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Learning from complaints

29 October 2021

We recently published the article “Reflecting on a complaint” by Zoe Levenson, which was the winning entry in our competition run in partnership with Dental Training Consultants. Here we present the two excellent runners-up in the competition, by Jenna Shah and Priyanka Adatia 

Jenna Shah

It was another early morning start as I walked through the oral surgery doors, unaware of what lay in store for me that day. I called my patient in and began to question him. I think we have all been pushed to carry out a thorough history of our patients so as not to miss out anything of importance, however from the moment I mentioned drugs and alcohol, his whole body tensed up. 

I should have paid more attention to his body language and sensed his unease at the topic. The more I probed, the more aggressive he became until he leapt up from the dental chair and queried my abilities as a youthful looking dental student. I explained that I was competent and would be supervised by a tutor. Unsatisfied by my response, he began to storm out of the clinic until a nurse approached him to calm him down and address his complaints. 

He dubiously returned and I extracted his tooth with no issue. His demeanour changed drastically from the beginning of the appointment to the end where he thanked me and smiled. Reflecting on this experience, I could have been more empathetic to his issues, and following the example of the dental nurse, explained the reason for asking those questions more effectively. I did not chase after him because of his ‘rude’ comments; however, I should remember not to judge anyone’s actions as they might be warped by personal circumstances or pain; everyone deserves treatment. 

Finally, when he returned to the dental chair, I should have apologised for any distress that I might have caused. This case highlighted that although you might be knowledgeable and capable of performing treatment, successful communication is ultimately what leads to patient trust in you as a dentist.

Priyanka Adatia

Complaints form an important part of everyday life in many job sectors, be it fast food services, hotels or high street retailers. In an ideal world, complaints wouldn’t exist but without these, self-progression in our fields of work wouldn’t be as pronounced. Complaints are essentially another form of feedback and so revisiting and learning from them is essential.

One complaint I received was while working in a local charity shop, LOROS. At the time, the card payment machine wasn’t working; only cash payments were being accepted. The customer in question complained that she’d spent 30 minutes browsing only to be informed at the till that she wouldn’t be able to purchase the products with her card. At the time, I had apologised for the inconvenience and offered to reserve her products for the remainder of the day, to be picked up later after she had visited a cash machine. Although the customer was unhappy with the situation, she decided this was an appropriate solution.

Throughout the day, having put myself in the customer’s shoes, I empathised with her frustration. So, when discussing the issue with the store manager, we decided actions needed to be taken to avoid reoccurrence. I had suggested measures ranging from a simple sign on the entrance door, to informing customers as they entered onto the shop floor. The next day, even with the non-functioning card machine, with the newly implemented measures no similar issues arose.

Looking retrospectively, the situation is somewhat comparable to the discussion of risks and benefits for dental treatments. A patient wouldn’t want to be given these after consenting or midway through their treatment as this is key information that may influence their decision. Hence, from this complaint I was able to appreciate the importance of delivering influential information in a timely manner.