Dealing With Angry Patients
Don't just return the anger; follow these tips to make patients happier.
Jerry Hayes, O.D.
One of the least pleasant, but most important public relation duties any practice owner has to teach his staff is how to deal with dissatisfied and angry patients.
Typical presentations of anger
I've found that angry patients fall into one of the following general categories:
ILLUSTRATION BY CATHY GENDRON
The truly hard to please. You know you've got one when he starts out by telling you how unhappy he was with his last eye doctor.
Someone who's having a bad day. Sometimes people overreact to a situation only to regret it later. This group will become loyal followers if you're nice and don't back them into a corner.
Reasonable people who have reasonable gripes.
No matter how hard you try, you're going to drop the ball occasionally. How well you handle things after someone becomes irritated is the key to retaining patients.
7 effective ways to proceed
Teach your staff these seven steps so they know what to do when they're confronted with an angry patient.
1. Handle problems privately. Usher complaining patients into a private room at the first sign of conflict. Staff should never raise their voices to a patient or argue with a complainer in front of other patients.
2. Listen in a kind and caring manner.
The best way to start is to give the complainer an opportunity to vent. The better job you do of remaining calm and understanding, the more difficult it is for the complainer to stay upset.
3. Summarize the complaint. Once you feel that you've done a good job of listening, ask this magic question, "Is there anything else I need to know?" Listen a bit more and then summarize the problem as you see it without being argumentative or defensive. I guarantee that you'll resolve 80% of the complaints by the time you get to this point.
4. Apologize for mistakes and offer a solution. If you can fix the problem right away, such as replacing a broken frame, then do it. If it's one of those cases where the patient still isn't happy with her vision or the way her glasses look, then volunteer a refund -- it's cheap public relations.
5. Know when to delegate up. If the patient isn't satisfied, your staffer should let her know that she'll take the issue up with the office manager or the doctor. Again, the important point is to allow the complainer to vent in your office -- not in the beauty shop to her friends.
6. Involve the patient in the solution. Acknowledge legitimate complaints, such as making someone wait too long or being late with new glasses, and tell the patient how you might handle the situation differently next time.
7. Be gracious.
After all is said and done, follow up with a letter or phone call to patients who've had legitimate gripes thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention and letting them know that you appreciate their business and their input into how you can make your practice more patient friendly.
Some people all of the time
You can't expect to please all of the people all of the time. But every time someone walks out the door unhappy, you've lost a lot in terms of future business and referrals. That's why it's smart to train your staff to do the best possible job of dealing with angry patients.
A FREQUENT WRITER AND SPEAKER ON PRACTICE MANAGEMENT ISSUES, DR. HAYES IS THE FOUNDER AND
DIRECTOR OF HAYES CONSULTING. YOU CAN REACH HIM AT (800) 588-9636 OR JHAYES@HAYESCONSULTING.NET.
Optometric Management, Issue: April 2002