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“You can’t de-tune your mind to pick up on adversity, so complaints will still disproportionately affect us”

08 March 2019, at 12:53pm

To keep the public happy all the time is an impossible task. We all know that, but still get affected by complaints, grumbles and social media diatribes. People are now more likely to publicise their perceived grievances than phone or write to the practice and then speak face-to-face with the management. It is much easier for them to shout into the echo chamber of social media and have their anger validated by a selection of people who already share their views and have been algorithmically steered towards that comment.

I keep telling myself that sooner or later the public will realise that not all statements on the internet are true, and most opinions expressed on social media are at best extremely dubious. However, when they are about you or your practice, they still upset you.

I asked a psychologist friend why these negative comments affect us so much. We all know that most of the working day, most of the people we deal with are grateful, pay the bill and do not complain, even when the outcome for the patient is suboptimal (interpret that how you will!).

We can have a working day full of those decent people, then one angry client or one letter of complaint ruins our day, our week or, occasionally, months of our lives. However much we tell ourselves to put it in proportion, it doesn’t really help. My psychologist friend explained that humans (and all animals, I would imagine) are exquisitely tuned in to threats. Our minds are extremely reactive to things that pose danger or present something to be avoided. We learn what it was and are even more tuned in to look for it and react again in the future.

Anyone who has seen the film The Croods will remember the caveman father of the prehistoric family who, at the slightest sign of a dangerous animal or adverse weather, would rush his entire family back to the cave and block the entrance until the danger had passed. Some moments at work, that seems like a good idea – back to the cave, roll a big rock in front of the entrance and wait until it’s safe again to come out.

To put complaints into perspective does help, but you can’t de-tune your mind to pick up on adversity, so complaints will still disproportionately affect us. A source of much distress for vets now is complaints on social media. Social media is very targeted. When reading some horrible Facebook post about your practice, that’s all there is. It’s not like other media where it may be a one-inch column on the inside of page 9 of a newspaper. It’s just right there, all about vets, all about you. There may be 1.49 billion active Facebook users but there is only one you are seeing. Imagine seeing 1.49 billion screens and your negative hater post maybe appears on 10 or a hundred of them.

According to one social media company, to keep your brand on your customers’ radar, you should be doing one Facebook post a day, 15 tweets and 11 pins on Pinterest (no, me neither). If it takes that much activity to keep your practice’s name on the radar, then just one bad social media story is not going to have as much impact as you might think.

It often seems that the world of social media is geared against us vets, be it from complaints, the anti-vaccine brigade, etc. Let me reassure you it’s not just us! I won’t name websites and will paraphrase slightly, but here’s a very quick look at what’s out there for others:

From a complaint website about teachers: “uses clever search engine ranking technology to ensure that any complaints made about a specific school or teacher are extremely transparent to any future or potentially new student”.

A complaint about a dentist is on a public money saving website: “I am fuming. Today as [a] private patient I went to a dentist (Irish) I hadn’t been to before... After all the other work was done, the dentist re-cemented the crown. On the way out at the desk, while paying for the treatment, I was taken aback when I was charged for recementing the crown...”

There is a whole mini-industry of lawyers out there encouraging the harassment of GPs. From one website: “Do you have a claim? You could be owed compensation. For a 100 percent free check fill out the form below.”

Don’t think the world is aiming its vitriol just at vets, and just at you. There are plenty of nasty people out there and plenty of other people on the receiving end of their abuse. Gradually, both the rest of the world and those of us on the receiving end of their literary efforts will learn to give them all the attention they deserve.