9 steps to stop complaints going LEGAL

To be honest, I’m not happy with the way you treated me.

It’s the worst text you could receive from a patient, right?

Your lizard brain immediately races to:

I’m going to get sued!

She’ll leave me a bad review and I’ll lose my pin.

What a bitch, why didn’t she tell me sooner?

complaints mottoI get it.

I’ve been there more times that I care to remember at the clinic.

In fact, I used to be a Complaints Manager at the Healthcare Commission (now CQC), dealing with second stage NHS complaints, so I’ve developed a proven 9 step formula to stop complaints going legal, and I’m sharing it here today.

I’ve shared this once before and since then you guys have asked me to forward this email SOOOOO many times.

So, make sure you file it this time.

❌ 9 Step Formula to Stop Complaints Going Legal

STEP 1) Accept it. Don’t make it about you!


A large part of the pain that I see you guys suffering when you post in Facebook groups about complaints comes from a belief that you should not have to deal with this.

That it’s somehow wrong.

“Why are people such dicks?”

“In all my 14 years as a nurse, I’ve never had a complaint against my name.”


You are going to get complaints!

You don’t get to reap the benefits of business without also having some shit situations crop up.

Do NOT whatever you do make it mean that you’re flawed, or the patients are dicks.

It’s just inevitable. If you do X number of treatments, you’re going to get Y number of complaints.

STEP 2) Put on your super hero empathy cape

You healthcare professionals are super empathetic, right?

You go waaay out of your way to help your patients, like a wonderful mother would help her child.

But, when you get a complaint, you feel like the child.

You feel so exposed. So vulnerable.

Here’s the truth.

YOU are the one with the power.

You have the needle, you have their money, you could ghost them.

The complainant is the vulnerable one, and they feel it.

You are the parent, and they are the toddler.

And, what do vulnerable toddlers do? They act out. They throw a tantrum because they feel scared.

The BEST POSSIBLE gift you could give yourself when you receive a complaint is to empathize.

The more you truly take the time to step into their shoes, the more likely you are to make them feel heard.

And humans who feel heard are WAY less dangerous.

If you are defensive and say things like ‘You did sign the consent form’, you will make them feel unheard, and it’s so much more likely to escalate to legal.

STEP 3) The vent call

You can’t empathise with someone unless you’ve heard their side, right?

So, stop texting and freakin pick up the phone.

If they’re phone shy, text them something like this, “It’s so important to me that I hear what happened from your side. When’s a good time to speak?’ Be firm. Do NOT do complaints management via text!

When you speak to them, after you’ve said hello and acknowledged their pain, start with an open question/statement like ‘Tell me everything’.

Then let them vent. Do not interrupt until you truly understand their side. Ask more open questions if you need more clarity.

Make sure you take notes throughout the complaint process for your records and as a memory jogger.

STEP 4) Summarize it back

Empathy is worthless unless the person hears that you’ve understood them.

You don’t have to agree with them of course, but at the end of the vent, you must say something like ‘Thanks for sharing that with me. So, if I’m hearing you right, you felt that [INSERT ISSUE] and that affected you because you felt that [INSERT EFFECT IT HAD ON THEM]. Does that sound right?’

Then be silent.

If they say ‘That’s right’, you can move on to the next stage.

If they start going round it again, you need to keep hearing them and summarising back until they feel you understand.

STEP 5) Buy some time

The vent call is not the solution call.

It’s totally fine if you buy yourself some time.

Tell them, now that you’ve truly understood their concerns, you need to consult your notes again, and/or talk to your mentor (with permission obvs) to reflect.

Don’t tell them you’re going to talk to the insurance company because that’s an instant escalator right there. In fact, in 12 years of SkinViva being in business I’ve hardly ever had to consult our insurers – that’s how good this formula is

Tell them when you’ll call them back (no longer than 24 hours ideally) and stick to it. Speed and transparency are very important complaints handling tools.

STEP 6) PLAN your next call. What does the complainant / you WANT?

You can only plan to offer them a solution when you have established what they want. You don’t have to ask them this explicitly, but you should have got a sense from the vent call.

Here are the categories of complainants’ goals:

  1. They want to have their treatment ‘rectified‘ (the majority of people)
  2. They just want to be HEARD (the situation made them feel out of control and they’re seeking an acknowledgement of how it impacted them)
  3. They want money or a gesture
  4. They want the system changed so other people don’t have to suffer as they feel they have.

If you offer money to a type-4 complainant, they will be offended. So it’s very important you establish this before offering a solution.

Now, think about what you want. E.g.:

  1. Reputation damage limitation
  2. Peace. I.e. never to have to deal with this person again
  3. To save money, i.e. not to give too many freebies
  4. To avoid contagion, e.g. if you gave a goodwill gesture refund, will they tell all their friends and you’ll get targeted?

Obviously your goals will massively affect what solution you offer.

NOTE: you can’t have it all. You must prioritise and accept that it might be worth throwing e.g. a goodwill gesture discount at the patient if it will mitigate the reputation risk.

Now, plan what you’re going to offer them. Consult your insurance if it’s anything material e.g. a refund.

STEP 7) Solution call

Call them back. Here’s the script outline:

  1. Say hello and thank them for their time yesterday
  2. Tell them what you’ve done since the call if appropriate e.g. consult their notes. People like to see that they’re important enough to have had time spent on.
  3. Hint that you’ve got a solution for them, e.g. ‘I’ve got a way forward that I think will work for you’.
  4. State your side. You might have done nothing wrong clinically, so it’s important they understand that, e.g. ‘bruises do happen unfortunately’. Do it diplomatically obviously. If you did do something wrong, don’t admit liability in this context. Consult your insurers.
  5. Explain the reason for the solution you’re about to offer, e.g. ‘I really value you as a patient, so I’d like to offer you a voucher as a goodwill gesture’. If you’re giving them a gift, always say it’s a goodwill gesture so they understand it’s not an admission of liability.
  6. Offer them the solution, e.g. follow up appointment, voucher, change your procedure so that the misunderstanding won’t happen again etc. Remember, the solution you offer must be bespoke to what they and you want (see step 6 above).
  7. Get a commitment. Ask them, ‘Does that work for you?’ Mostly they’ll say yes because you’ve bespoked your offer to their goals, but if they disagree, simply repeat steps 3-7 again. Obviously it won’t take as long, but the principles are all the same.

STEP 8) Implement the agreed solution

I know it sounds obvious, but it’s easy to procrastinate actually implementing the solution you’ve agreed with the complainant.

This would be a disaster because it would break the hard fought trust you built up.

Do what you said you would, and soon enough you’ll be able to move on with your life ‍♀️

STEP 9) Reflect

I know reflective learning is second nature to you guys in your clinical jobs, but don’t forget to skip this step in aesthetic complaints too.

There’s a danger that you’ll walk away from complaints with a story that all people are dickheads and/or you’re a rubbish clinician, and you should just quit.

Whereas, if you own the experience and control it by squeezing the learning out, then you win either way.

Hope that helps, treasures.

Remember, all you need is within you now.

Aunty M x