Prepare your business to handle negative customer feedback in a beneficial way
by Louis Feuer, MA, MSW

The interaction your company has with anyone outside the office can have either a negative or positive impact on the future success of your company. Interactions are a test. Companies work for years to preserve and build their reputation, and often find that one wrong word or failure to act appropriately can destroy what they have worked to develop. This could happen to your business. Any customer can repeat what you say, and in the process, reinterpret your comments. Sometimes it is not what you say, but what you forgot to say, or the call you forgot to make. You may have forgotten to explain to the customer about the co-payment they are responsible for. You may have forgotten to remind the customer that the part they need will be delayed and could take up to one week before it arrives. Customers can simply become irritated with the lack of communication. Each customer—family member or end-user—comes to us with their own set of stressors and expectations. They often have little experience with insurance issues related to medical equipment, how to use the equipment or the role you can play in the rehabilitation. When they do not get what they expect, the challenge is often determining how that happened. For this reason, all complaints—big or small—require some research. Each complaint requires a minor audit. Valuable responses can come from the questions such as: Who was impacted regarding this complaint? Is this problem related to an existing corporate policy or procedure? Is it related to how we interpreted Federal Guidelines for the patient? Is it related to our patient education program? Is there a form or instruction sheet that could have been provided to avoid this complaint? Is it related to an unfulfilled promise to the customer? Do records indicate that this complaint has been registered before? Could the staff benefit from changes in orientation and training to help address this issue? What can we do as a company to insure this problem is not going to happen again? What have we learned from this complaint? There is no better consultant than our customers. Unfortunately, when they complain, we are sometimes often too defensive. We are most often responsible for the problem, and it is most distressing is that we fail to learn from our mistakes. Accreditation requires us to maintain a log book for our complaints and use what we have learned to develop and concentrate on our performance improvement program. While it might sound easy, it is a long road from documenting a problem to then using the data for performance improvement and behavioral change. Helpful information regarding the nature of the complaint can be gathered by asking questions such as: When was the complaint brought to our attention? Who notified the company of the issue or problem? Are there any names or numbers that should be recorded regarding the problem? Where will information regarding for the complaint be recorded? Who on staff will address the issue? What will be the process for handling the complaint? Were any promises made to the customer regarding getting back to them about the issue? Is there a policy or procedure that is not being followed that causes the problem to occur? Complaints often fall into two categories which are related to systems or people. Systems do not work well unless the operators are well trained. It is easy to create a new system or a new way to explain the system to the customer, but there is no way to remove the people issue from the equation. Regardless of the issue, customers are often receptive to negative news when presented by a person with a positive attitude. If we are going to have to pay extra for a service or copayment, at least have the information shared by a polite and understanding employee. Those who can sense the storm coming are the ones who will best be prepared to react appropriately. Nothing can destroy a business faster that an angry customer, and those who are prepared to handle complaints ahead of time will be less impacted by the potential damage those complaints can create. Complaints are bits of company education that allow you to maintain your revenues, learn from experience and continue to improve. Of course, they never seem to come at a good time. The problem is, after being the in the industry for a lifetime, there is never a good time, but when handled correctly, you can benefit from a complaint in the long run.