How to deal with complaints


iStock_000025264289_Large_PPIt’s not a situation you want to be in, but there are solutions that will leave everyone happy. Cathryn McLauchlan speaks to the experts

Customers have the power to make or break any sales-reliant business, and dentistry is no different. It can be easy to forget that even though you are a dental professional and you do know what you’re talking about, this in itself is often not enough to keep customers satisfied. Whether you believe the complaint is or isn’t justified, it helps to put yourself in the customer’s shoes because if you can defuse a potentially explosive situation, you may still end up with a satisfied customer.

In fact, that customer will be more satisfied than the average person who walks in because you listened, the problem was solved, and that’s satisfying. Everyone knows that mistakes can happen but consumer psychologist and marketing lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Dr Brent Coker, says it’s how you deal with them that will make or break your business.

“A person who experiences a transgression with a satisfactory recovery ends up being more satisfied about the experience,” Dr Coker says. “It signals empathy to the customers and that results in the customers trusting the brand more and seeing the brand as more genuine.”

So, how do you calm down the unhappy customer? Dr David Sweeney is the principal dentist and owner of 151 Degree Dental in Sydney and Cowra Dental Group in regional New South Wales. He says the key is to slow down and be patient.

“The biggest thing is actually trying to take a step back to reassess,” he explains, asking himself and his team: “How else can we approach this? This isn’t what we wanted to happen so we need to rectify this.” Dr Sweeney says you should stop, think and assess, even if that takes one week of consideration.

If you change your thought process about complaints, this can be a powerful way to relate to the customer. Dr Sweeney thinks about complaints as an opportunity for business growth. “If something goes wrong, rather than it being a bad situation, we sit down as a whole team and talk about what happened, how we can deal with it and how we can change the way we do business in the future.”

Dr Fadi Yassmin, principal dentist at Broadway Dental in Sydney, says many issues, such as bill shock, can be avoided with good communication. “Try and avoid costing issues completely,” he says. “Whatever treatment is agreed upon needs to be costed at the time of consultation, and you really need to document it.”

People complaining want to be heard.
People complaining want to be heard.

Often complications can occur that can change this agreement but even then the patient doesn’t need to receive a nasty shock. “Sometimes there are variables, and even that should be discussed prior with the patient,” Dr Yassmin says. “If nobody is quoted, the first thing the patient will say is, ‘I didn’t know how much that cost’, even though you just got them out of pain.”

At 151 Degree Dental, treatments that cost more than $200 will have a treatment plan. “When we get a new patient, our receptionist will tell them how much the initial appointment is, and that we require an hour of their time,” Dr Sweeney says. “On that appointment they always walk out with a treatment plan.”

Patients also walk out with a welcome booklet which aims to begin the formation of more personalised customer relationships. “It explains who the practitioners are, our opening hours, how you can get your records, and that if you have a complaint, bring it to us first. But of course, it still gives that option if they want to take it to a third party as well.”

Dr Sweeney uses this booklet alongside another method that aims to build trust so that customers feel more comfortable with bringing up complaints earlier. “We take an interest in the little things,” he says. “For example, we let the patient choose what they want to watch, and if they put something on they love, we would make a note in our social history file so the next time they come in it’s already on for them. And if we have new kids coming in, we ask the parents what their child’s favourite TV show is so when they come in they feel at ease.”

Many dentistry patients feel some level of anxiety when they walk through the doors, particularly if they are having a procedure. That’s why it’s so important to explain along the way. Dr Yassmin says it’s worth doing this but tread cautiously. “Treat everyone with velvet gloves because a lot of these patients are anxious. You always remember nice customer service and at the end of the day, we’re still in sales, and you need to treat each patient as your last.”

A customer’s first expectations of a practice will also have an impact on the way they handle a situation when something goes wrong. They may begin to judge small environmental impacts with more weight because of a formed negative attitude.

“If a patient walked in and saw a dead plant in the corner then they would think they couldn’t even look after a plant. They’re already creating a moment of doubt,” Dr Sweeney explains. “If the overall environment is clean, no clutter, people will work a little bit better and the patient will feel more at ease, and less inclined to be looking for something to go wrong.”

Now the customer is comfy enough and they aren’t feeling on edge, they will approach you with their complaint—here, your chances of a successful encounter are looking pretty good.

But that’s not quite enough. Dr Coker says you must also acknowledge how important the issue is to the customer. “When people complain, they usually just want to be listened to,” he says. “The person wants the dentist to understand how serious they consider the problem to be. It might be trivial in reality but for a customer, it’s important, and they want you to recognise that.”

Your dental patient is the cornerstone of your dental practice so you must prioritise their concerns. Customer satisfaction begins and ends with good communication. “Good dentistry is a great relationship between the patient, dentist and the rest of the team,” Dr Sweeney says. “If that relationship just isn’t there, then there will be a lack of belief in the outcome.”

Previous articleDo you need more than a hygienist to bolster your bottom line?
Next articleOn a mission


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here