The dreaded client complaint

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Regardless of how well you conduct yourself and how thorough you are in your work, it’s inevitable that you’ll occasionally be on the receiving end of a client complaint. This will always suck. When someone criticises you it is very natural to feel a strong negative emotional response. The emotional control centres of your brain interpret criticism as a direct threat to your safety, and will trigger the same response that it would as if you were under physical attack, but this natural reactive and defensive behaviour will NEVER help your cause. Better to let your logical brain take over from your limbic system and institute a pro-active plan in dealing with complaints.

Here’s a proven five-step approach to dealing with client complaints:

Listen carefully to what the client has to say (preferably in person). Approach them with empathy and try to see it from their perspective. Avoid formulating a response in your head while they arestill speaking, or focusing on the reasons why they are wrong and you are right. Try, and I mean really try, to understand why they are upset. Verbalise this to them: “I can see where you’re coming from.”   “I understand why this looks bad and why you are upset.”
Critically evaluate the merits of the complaint. Sometimes people have an unreasonable point of view, but very often they don’t. They might have blown it completely out of proportion, or have a distorted understanding of a situation, but it’s rare that someone complains where they don’t have some legitimate basis for the complaint, at least in their eyes. Remember that what seems trivial to you might be a big issue for your client. Stay open to the possibility that you may have indeed done something wrong, or could at least have done something better. The reasons and excuses, however valid, shouldn’t matter, only how it was perceived by your client, and how you can fix it.
Fix it if you can. Do the extra test, get it in for a recheck, do something that is over and above the expected level of care. This is an opportunity to make the unhappy client into a life long fan.
Apologise if you can’t fix it. Sincerely. Explain what went wrong and what you have done to prevent similar problems from occurring again.
Try to make up for it if it is within your decisions making power. Don’t be too scared of offering some sort of financial compensation. It doesn’t need to be an admission of guilt: “We’ve looked carefully into the decisions made with this case, and I can’t see that any mistakes were made. However, we strive to have happy clients, and you clearly feel that you didn’t receive value with us, so I’d like to offer you x y or z.” This doesn’t always need to be money back. (But it can be.)
Offer a discount on a subsequent visit, follow up x-rays free of charge, or an offer to donate money to their favourite charity in their name. If a relatively small amount of money early on during negotiations can make the problem go away it might save you a lot more money, and time, down the line.

This approach of firstly allowing for some critical self-evaluation, and then simply focusing on being fair and reasonable can save a lot of pain an effort, and can potentially turn these unpleasant situations into valuable opportunities for learning and growth.

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