By JONATHAN FINE
Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving, said William Shakespeare. And a post on the Facebook group For Dentists, By Dentists this week started a really interesting discussion about this problem. David Bretton asked: “Complaints usually come from poor communication/patient management, not clinical ability… Why do so many people spend so much time improving one but not the other?”
Dentists usually find extra clinical training a lot more appealing than working on their communication skills for the simple reason that they’re more used to it. Learning the soft sell still jars with being a clinician for many people, and unless it is tackled early on it can be a significant source of stress.
And a source of danger to the business: Dental Protection data shows that the practices getting most complaints aren’t getting them because they do bad dentistry – there is no objective difference between their work and the work of other complaint-free practices – they are getting them because they aren’t communicating properly.
If not, it’s usually down to a jealous competitor intent on creating serious reputational damage: hardly a week goes by without one of our clients being attacked by a spurious online visit report depicting the practice and often the principal as a mouth butcher with the manners of a spoilt brat. Of course, when the patient file is checked they have never been to the practice (rest assured, there is a way of dealing with this type of attack).
More complaints happen in NHS dentistry and more come from women, but it doesn’t really make any difference where they come from, the question is what do you do once you get one?
It depends how it comes in. Patients complaining over the phone or in person really shouldn’t be a problem as long as you listen properly and take reasonable steps to make them happy, even when they are being a bit ridiculous. But you know this, because you have to have a formal complaints procedure. The real problems start when you get a bad review online, or worse, a hateful one. What do you do then, now it’s public?
Obviously you can’t just erase it, so this is an exercise in damage limitation. The best you can do is see it quickly and take it offline in a transparent way, with a reply to the effect of, “We are sorry you feel our services didn’t meet your expectations, can we call you to discuss how we might fix this?” Then you bury the bad review under loads of positive reviews – I suggest a minimum of five a week for the next month.
If you’re really unlucky, a disgruntled patient will notify a local or national newspaper and, if they decide the story has legs, you’ll need to start operating a higher level of reputation protection. That can’t be done according to the whims of your practice manager, there needs to be an agreed protocol in the file so no mistakes are made: damage limitation is more about not making a bad situation worse than anything else – and it’s not the same thing as your complaints procedure.
If you’d like to get a reputation protection plan in place for your practice, get in touch and I’ll talk you through the options.