Practice team guide

Managing complaints

Communication is key when it comes to addressing conflict in optical practice. Optometrist Richard Edwards highlights common complaints and his top tips

animation of people talking

When considering how to provide excellent customer care, much of the focus is rightly aspirational.

But attention should also be paid to the practical detail of how staff react when things do not go to plan.

The Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), which provides conflict mediation for the optical sector, received 1611 referrals in 2019–2020.

Common complaints related to incorrect prescriptions (231), fees (93), eye examination concerns (810), prescriptions dispensed by a different practice (76) and the diagnosis or management of a clinical condition (53).

Optometrist, Richard Edwards
Optometrist and clinical adviser to the OCCS, Richard Edwards, highlighted that most issues presented to the service flow from a breakdown in communication and trust.

“It is rarely poor clinical performance. Escalation to the OCCS is often driven by the expression, ‘It’s not the fact it’s how you react’,” he emphasised.

As well as concerns around prescription non-tolerance (particularly varifocal dispensing), paediatric issues are also a common source of complaint.

“Parents are understandably anxious about their child’s eye health,” Edwards noted.

He shared some challenging interactions are inevitable in a sector that performs over 22 million eye examinations each year.

The customer may not always be right, but they are always the customer

Richard Edwards

Edwards highlighted that, in some cases, cutting losses early rather than becoming entrenched in the principle of an issue can be the pragmatic approach.

“I am not advocating this is always right, but have we ever stopped to think of the economic cost of the time we spend addressing a complaint and the lost sales, never mind the emotional toll a tricky customer takes on the whole team?” he said.

The whole practice team should be able to spot a potentially challenging interaction, stay calm and not take the concern personally, Edwards observed.

He added that a useful skill is to establish exactly what the customer wants as a resolution.

“They may surprise you. And if you aren’t sure what to do – just ask a colleague,” Edwards shared.

Senior optical assistant and team leader, Lisa Skelton, highlighted the importance of taking the time to understand a customer’s concerns when they come in with a complaint.

“Small complaints are relatively easy to resolve and patients leave feeling happier as the time has been spent listening to them,” she said.

More complex complaints can be passed on to management, she added.