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The last two tips have been about patient satisfaction and practice culture
stressed how important it is to believe in the philosophy that the patient is
always right (at least 99% of the time). In this tip, let's take a close look at
your office handles situations when things go wrong. And let's face it, things
will go wrong. I do wonder though, why it seems that multiple things have to go
wrong with the same person on the same job! Does that happen in your
The initial response is key
The perception of quality and integrity of your practice is largely
the first few words out of an employee's mouth (and the supporting body
language) when initially confronted with a complaint. It's so important that you
should have a staff meeting to work on that issue alone. Well-meaning
employees may try to mitigate the "damage" by trying to explain why the problem
occurred or worse, trying to make a case that there is no problem.
The correct response to a patient complaint is one of complete understanding
and agreement that the situation is intolerable and that a sincere effort will
made to correct the problem or at least learn from it.
A good response from a staff member to a serious complaint would be "Oh,
As customers, we all know that things will sometimes go wrong; what we judge
closely is what will happen next.
Unresolved problems represent a huge hidden cost
It's short-sighted to look at the immediate lab costs that may be incurred by
a problem with glasses or contact lenses or at the lost sale that occurs with a
refund. And fixing a problem begrudgingly, while letting the patient know that
you are not happy with the situation, is a double loss: you incur the immediate
cost and still lose the patient goodwill. Realize that the public relations
done by a patient who feels they were not treated fairly can be severe and long-lasting. Picture the patient who spent hundreds of dollars on glasses at your
office but can't wear them for some reason. They sit in a drawer. That person
will retell his story over and over every time eye care comes up in
The damage to your practice reputation will be fairly invisible to you, but none
the less real.
An important step in the service recovery process is to listen to the
Provide reassurance up front that you will resolve the problem, take him to a
private area of the office and ask him to tell you about the problem. Don't cut
patient off. Make eye contact and nod in an understanding way. Take notes for
the record if appropriate. You will be surprised at how easy it is to disarm a
person's anger once you show support.
Make it easy for staff to fix problems. Be sure to train staff on how to
troubleshoot a problem and to do whatever it takes to make the patient happy.
Don't make the doctor inaccessible
Remember that it's important to get the problem corrected on the first try.
staff member attempts to solve a problem but does not have the knowledge to
diagnose it properly in the first place, a wasted effort will be the result.
you have to get involved after two or more unsuccessful attempts, the patient
have lost confidence by then and will be losing patience as well. Be willing to
get involved early with a no charge office visit, or with a behind the scenes
review of the issue at hand.
Don't worry about blame
Resist saying the problem was the lab's fault. It's your lab and the patient
dealing with you! They don't want to hear about the problems you encounter in
running your practice. Train your staff to not display anger or frustration at
co-workers when faced with having to correct a mistake. Just admit the error and
accept the blame on behalf of the office. Even doctors may have to check your
ego at the door. Patients don't want to hear long-winded excuses about why the
Rx didn't work.
Use the words: I'm sorry
It is extremely rare for eye care staff or doctors to say I'm sorry - but
exactly what is needed in most cases to reach a successful resolution. You may
never reach complete patient satisfaction without it. When things go wrong,
most of us just want to hear a company representative admit that a problem
occurred and express an apology. Once we get that, attitudes change instantly!
Even the toughest meanest person will soften. What's the big deal about saying
I'm sorry? Are we afraid it is an admission of fault? It may be helpful to
rehearse saying it out loud.
The late complaint
How do you handle the patient in your chair who says her glasses have never
been right and it's eight months after dispensing? Most of us are happy to
resolve issues, but we expect the patient to be reasonable. When I'm faced with
this I say: "I'm sorry to hear you're having problems with the glasses; why did
take you so long to let me know about this?" The response to this key question
will lead you to the right resolution and just asking it lets the patient know,
nice way, that she had some responsibility in the matter. The patient will
typically soften up. Consider a few example responses and how it will change
your point of view:
I did let you know four times but your staff refused to correct the
My husband has cancer and I was just too distracted to take care of it.
I really should have come in sooner but I wasn't sure if there was a
problem or not.
I just noticed the problem last week.
In some cases, a compromise may be reached that will be fair to all. You
say: "Of course, your prescription may have changed in eight months time, but
I'll recheck it today at no charge and if we have to make a change in your
I will reduce the cost by 50%."
Ask the patient what to do
Sometimes I find I would be happy to fix a problem if I only knew what the
problem was! In cases where nothing more can be done it's best to explain that
to the patient. Often, that may be all that's needed. If you can't resolve a
problem and the patient is still unhappy, it may help to ask him what he would
like you to do. Listen and comply.
Refunds are allowed
Refunds are a sensitive topic among eye care practitioners, with some
vehemently refusing. My philosophy is of course to try all other remedies first,
but if a refund is requested, I grant it right away. I may even proactively
refund if I know I can't make a situation right. But refunds are extremely rare.
believe refunds should be limited to products and not professional fees since
the service was provided, but if a patient did not agree with that, I would
professional fees as well. Life is too short to worry about it and I stopped
these matters upset me or my staff long ago. We simply move on and feel good
about it. Don't sweat the small stuff.