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    How to Deal with Your Worst Customers

    All pharmacists have faced a bad situation with a customer. Here are some tactics for  turning it around—and what to do when you can’t.


    Learning to deal or defuse

    The first thing Kreckel tells his new pharmacy students is to stand in the patient’s shoes. People come to the pharmacy when they are sick, he said. “And because you are the most accessible health-care professional, you are probably going to feel the brunt of their frustration with the physicians, frustration with their insurance company, and maybe even the frustration with the parking attendant who gave them a ticket.”

    Financial issues also crop up for a patient in the pharmacy. They don’t see the fees going to the doctor because most of it may be paid by an insurance company, Kreckel added. “The money a doctor takes from a patient is their insurance money, [money] that they never see. I am taking money out of their wallet.” 

    Related article: How to Deal with an Angry Customer

    Understanding where the patient is coming from is the start of reaching out to them. If you encounter a patient who is angry or emotional, acknowledge his or her emotions, Butler said. “Make sure that you speak with empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and let them know that you genuinely want to help solve the problem and come up with a solution together.” Finding common ground can help you and the patient create a solution, she added. 

    Active listening is also important, she said. “The patient has to see that you are engaged. You are not pointing the finger. You are wanting to find out the full story.”

    The phrase Kreckel uses for dealing with a patient’s problem is “Let’s take this apart.” When a patient is discussing a problem, he repeats his concerns, to make sure he has heard it clearly, and to allow the patient to hear his own request, and then explains the possible solutions.

    Show patience, Kreckel said. “Watch your body language. Do not roll your eyes.” 

    Ask open-ended questions, said Beardsley. Build on where the patient is.  

    In a confrontation with a patient, keep from personalizing it, said Butler. “A lot of time, when someone comes at you, you are thinking that [it is] a personal attack or criticism. Any time you think it is a personal attack, you are going to immediately get defensive.” 

    Is the customer always right?

    Dealing with a problem customer can mean that he or she takes the complaint up to the store manager or beyond. Sometimes pharmacy management or those higher up the corporate ladder will try to appease a customer who insists he has been wronged, simply because “the customer is always right,” Kreckel pointed out. “The customer can’t always be right.” That idea might work in a hardware store, but it is not true in a pharmacy, he said. “I, by my very nature as a pharmacist, have to have a higher level of training to sell my product than that person walking in the store.”

    Related article: The good, the bad, and the gray areas: Where are your ethics?

    Managers should support their pharmacists, said Kreckel. If management thinks enough of a pharmacist to decide to hire him or her, they should back the pharmacist when a disagreement comes up “Sometimes district managers and people up the food chain have to have enough confidence in their decision, and they have to stand and support their employees and not the customers.”

    Up next: When the customer just won't listen

    Valerie DeBenedette
    Valerie DeBenedette is Managing Editor of Drug Topics.


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