Editor's note: Sally McKenzie was a powerful voice in the dental industry until her passing in 2020. We're sharing this article in the spirit of having her high-quality and insightful work live on and continue inspiring readers. Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.
Many dentists don't take patient complaints seriously. They often chalk complaints up to patients being cranky or unreasonable, so they go about their days once patients leave and don’t give those complaints a second thought.
If that’s your attitude toward patient complaints, it could be costing your practice big-time. If you routinely ignore complaints, it tells your patients you don’t really value their opinions or care about their experiences. Not only that, but if one patient is upset about something, there’s a pretty good chance there are others who feel the same way who aren’t taking the time to tell you.
Yes, patient complaints can be annoying, but you really should start looking at them as a gift. Here’s what could happen if you don’t:
Patients will find a new dental home
Patients want to feel valued. When they do, they’ll be more likely to stay loyal to your practice. How valued will they feel if you blow off their issues? Keep in mind that most patients won’t tell you when they’re unhappy. They just won’t come back. Patients who complain are typically loyal patients who want to see improvements in your practice. But if they don’t feel heard, you can bet they’ll take their loyalties to the practice down the street.
More insights from Sally McKenzie:
When patients tell you their concerns, really listen to what they say. Thank them for bringing the problem to your attention and assure them that you’ll work on finding a solution. Trust me, they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re taking their concerns seriously, and this will make them more likely to remain loyal.
You’ll miss an opportunity for growth
Patient complaints give you valuable insights into problems you weren’t even aware existed. Why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to fix those problems?
A few examples: Mr. Smith complains because he had to wait half an hour to see you. Instead of shrugging it off, talk with your scheduling coordinator about why you tend to run behind. Find ways to make your schedule more efficient and productive, and provide extra training if necessary.
Mrs. Taylor is upset because your front desk staff wasn’t very friendly when she arrived, and they seemed too busy to answer her questions. Sure, the days can get pretty hectic, but that’s no reason for team members to fall short on customer service. In this situation, apologize and talk with your team members about the importance of making patients feel welcome from the moment they walk through the door.
Trust me, addressing these types of issues will do wonders for your practice. Patients who bring up the problem will notice the difference, as will your other patients. You’ll also improve efficiencies and patient retention numbers, all because you started taking patient complaints seriously.
How can you turn patient complaints into this positive change? I suggest you start by making sure every team member knows about any patient complaints. Keep index cards in treatment rooms and at the front office, and tell team members to write down patient complaints on these cards and place them in a community box or basket.
Read these cards during team meetings and use them to drive conversations about needed improvements. Remind team members to keep open minds and not become defensive. This will go a long way in improving practice problems and implementing necessary change.
You’re missing out on referrals
If patients have a great experience and leave your practice happy, there’s a good chance they’ll refer their family and friends. This free marketing represents an easy way to grow your business. But you’ll miss out if patients leave your practice feeling annoyed because you disregarded their concerns. It’s important to remember that unhappy patients talk too. They might even take to social media with their complaints, which certainly won’t help you attract patients or grow your bottom line.
The good news is that you can avoid the negativity. When patients tell you they’re unhappy about something, apologize and thank them for letting you know. Then, actually work on finding a solution. This shows patients that you value their input and want to ensure they have the best experience possible. That’s how you earn their loyalty and hopefully referrals.
While patient complaints can be a little irritating, ignoring them will only hurt your practice. Once you and your team members start taking complaints seriously, you’ll see positive changes in your practice, changes that lead to loyal, happy patients and a more robust bottom line.
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2017 and updated regularly