Your front desk team should be trained on how to respond appropriately to complaints. You want to do your best to minimize miscues and errors through the implementation of effective step-by-step systems. But even the best systems will occasionally break down. For example, two or three emergency patients could cause the schedule to run far behind, which will probably upset patients and parents who now have to wait longer to see the doctor.

The following four strategies can help your front desk team better manage stressful interactions:

1) Communicate Early and Often

If there’s a problem, alert patients and parents right away. For example, if the office is running behind, explain the situation and offer them an opportunity to reschedule. A script, such as “I just wanted to let you know Dr Smith will be delayed about 30 minutes due to an emergency case. We apologize for the inconvenience. We will be happy to reschedule today’s appointment later this week or next week, if a new time will work better for you.” It’s always better to manage a situation, rather than be managed by it.

2) Empathize

When parents approach you with a problem, listen carefully. Be responsive to what they’re saying. Look them in the eye and nod, showing that you understand. If it’s a complicated issue, let them finish their explanation, then restate the problem, asking them if you have correctly described the issue. Sometimes, just being heard and listened to is enough to de-escalate a negative situation.

3) Remedy

If you can fix the problem easily (and it’s within your power), do so immediately. If it requires the assistance of the office manager, bring that person in as soon as you can. If a solution requires more time, tell the parent you will investigate the matter and get back to him or her by the next business day with an update. You must, of course, follow up the next day with the promised information. If you do what you say you are going to do, parents greatly appreciate that kind of responsiveness.

4) Avoid Emotional Confrontations

When their children are involved, some parents can easily become upset and blame you for their issue with the practice. Always focus on the problem, restating it as dispassionately as you can. A “just-the-facts” approach can defuse a testy exchange. If you feel yourself getting pulled into an emotional exchange with a parent, ask for assistance from another team member or the office manager. You may also want to move the discussion to the privacy of a consult room.


The front desk team has one of the toughest jobs in orthodontics—managing unhappy parents. Responding to complaints and concerns is always challenging, but when people’s children are involved, it can take on even greater intensity. Use these four tips to better manage unhappy parents and turn disgruntlement into delight.

Philadelphia Seminar: Learn systems for increasing referrals, starts, and doctor income from Dr Levin at his “Ignite Your Referrals” seminar in Philadelphia on May 19. For more information, click here.