Like every business, your clinic strives for excellent service. But you and your staff are only human. No matter how good your intentions, sometimes you will make mistakes. And, strange as it might seem, the aftermath of a mistake can be an opportunity to win a patient’s long-term trust. That’s because, after a service error, patients pay attention to your service recovery, or how your clinic will respond.
A good response shows them that you take their concerns seriously, that you’ve owned up to your mistake, and that it won’t happen again. That’s how you earn their business back. In fact, if you thoroughly resolve the service problem, your customers could end up trusting you more than they did before the mistake occurred!
That’s the reward of well-executed service recovery. It’s a skill that every clinical workforce should master.
But what makes for a meaningful recovery of service? How should clinics show that they genuinely care?
Here are three important points to remember:
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In the aftermath of a mistake there’s no time to waste.
With every passing hour after the incident, patients grow more resentful. And they won’t keep it to themselves. Customers who have un-resolved service complaints typically tell 11 people about what happened to them; whereas those who had good experiences only tell 6. To prevent the bad word-of-mouth from spreading, clinics need to act fast to curb this resentment as soon as possible.
That’s impossible without quick lines of communication. Clinics need to hear patient grievances right away, while the experience is still fresh in their mind — and while they haven’t yet become too angry about it.
For this, snail-mailed feedback surveys are woefully inadequate. They can take weeks to even arrive in a patient’s mailbox. By then, their anger might have simmered into a boil, and it could be too late.
Consider collecting feedback in real-time instead. This will give your clinic a precious opportunity to intervene almost immediately after a bad care experience.
When clinics get the chance to intervene, they shouldn’t squander it. They might only get one chance.
Therefore, clinic representatives who reach out need to understand the patient’s problem. That demands an important skill: listening.
An underrated factor in customer satisfaction, attentive, perceptive listening can make all the difference in service recovery.
First, because it gives dissatisfied customers a chance to feel heard. By affirming their perspective of the incident, clinic staff can show that they recognize an error has taken place. Often, that’s all a patient needs to believe that a clinic is taking their concerns seriously — which can go a long way toward defusing anger.
But even more important, active listening helps clinics get to the root of a customer’s concerns. This gives staff crucial information for the final step in the service recovery process:
Research and common sense agree: when you mess up, it’s best to apologize. But apologies need to be sincere. Otherwise, they can backfire.
Clinics can show they’re genuinely sorry by accepting unequivocal responsibility for the problem. That’s why listening, as mentioned above, is so critical. Clinics need to be able to restate the issue specifically, and say they’re sorry.
This might be enough for less serious transgressions. But if the problem was more severe, or if it’s a systemic issue affecting many customers, clinics may have to take more drastic action.
Hospitality researchers Chip Bell and Don Zemke call this “urgent reinstatement” — quick, practical measures that organizations take to show customers that they’re serious about winning their trust back. Offering a refund could be a way to accomplish reinstatement. So could giving customers a small gift or token of appreciation.
But the most important way to revive a patient’s trust is to use their grievance to drive change in your organization. Make sure that what went wrong never happens again.
They’ll notice — and appreciate — your efforts next time they come for an appointment. They’ll love the fact that you paid attention to their comments. And you’ll experience the added benefit of preventing future patients from experiencing the same issue.
After all, well-executed service recovery is wonderful. But how much better to avoid having to do it in the first place?