Handling complaints: what I never learnt as a waitress

I have never been good at receiving complaints. Before I started my nursing degree, I worked as a waitress for 5 years. It was not uncommon to deal with customer complaints on a daily basis, and I would always just say “I’m really sorry about that. I’ll speak to my manager” which was always a fail safe. 98% of the time, the customer didn’t want to speak to me anyway!

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Accurate picture of me listening to customer complaints

But that changed when I started my nursing. Suddenly, whilst trying to make small talk with patients, I was being confronted with complaints about care they had received in the past or at that very moment. I couldn’t get away with my usual spiel because care complaints are more specific, more personal. You have to say something, and sorry doesn’t quite cut it.

I remember, very vividly, the first time I saw a nurse deal with a complaint efficiently. The patient in question was raising her concerns about the referral system for district nurse visits after a stay in hospital. Her care had been delayed due to this. The nurse I was working with listened to her very carefully, occasionally (when appropriate) asked for more detail and did not seem flustered at all. She then thanked the patient, said she would follow this up but urged her to voice her complaint at PALS.

PALS stands for Patient Advice and Liaison Service. It is confidential, and designed to provide support for patients, relatives and carers.

I was amazed at how calmly the whole situation went. Although the patient was upset initially, she was clearly at ease by the end of the visit, and I felt it was due to her being able to voice her opinion. And she was actively encouraged to talk about her concerns as Image result for complaintsit helps the NHS grow as an organisation! And it inspired me!

Since this event, I feel as though I have been inundated with patient complaints. Sometimes I feel as if there is a secret sign on my head that says please voice your thoughts at me!. I have now had endless practice at being calm and friendly, with some situations leading to me having to be a little firm (I will not be shouted at). I find that listening a lot, speaking barely at all, seems to work. Asking them to expand, answering questions when needed, and most importantly not denying their claims. It is extremely important, I think, to acknowledge that not every care interaction is perfect or goes to plan. We must embrace feedback, negative or not! Whether it comes from a staff member, a patient or a relative; complaints should be listened to!

Always speak to your mentor or a staff member about a patient’s complaints. 

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