Hello…? Is anybody there? That’s the sentiment we often get from patients and family members who have voiced concerns only to be left wondering if their words had fallen on deaf ears.
Our firm frequently engages patients and families in focus groups and in depth interviews to delve more deeply into their experiences. I recently led a focus group of family members who were very forthcoming about their experiences. They made it clear that the clinical care had been excellent and that they always felt that their family member was well cared for, yet this point became buried deeply under a plethora of irritations that became their most memorable experiences – and the ones they talked most about.
Believe me, after years of conducting focus groups, I know how to re-direct and keep participants from turning the discussion into a gripe session. But there are occasions when their overall experiences (and thus the memorable story) are so muddled by service issues that it has to be told.
I heard tales of confusing instructions leading to botched appointments and of less than courteous staff. I learned of long waits, poor follow through, and huge gaps in communication. But the message that concerned me the most was the fact that virtually all the interviewees said they had talked with leaders about their dissatisfaction and felt that nothing had been done about it. Whether true or not, this is their perception. And what I’ve learned is that when people feel nothing is done about a complaint, they are unlikely to bring it up to the leaders a second time. They will, however tell anyone else who will listen. At that point, what could have been a simple fix becomes a reputation issue.
In reality, when I share the concerns with leaders, many of them are aware and are actively working on solutions or have already resolved them. Why then, do the customers feel that nothing has been done? No one has closed the communication loop.
It takes courage for a customer to voice concerns. When they do, they want to know that their efforts were worthwhile. The key is follow up. You may not be able to discuss disciplinary actions if their complaints involve staff, but you can circle back to thank them and let them know their concerns are being addressed. If it’s a process issue, you can always thank them for bringing the issue to your attention and tell them that their feedback is helping you to re-design or improve the process. The message is fairly simple: You spoke, we listened, and here’s what’s happening.
Most people, by nature, avoid confrontation. So when patients and family members do complain it’s imperative that you acknowledge and apologize but also circle back and let them know that their concerns are being taken seriously and that their feedback is important.