Dealing With A Complaint
Whenever you’re providing a service, inevitably there will be occasions where your customer is unhappy. Sometimes, the result is simply you never see that customer again. On other occasions, it results in a complaint. So, what’s the best way to deal with an unhappy, complaining customer?
Get it out of the public domain
Firstly, take the complaint out of the public domain – whether it’s a bad review online or an angry customer in reception. If it’s online, a short message saying you’re sorry they feel they’ve received bad service, expressing a desire to resolve the problem and inviting them for a private conversation is the best way to handle it. Do not allow the specifics to be dragged out over a long and disjointed conversation on a public forum – it’s unlikely to end well for either party. If the customer is in Reception, invite them into a treatment room. Often, removing the audience, either online or in Reception, is the first step in de-escalation.
Frame of mind
Secondly, it’s important to approach the situation with the right frame of mind. It’s much better for your Practice if a customer takes the time to complain, rather than walk away. If they walk away, you’ve lost their business. If they complain, you have the opportunity to find out what’s happened and resolve the situation. In many cases, a well-handled complaint can actually help develop the relationship with the customer because they feel their concerns have been appreciated and acknowledged. Which brings us to the third point.
Listen. If a customer doesn’t feel they’ve been listened to, their frustration will cause the situation to escalate. And if you don’t listen, you can’t fix the problem. Listening is a skill that operates on many levels as often you need to look beyond the spoken words and read between the lines to get to the root of the problem. If a customer is angry over the cost of a treatment, it could be because it’s been a shock. Ensuring they understand where the costs have been incurred may be only half the story. It may be the complaint is actually a manifestation of panic and embarrassment: a ‘big bill’ is relative to your customer’s financial situation. Unfortunately, there are times when a trip to the vet can be a highly emotional experience, especially if a pet is terminally sick or injured. In such cases, grief can manifest as anger against the Practice. In all cases, avoid becoming defensive: whether the customer has legitimate grounds for complaint or whether the complaint has roots in grief or panic, presenting a defensive attitude is only likely to cause the situation to escalate. Resolution requires calm, so be the oil for troubled waters.
Complaints are a part of life, and for veterinary practices, the emotionally charged situations that come up on a daily basis leave them more exposed than most businesses. It adds stress to the team, all of whom chose their profession so they could care for animals. Owners can be more challenging than patients but resolving a complaint so both customer and staff are satisfied with the outcome can put a positive spin on a day.
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