Winning back angry patients

Have you ever received such rotten customer service that it makes you want to spit?

by Paul Homoly, DDS

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Howell."
"Howell who?"
"Howell you deal with angry patients?"


Have you ever received such rotten customer service that it makes you want to spit? Have any of your patients had the same experience with you? Here's a story with a happy ending and a great lesson.

I recently had a bad customer service experience with Callaway Golf and a local golf shop, Carolina Custom Golf. I ordered some new sticks. After weeks of problems with my order going unfulfilled, I cancelled it and got my money back. I was mad!

Two days later, I get a call from Jason Owens from Callaway Golf's world headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif. He apologized for the problems and told me that he would take full responsibility for them and make things right. He said my new woods would be overnighted to Carolina Custom Golf.

I was not over being mad about the problems I had, and new clubs notwithstanding, I was not ready to do business with this company again. Then Jason said the magic words: "Dr. Homoly, what can I do to make you happy?" I thought, "I wonder, what can a world leader in golf-equipment manufacturing do to make a high-handicapper happy?" Let me count the ways!

To make a long story short, I ended up at Callaway Golf in California. I spent all morning being fitted for clubs in the company's super high tech, golf-performance center, got new shafts for my Callaway irons at no charge, and walked away from the experience with a half dozen of new Callaway golf balls and a smile.

Jason Owens and Callaway know how to win back angry customers. Here's what they did and what you can do when you have an angry patient:

1. Jason listened to me without interrupting, commenting, or telling me I was wrong.
Learn that most angry patients need a good listener, too! They have "practiced" their complaint story. It relieves their stress to tell it — and you're going to hear it whether you like it or not! Let patients tell their story without comments from you.

2. Jason didn't blame anyone or look for scapegoats. He could have blamed the local pro shop, or shipping clerks, or a number of other people.
We have many people in the loop of dental care — i.e., laboratories, staff, and suppliers. When you blame someone else for the problem, it puts you and the patient in the role of victims and adds to the sense of helplessness.

3. When Jason realized that I wasn't going to take the clubs, roll over, and make his life easy, he asked the right question: "What can I do to make you happy?"
Sometimes, it takes a little time for patients to get past their anger. By asking, "What can I do to make you happy?" you have found a great way to get patients looking for solutions instead of problems. Most of the time, patients will ask for much less than what you might offer.

4. Jason followed through and took personal responsibility to make sure things went perfectly the second time around.
Do not delegate making things right with angry patients. Let them know that you're in charge, and they can count on you. It instills confidence in you and reveals leadership in your character.

5. After Jason knew I was totally pleased, he sweetened the deal just a little bit more with new golf balls. What a guy!
Be careful here. Don't use token gifts (toothbrushes, free cleanings, etc.) as a way to make things right. It can trivialize the problem and make things worse. Wait until the transaction is over and the patient acknowledges that he or she is happy before offering an "added-value" gift.

Here's my happy ending: With my new Callaway woods, I'm out-driving my 30-year-old son by 25 yards! Life is good.

Here's your happy ending: Out- drive your patients' expectations when they're angry, and you'll build loyalty and generate referrals.

Dr. Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn't It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? — Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via e-mail at paul@paulhomoly.com. Visit his Web site at www.paulhomoly.com.

More in Practice