Your systems will get a performance boost

Taking action based on patient complaints will help you improve your systems and practice efficiencies. Issues that kept you from meeting your full potential (issues that you may not have even realized you had) will no longer hold you back. This will reduce stress for you and your team members while also moving you closer to meeting your goals.

Let’s go back to Mrs. Smith’s example. Her complaint about having to wait weeks for an appointment points to a problem with your scheduling system. Now that you know the problem exists, you can work with your scheduling coordinator to correct it.

Getting the most out of patient complaints

Instead of shrugging off patient complaints, I suggest you write down every one you receive, and tell your team members to do the same. Discuss the complaints during team meetings and work together to come up with solutions.  

It’s also a good idea to actually seek out complaints. That’s right; ask patients what they don’t like about your practice, and then use the feedback to make improvements. What’s the best way to do this? Send surveys to patients that ask about their experiences and what changes they’d like to see. These surveys are pretty easy to set up through most patient communication systems and will provide you with a goldmine of information you can use to grow your practice.

Patient complaints are a gift

Remember, don’t take complaints personally. No practice is perfect, and anything patients tell you will provide insight into how you can better meet their needs and ultimately grow your practice. If you don’t take complaints seriously, patients will think you don’t value their opinions or their business, and that’s a good way to send more patients to the practice down the street.

If you take patient complaints seriously, you’ll improve your systems and be able to offer patients a better experience. They’ll see you’re focused on providing optimal care and exceptional customer service, and they’ll appreciate your efforts. You’ll not only win patient loyalty, you’ll boost production and your bottom line.

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. For over 30 years, Sally has immersed herself in techniques, systems, and methods to improve the performance of dental practices. She was a dental auxiliary, dental business administrator, and dental educator for several years prior to founding McKenzie Management in 1980. Contact her at (877) 777-6151 or [email protected].