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Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, which offers educational and management products available at www.mckenziemgmt.com. Contact Ms. McKenzie directly at (877) 777-6151 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a patient complains to you or a team member, you really need to listen. If you don’t, it may end up costing your practice thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
That’s right, not taking patient complaints seriously can be pretty costly. Just think about it. If a patient is unhappy enough to complain and you take no action, what is that telling the patient? It sends a clear message that you don’t really care about the patient experience, and that’s a good way to send patients looking for a new dental home.
Yes, I know it’s easier to roll your eyes and talk about that annoying patient once he or she leaves, but that attitude isn’t doing your practice any good. Instead, when a patient complains, take some time to really think about what he or she is saying. Chances are, if one patient is unhappy with how long it took to see the doctor or the limited evening hours your practice offers, other patients are unhappy too-they’re just not taking the time to tell you.
Still not convinced ignoring patient complaints is hurting your practice? Here’s a list of the top three ways dismissing patient concerns is costing you money, and some advice on how you can turn annoying patient complaints into positives for your practice.
1. You’re losing loyal patients. Most patients won’t tell you when they’re unhappy with your practice. They’ll simply find a new dentist and you’ll never hear from them again. The patients who take the time to complain are typically loyal patients-you know the ones who actually show up for their appointments and pay their bills on time. But if you shrug their concerns off, even these patients will take their loyalties elsewhere.
Patient retention is vital to your practice’s success, which means you can’t risk losing patients simply because you don’t respond to their complaints. When patients bring up concerns, listen to what they’re saying and do what you can to address the problem. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to talk with them and are working toward finding a solution-making them far more likely to remain part of your patient base.
2. You’re losing referrals. Happy patients tell family and friends about your practice. They sing your praises and encourage others to visit your office. This free marketing is great for your practice, but it only happens when your patients leave happy. Annoyed patients who feel like you’re disregarding their concerns certainly aren’t going to talk you up to family and friends.
Remember, unhappy patients talk too. If you don’t address patient concerns, I can pretty much guarantee these unhappy patients are telling family and friends about the bad experience they had at your practice. They may even take their complaints to social media. And that, dear doctor, is costing you potential patients and, ultimately, money.
You want your patients to have the best experience possible. If they tell you they’re unhappy about something, apologize, thank them for bringing up their concern and then do your best to address the problem. This will show them you care about their experience and value their input-and that will not only make them more likely to stay on as a patient, but to refer family and friends to your practice as well.
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3. You’re missing an opportunity to grow your practice. It’s time to start looking at patient complaints as a gift. They give you insight into problems you likely didn’t even know existed-and the opportunity to fix them. Patients complaining about your inconvenient hours? Think about adding evening and Saturday hours. Is Mrs. Jones upset because she had to wait 30 minutes to see you? Have a talk with your Scheduling Coordinator about how you can make your days more efficient and more productive.
When you address these types of issues, not only will you make the patient who brought the problem to your attention happy, you’ll also improve your practice. Other patients will notice the positive changes, and that will only mean good things for your patient retention numbers, practice productivity and your bottom line.
Use complaints to fuel practice growth
While it’s easier to blame complaints on cranky, annoying patients, that attitude is only going to cost you money. Instead, find a way to turn these complaints into positives.
How you ask? Start by making sure every team member knows about every patient complaint your practice receives. Keep 3X5 index cards in treatment rooms and the front office, and tell team members to write down every patient complaint they hear on these cards, and to then put them in a community box or basket.
Read these complaints during team meetings, and use them to spur conversation about improvements you can make in your practice. Remind team members to keep an open mind and to not get defensive-this is about improving the practice and making your patients happy, not pointing fingers.
I recommend using the index cards for compliments as well. It’s important for team members to know what the practice is doing right, and that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
If you’d like to get more feedback to encourage positive change in your practice, think about implementing patient surveys. Most patient communication systems make it easy to send these surveys, but I find many practices still don’t. Put one of your team members in charge of patient surveys, and take the feedback you receive-both good and bad-seriously.
Bottom line, you simply can’t afford to ignore patient complaints. Shrugging them off will only further annoy your patients, and ultimately hurt your practice. Take these concerns seriously and view them as an opportunity to grow and improve. Once you do you’ll find you have happier patients who won’t hesitate to refer you, and a more efficient, productive practice with a growing bottom line.
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