How not to deal with online complaints


A few weeks ago I came across a fascinating online spat between a patient and a dentist, and I’m going to share it with you as an example of how much stress and expense can be avoided with standard operating procedures for these kinds of situation.

I say expense because I just went online to search for the Google review in question and it’s been taken down, presumably because a settlement has been reached. Luckily I saved it.

With his public response the dentist unnecessarily gave the patient leverage by breaching patient confidentiality. All his long and indignant response achieved was to cost him and his practice more time and money. Be warned: if you find yourself trying to win an argument with an angry patient in a public forum, something is very wrong.

Before writing a public response to an online complaint check it’s in keeping with your policy for handling complaints, and have it vetted by at least one other set of senior eyes.

If you don’t have a standard operating procedure for handling online complaints or a crisis communications plan, you’re putting yourself at risk of what you’re about to read happening to you. (Well, maybe you aren’t quite as vindictive as this dentist, but you’ll get my point…)

I have xxx-ed out the names of the dental practice, the dentist and the patient. Make yourself comfortable, it’s pretty long:

Patient: I had an appointment for my 9 year old son today at Xxx Xxx Xxx at 2.50, I arrived 10 minutes late to the clinic and was told by the pleasant receptionist that I was a little late so the dentist had instructed her to reschedule my appointment, I thought that was a little strange but believing it would be maybe a half hour wait or so I said ok, I was then told it was for another day.

I couldn’t believe it, I explained that we are on a flight the next day and needed my son attended to as he was in a lot of pain. She said she’d speak to the dentist Mr Xxx Xxx and returned to say sorry he can’t do it he’s with another patient now and I needed to reschedule. I became visibly upset and she apologised but couldn’t help, I asked to speak to Mr Xxx Xxx but he refused to come out to speak to me. I asked her what I was to do with my son in pain and she didn’t even have any alternative emergency numbers to give me.

I left the Clinic very upset and tried to make some arrangements. I returned to the Clinic a few minutes later and asked again through the intercom to speak to Mr Xxx as I at least wished to express my dissatisfaction with the service. The receptionist went to speak to him again and returned saying he wouldn’t speak to me and I couldn’t come in and wait as they were now closed. This was approximately 3.20pm and according to their opening times they open until 4.15 on Saturday.

I am a client at this practice and have waited 10-15 minutes to be seen on arrival and we accept this as the norm. I cannot believe that we were treated in this way today and will not be returning to this practice. As I write this I realise I may be wasting my time as obviously this particular dentist does not care that he left a 9 year old in pain today so certainly won’t take my words on board but if I let one or two other people know how unprofessional and unsympathetic he acted I may have some impact.

After this very upsetting experience I tried several dentists in the area and made contact with Xxx Xxx Xxx in Xxx, the lady said they were just closing but when I explained my story to them and told them I’d be in Xxx in 15 mins if they saw us, they said come ahead, we’ll see your son straight away. The Dentist there Xxx and her colleague couldn’t have been more helpful and they have a client for life now, a family of 5, children aged 10, 9 & 8 who will happily attend the dentist there after today’s experience. Xxx Xxx Xxx advertise as Best Practice in Xxx, I struggle to see how they understand ‘Best Practice’ and are not worthy of this title. Thank you for your time.

I would not have taken this to a public forum if you had taken the time to address me face to face yesterday while I was distressed at your clinic with my 9 year old son in pain. I appreciate you were busy, we’re all busy hence my 10 minutes late arrival. I was never informed I had a 10 minute appointment slot. Your clinic left me locked out on the street crying with two upset children and told me you were closed at 3.20 and wouldn’t speak to me.

You’re closing time on your website is 4.15 on Saturday. My sons issue was addressed and dealt with in 15 minutes at another clinic that were already closing when I called them. All this upset, pain and distress could’ve easily been avoided. Thank you

Practice owner: Hi Xxx, I am sorry you have selected a public forum to vent your complaint but I will try and deal with it in an open and honest manner. You phoned the practice at 9.20am on Saturday 12th March morning to see if we would see your 9 year old son who has never been to our practice.

Despite having an extremely busy day which was explained to you on the phone, we agreed to see your son at 2.50pm. Unfortunately, you arrived 12 minutes late for the ten minute appointment you were scheduled. At no point, which is common courtesy, did you phone ahead and let us know you were running late.

The reception immediately explained to you that I had the next patient in surgery and that you had missed your appointment. The receptionist did come down to me in the surgery to explain that you were upset about missing the appointment. Unfortunately, as I was in the middle of treating the next patient who was also in pain, I again explained that I could not now interrupt this person´s treatment for someone who had arrived late without notice and missed their appointment.  

That would be unfair, unprofessional and unethical in my opinion. In regards, to your complaint about having to wait at Xxx Xxx Xxx in the past – this is completely UNTRUE. In fact, I have checked the computer details for the last three appointments and you have arrived 8, 10 and 18 minutes LATE for all your appointments. I believe this fact speaks volumes. Many thanks for your time, Dr Xxx Xxx.

I note you continue to edit and add to your inaccurate review. I refused to deal with your late arrival as I was dealing with another patient in pain who had the courtesy to turn up for their appointment at the correct time. Why should they suffer for your tardiness?

I note you have added to your review “I appreciate you were busy, we’re all busy hence my 10 minutes late arrival.” I too have a son and if he was in pain I would not be too “busy” to arrive late for his dental appointment I would be there 10 minutes BEFORE the time! I remind you you have arrived LATE for your last FOUR appointments – a fact that speaks volumes. It´s a pity you could not arrive on time with the same gusto as you write inaccurate reviews.

Incredible, right? Don’t you love the caps? This guy has the air of a disciplinarian Victorian schoolmaster and his multiple breaches of patient confidentiality haven’t helped anyone here, not least himself.

I get it; the patient was pressing his buttons. But however wound up you get with your patients, don’t let this happen to you. Get in touch if you don’t have a standard operating procedure in place for bad reviews.


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