Patient complaints: be aware and you’ll more likely care

You see it all the time. A patient squabbles with a receptionist. Or a nurse. Or a physician. Sometimes even with another patient. Though they may seem to be all-too-often occurrences, patient complaints are more infrequent than you might think.

Statistics from Skillpath, professional business trainers for over 25 years, offer the following revealing data: 96 percent of unhappy customers never complain to the actual business, 91 percent of those who don’t complain won’t buy again from the business that offended them, the average unhappy customer will remember the incident 18 months later, and the average unhappy customer will share the negative experience with about 10 other people.

Whether it’s corporate America in general, or the health care industry in particular, complaints can provide valuable information about your clients and your practice. Here are three of the major reasons people don’t complain:


The Attempt Is Futile

John A. Goodman, a leading customer experience consultant, claims that many complaints aren’t communicated because they feel complaining won’t do any good. In his book, Customer Experience 3.0, High-Profit Strategies in the Age of Techno Service, he explains, “They assume from previous experiences in other markets that the company does not care and will not act. This is what I call trained hopelessness.”

In The Squeaky Wheel, a how-to guide for effective complaining, psychotherapist Guy Winch writes, “We don’t believe complaining will do any good so we don’t complain. Because we don’t complain, the problem doesn’t get fixed.”

If patients believe it’s a waste of time, they won’t waste their breath.


The Process Is Too Hard

Many offices don’t offer a process or means to register patient complaints, whether it’s a suggestion box, a written form, or a phone or online complaint option. And if they do, they often make patients jump through hoops, or a series of complicated and time-consuming steps.

According to Jeff Toister, “Some customers don’t complain because they’re worried it will negatively impact an otherwise good relationship. You won’t get many complaints if customers feel they’ll be penalized in some way.”

Give the impression that complainers will reap negative consequences and concerns will remain unvoiced.


Nothing Happens with Complaints

If practices don’t react when they receive a complaint or other feedback, it’s likely that patients will not be willing to provide this feedback again in the future. It is also important to understand that if the feedback is a singular occurrence or a frequent situation that truly demands your attention. Ensure that there are ways to track and aggregate feedback so that you can manage and prioritize appropriately.

Patient complaints, like the many maladies from which they suffer, are often merely symptoms that suggest a process, policy, or mindset in your office is “broken” and needs to be fixed. Find out and remedy the problem, and you’ll run a smoother office and give greater service.

Posted in: Patients