The five ways people react to conflict are the same, whether the conflict is between team members, a team member and a patient, or you and a patient. However, you can be the unbiased judge and mediator in a dispute between team members. You are part of the conflict when a patient is displeased about an event that occurred at your office or the results of treatment.
Patients, let’s call them your clients, have an impact on your reputation – the great reputation you work so hard to build and maintain. That impact can be positive or negative.
Unfortunately, clients may not express a negative experience or conflict directly to you. They may hide from confrontation, while devaluing your name and brand. Disgruntled clients may talk to community members behind your back, without you knowing that a problem existed, unless a third party informed you. Today, unhappy consumers can publish negative reviews online, on Yelp!, Google+, Facebook, and other public review sites.
Unfortunately, the situation can get quite messy. Ignoring public negativity about your practice is not wise. Ultimately, ignoring the problem will allow ongoing harm to your reputation, online and offline. Because your name, your brand, and your reputation are at stake, you must take steps to resolve conflict between your office and any client.
The Source of Conflict
Remember that the number-one cause of conflict is lack of proper communication and/or understanding. Another common issue is money. Patients can become angry if they either have to spend more than they wanted to or you’ve told them that their mouth needs more work than they can afford. The third reason many patients become disgruntled is wasted time. If they have to wait for what seems to be “too long” to see the dentist, or if they are left alone for “too long,” they can feel disrespected and become quite angry.
Teach your team members to recognize signs of discontent in your patients. Frowning, short answers, heavy sighs, avoiding eye contact, and looking at the clock are telltale signs of stress. If a team member notices any of these signature acts, he or she should take steps to go above and beyond to make the patient feel comfortable, well cared for, and respected.
If a patient is upset in your office, personally take time to find out what’s happening and why the situation escalated to the current level. Do what you can to help the patient, and team member (perhaps not in the same room), re-establish positivity. Listen first, and listen fully. Do not interrupt. Then respond in kindness and with empathy. Smile, and be positive. Do what you can to take charge of making the patient feel better.
If you see a bad review online or hear from a third party that one of your patients is unhappy with your office, call that patient and offer to listen. Then, listen fully and do not interrupt. Once the client has told his or her story, respond in kindness and with empathy. Validate the patient’s concerns with your words and tone of voice. If there is a logical solution, offer it. If there is not, apologize for any misunderstanding and ask that the patient and you agree to respect one another.
Preventing Disputes with Patients
You and your team should take time to discuss strategies that promote open communication between staff and clients. When a client seems disappointed, upset, or stressed, you or one of your trusted team members should find out why and take steps to improve the client’s outlook and mood.
In addition, office policies should dictate that the phone always be answered with a smile, and questions addressed with sincerity and positivity. Keep the office tidy and welcoming. Consider the little ways you can make patients happy: greet each one by name, offer water and coffee, keep the restrooms well stocked and clean. Don’t chit-chat about other cases, and never say a negative word, within earshot of patients. Hardest but most important of all, earn their trust!
Three keys to earning trust:
- Do what you promise, on time, every time.
- Be honest to a fault.
- Be open, share all the details, and never mask the truth.
Open Discussion About Disgruntled Patients
When a patient has a conflict, make notes after you have done your best to resolve the issue. Then, at the next team meeting (which should be within a week), bring up the situation and discuss how it was addressed. Remember, conflict can be an opportunity for growth. Be certain that your team understands you will always prioritize honesty, integrity, and positivity with patients and your staff.