By Kyle Bolton, AuntMinnieEurope.com contributing writer

August 4, 2015 -- Have you ever looked at the Facebook page of your department or practice and found that one of your patients has given you a bad review? Even in a well-run unit, mistakes can be made that lead to a poor patient experience -- and a resulting complaint.

The key in this situation is knowing how to interact with an angry or disappointed patient in a way that turns a rant into a rave, a bad review into a good one. This article will cover the steps a practice can take to handle a bad review, make the situation right for the patient, and ensure that future patient experiences are positive.

Let's start with an example from our practice.

A poor patient experience

Recently, there was a problem with miscommunication at our clinic that resulted in a very unhappy patient. Here is the bad review we received from this particular patient:

Bad review
A bad review.

It can be frustrating and upsetting to read a review like this, especially after working so hard to set up a well-run practice. Fortunately, we were able to turn this situation around, as I will show you later in this article. First, however, let's talk more about bad reviews.

Why bad reviews can hurt your practice

Kyle Bolton
Kyle Bolton gives advice on how to turn a rant into a rave.

Bad reviews and patient complaints are a problem for any clinic or practice. According to research, the following statistics have been found:

  • The average dissatisfied customer will complain to between nine to 15 people about their bad experience -- and 13% of them will complain to more than 20 other people (White House Office of Consumer Affairs).
  • For every one customer who complains, approximately 26 others have a complaint but do not voice it (Lee Resources International).
  • A customer is four times more likely to patronize another business for problems related to service than they were for problems related to a price or product (Bain & Company).

In short, bad reviews can spell big trouble for any practice. So let's take a look at the ways in which it's possible to turn negative customer experiences into positive ones -- and avoid bad reviews in the first place.

Practice active listening -- no matter what the media

American educator Stephen Covey notes that most people listen with an intent to reply. They tend to form their responses in their mind while the other person is talking -- causing them to not pay attention to what the person is saying, listen selectively, or simply misunderstand. To help avoid this, try to listen actively and ask questions to clarify the problem if needed -- this will help you deal with a patient who has been dissatisfied with the services at your clinic.

Whether you are communicating with your patient in person, over the phone, or through emails, Covey recommends listening with the intent to deeply understand the other person. Listening helps you to understand the actual situation that caused the problem to begin with (which is the first step to finding with a solution). It can also help turn negative patient experiences into positive ones if patients are simply given a chance to air their grievances and know that they are talking with someone who cares.

Remember it is not always your fault

Cultivating Covey's skill of listening with the intent to understand can help improve situations that arise when patients are complaining not because of the service at the practice, but because of a bad outcome they have received. A good example of this at our practice is a patient who has come in for an early pregnancy scan incredibly excited, only to discover the heartbreaking news that the pregnancy was not viable.

Later, that patient may call up feeling angry, frustrated, or frightened, and take it out on myself or practice staff members. In this case, we simply allow the patient to get some of these emotions out, which helps diffuse the situation.

The fact is, most people understand that even a well-run practice can make mistakes. Once that mistake is made and has been acknowledged -- then the issue becomes how you are going to make it up to them. As important as they are, active sympathy and good communication are not enough. Once the cause of the patient's unhappiness is understood, it is vital to come up with ways to make up for the mistake (whether it was your fault or not) -- and make your patient happy.

How we reacted to our bad review

If a patient has a negative experience at our clinic, our policy is to offer a full refund or invite the patient back for a complimentary session, like the one we offered to our unhappy patient in the letter below:

Apology
Their apology.

Note that in the letter we sympathized with her bad experience. Then we offered a concrete solution to the problem -- in this case, a complimentary visit to our practice.

What does our refund policy cost?

Now, you might be worried about clients taking advantage of the policy of complimentary visits or refunds. Personally, I have not found this to be the case. At our center, we offer a money-back guarantee for customers who are not happy with our service. And in 2014 we had the following:

  • A 1.2% refund rate, which cost us around 5,760 euros
  • 63 patients refunded

That may seem like a lot. However, if we had not refunded them, these patients might very well have left our practice and not returned. If the White House is right, those 63 patients could have told between nine and 15 people each about their bad experience at our clinic. Imagine 630 people out there with a negative view of our practice! We found that a simple refund was much less expensive than all that bad publicity.

Write down your refund policy

It's important to have a clear refund policy written out. This way, when a frustrating situation arises where you might need to offer a refund, the policy is right there at your fingertips. Simply follow the procedure, leave your emotions out of it, and move on with your practice.

Simple steps to dealing with angry patients

Groove HQ, in its article on "How to Deal with Angry Customers," summarizes nicely the ways in which practices can effectively handle this kind of situation. It suggests that a practice do the following:

  1. Listen and fully understand the nature of the patient's complaint.
  2. Clarify the problem and repeat it back to the customer to make sure it has been understood.
  3. Within your practice, analyze what caused the situation to begin with, and, if needed, make policy changes to keep it from happening in the future.
  4. Communicate with the patient after the problem has been solved to make sure that the patient is satisfied.

Our efforts with the client we mentioned earlier paid off. The client returned to our practice for a complimentary visit and afterward gave our service a rave review:

Rave
The rant becomes a rave.

Listening to your patients

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest sources of learning."-- Bill Gates

That quote illustrates how you truly can learn a lot from patients who are dissatisfied with you and your service. Do not back away from this issue, even if it feels uncomfortable dealing with a very dissatisfied patient. Because your patients do not tell you everything about their experiences, it is a good idea to keep your ear to the ground.

Here are some ways in which a practice can find out how patients are talking about them:

  • If your practice has social media accounts such as Twitter or Facebook, stay active and frequently check in with them.
  • Find out what sites your patients frequent and participate in (or at least monitor) those particular online communities.
  • Use monitoring tools such as Google Alerts or Social Mention, which alert a practice when it is being discussed online.

How do you avoid a bad review in the first place?

Ideally, however, if you have an unhappy patient, you want to hear about the bad news first and take care of the problem before your practice's reputation gets damaged publicly. This is where good follow-up comes in. Make it a practice to send patients a thank you email, asking them for feedback and giving them the opportunity to let you know about their experiences at your practice. Such gestures make it easier for patients to voice concerns or complaints privately and give you a chance to respond and deal with the problem.

Here is an excerpt from the email we send out to our patients, which we have found to be very effective:

Thank you
Thank you and feedback letter.

And if all else fails ...

It is important to keep in mind that, even when you try your very best to ensure that the patient has a good experience, some people will just never be satisfied. GrooveHQ notes this and states plainly, "You can't please everyone, sometimes you just have to fire a bad customer." In other words, sometimes it is best to simply offer patients a refund and refer them to another practice. This admittedly is not an ideal situation -- but it does happen.

Conclusion

The takeaway here is that even in a good practice, you will have mishaps and the potential for bad reviews as a result. However, instead of seeing these as insults or becoming defensive, with the right skills, you can turn such situations to your advantage and use them as opportunities to let your clinic shine. Actively listening to the complaint, reassuring the patient, and, most important, coming up with a concrete solution to the problem is a winning combination to help turn rants into raves and actually enhance the reputation of your practice.

Have you received any bad reviews? What are some of the ways you've been able to handle and turn these tough situations around?

Kyle Bolton, the founder of Vital Signs Radiology Marketing and Strategy, helps radiology groups, hospitals, and diagnostic imaging centers grow their practice and enhance their reputation. His strategies have been proven and tested in his practice, Ultrasound Dimensions Medical and Maternity Ultrasound Centre. To learn more, visit www.vitalsignshq.com/blog/.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AuntMinnieEurope.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular vendor, analyst, industry consultant, or consulting group.


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