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In the ‘old days’ we used to use the adage ‘an unhappy person tells 10 others about their experience, a happy person tells only 2’, the idea being that you don’t upset a patient because the effect on goodwill can be out of proportion. If someone left the practice with an issue that hadn’t been resolved we’d send them a card saying sorry and offering 10% off their next treatment. We’d even send a bouquet of flowers if they were very upset by a misunderstanding.
Now, the bar is raised. Through internet forums and online review sites an unhappy person can tell four million others, or even more! This has been highlighted in a Daily Mail article – and yes, these things will now make the national press too – in which “Patient who posted bad review of dentist on Yelp sued for £125,000 by practice”.
The practice's actions have been condemned by business listings and Yelp who are interested in protecting free speech. Even though the practice in Islington has disputed the review, claiming it was defamatory, the very act of trying to defend itself has courted more bad publicity.
The danger in poor communication
If you want all the gory details then take a look at Mail Online. However, reading between the lines it is obvious that one issue was a lack of information about why she was referred to the practice and what treatment was being offered. The dispute has somehow managed to escalate to the point of public debate as the article itself is now open to comment by the public readership. The comments are not positive about a practice that would turn to litigation in order to protect its image. I can feel their pain and see why it reached this stage, but sometimes the best option is to limit damage by not reacting to a bad review.
We now practise in a world where patients are customers too. Although this does seem like quite a jump from my early days in practise when ‘patients’ would seek ‘treatment’, the concept of ‘patient care’ has always been around, it’s just that the importance of care has been raised and its meaning has widened. We should spend more time listening to what our patients think and finding ways of making their experience with us more comfortable and more meaningful.
Poor communication works both ways. We can fail to tell people important things concerning their care; we can also fail to listen to what they have to say – until it’s too late.
Sam Brice, marketing manager at DPAS Dental Plans, explains the importance of customer feedback in this month’s Dental Practice . He toggles between the terms ‘customer’ and ‘client’. To quote him directly: “For any successful business, keeping clients happy is the number one priority and The Chartered Institute of Marketing often makes reference to the cost of acquiring a new customer being anywhere between three and 10 times the cost of keeping an existing one. Whilst there are clear differences in terms of goods and services being offered and the market in which a business is operating, the principle holds true. A contented customer is a clear indication that you are doing something right.”
Obtaining regular feedback is absolutely essential if your practice is going to thrive. There is a basic Customer Satisfaction survey in your Quality Compliance Systems package. It’s also possible to put together your own version, either in written form or online using email style surveys. A survey also demonstrates to customers that they are important to you and that you value their feedback.
However, once you have information it’s a responsibility – use it! You have to be a bit thick-skinned and take a positive position concerning bad feedback. It’s a learning opportunity, and a very useful tool in driving your practice as a business. Patient feedback is going to be an increasing part of a new NHS Dental Contract. We are likely to have enhanced payments depending on Quality Outcome Frameworks which will depend a lot on what patients think of you!
Embrace the new ways!
Just as travellers use Tripadvisor to give them an indication of where good service is likely, patients are beginning to use NHS Choices and other internet-based forums and review sites to give them guidance in finding a dentist. Social media is also a either a threat or an opportunity – depending on your point of view – as we get talked about and views are shared.
I would advise not missing an opportunity!