No one likes to hear complaints. However, when you realize that successfully dealing with a dissatisfied client may be your only chance to save a relationship, it puts a different spin on paying attention to what your client is saying. Research has shown that prompt and polite handling of complaints makes people even happier to do business with you than if nothing ever went wrong. It has also been shown that not all clients will register complaints when they do have them, and that they will stop using your services and bad-mouth you rather than risk a confrontation. Responding to criticism from a person who is upset, although it requires tact and sensitivity, is a professional skill that can be learned. This article is a distillation of experiences shared in the VetLink Exceptional Client Care Workshops and explores a plan for successfully dealing with complaints using the proven, professional tactics outlined in this article. Plenty of examples, discussion, and a 10-point plan for dealing with complaints (see www.cliniciansbrief.com) provide a good foundation and practical steps to keep clients happy.

A few of the fundamentals cited: Whatever you do, listen and sympathize. Complainants are upset and on the defensive and may become aggressive to counteract this. Keep your cool, be polite and reassuring - never argue or blame! Explain how you will arrive at a no-fault resolution; then implement it. Because no practice can be glitch-free all the time, asking clients to rate your services regularly can head off dissatisfaction by alerting you to potential problems before they become confrontations. Learning to keep your cool while your customers are losing theirs will make you a true professional when it comes to handling complaints.

COMMENTARY: I doubt that there is a single practice owner who has not had to address complaints from time to time. Most of us find complaints difficult to deal with, but the author of this article shares the techniques to make these win-win encounters. I found the 10-point plan for dealing with complaints very useful.

Profit from complaints. Mackay M. VET BUS J 4:15-18, 2003.