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December 8, 2016
September 20, 2017

How to Confront Client Complaints Head-On

Niqole Varani

The best way to address customer complaints is directly and promptly. It is a commonly held belief that what differentiates an outstanding experience from an average one is customer service. The personal touches you provide, the consumer experience from check-in to check-out, and your team’s willingness to go above and beyond are key factors to providing an excellent experience. But when something goes wrong during their visit, how does your team handle it?

You should make sure that you provide personal attention to someone voicing a complaint or concern. Provide them with your full, undivided attention; listen intently to their concern; and restate their complaint, summarizing the perceived faults. Try to put your emotions aside and calmly reply to them, regardless of how rude or antagonizing they may be.

Although it is very natural to want to defend our team, our doctors, or the medicine offered, simply telling the client they are wrong likely won’t help in diffusing the situation or keeping the client from becoming even more upset. So try to avoid challenging their complaint initially. If no immediate resolution is available or if you need time to look into the concern and to speak with team members regarding an incident, be sure to clearly communicate that with the client. Let them know you will get back to them within a given time frame, for example: “I will call you tomorrow between 3 and 4pm, after speaking with Dr. Jones.” Make a point of following through promptly and keeping your word. 

When listening to a complaint, consider thanking the client. “What?!” I don’t mean with a condescending, pretend smile; I mean a genuine heartfelt thanks. It is important to know where the opportunities for improvement are within your hospital, so thank the client for bringing this concern to your attention.

Acknowledge what the client is saying. Are they upset that they had to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes past their scheduled appointment time? Are they concerned because they did not get an update following a surgical procedure? Are they unhappy because of an interaction with a specific employee? Whatever the underlying reason for their complaint - acknowledge it and make sure you clearly understand the nature of their concern.

If you are able to offer resolution, clearly identify what can or cannot be done to accommodate any requests they may have. Make sure the client understood what you said; ensure that you maintain a professional and courteous demeanor while stating your intent.

If the situation warrants it, offer a heartfelt apology to the client. Your goal is to end the conversation with a sincere apology and appreciation for your client. Make sure they know you are sorry for the inconvenience the added wait time may have caused; for the added worry and undue stress they endured while awaiting a post-surgery phone call; or for an employee calling their pet by the wrong name! Thank them for bringing the incident to your attention and for giving you the opportunity to work it out with them. For some clients, this sincere effort will pay off. For clients who will not be satisfied, your professionalism and calm demeanor will at least leave a positive impression.

Finally, once you have done what you can do, move on! It can be hard to not take client complaints personally, it often seems as though the perceived failings are our own personal failings. Try not to dwell on the complaint: Use it as on opportunity to revisit hospital or personnel policies and then move on with your day. Most businesses will have the occasional complaint. If, however, you are faced with routine complaints, it may be a sign that you need to take a critical look into a specific area. 

Complaints, unfortunately, will be a part of your business; you should have a plan in place for how to respond to them in the most professional, gracious and prompt way possible. If you are able to address a client’s concern, and they give your practice another chance, they may just tell their friends and family about the excellent customer care they received – and that’s a win-win for all!

Consider purchasing our Management Tools binder, packed with all the veterinary management tools you need to make your practice a success.

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