It is an unfortunate hazard of a pharmacist’s job – as with any job in the service industry – that from time to time you may not see eye to eye with a customer.
Angry customers have become such a prevalent feature of public life that they have almost become a caricature of themselves. Yet it is important not to dismiss the distressed patient with a wave of the hand or, worse still, have a shouting match with them. Your ongoing relationship with a customer is crucial and it is imperative a pharmacist does nothing to adversely impact on that.
As Numark training manager Yvonne Tuckley explains: “Anyone working in a retail environment will experience angry customers at one time or another, but there is an added complexity in pharmacies because it could be directly related to their condition or medication.
“This is where your knowledge of your customers can be really important, perhaps knowing if they are being treated for something that can make them volatile or understanding that you need to be discreet when talking to them.”
The key to dealing with situations like this, according to one pharmacist, can be summed up in one word: empathy. “The great thing is to empathise with them – to understand what their point of view is and then you can try and take their side by saying, ‘Yes, I absolutely agree with you’,” suggests Alan Kurtz, owner of Fishers Chemist in the Croydon suburb of South Norwood. “I’ve had people come in here who are basically fuming and I’ve taken them into the consultation room – it’s about looking at things through their eyes.”
Experts in the anger management field agree that understanding the customer’s problem can help solve whatever issue they may have.
Mike Fisher, founder of the British Association of Anger Management, contends that coming to terms with the other person’s annoyance is vital to a successful resolution.
“It’s important to look at the bigger picture – this is a customer who is distressed. Realise the distress that the other person is in. Also, shut up and listen! When they’ve finished ranting and raving, you have the opportunity to say something.”
It is vital, too, not to be angry yourself when talking to customers, because that anger will show in your demeanour. As psychologist Abraham Maslow said: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Be sensitive to your own feelings, suggests Mr Fisher: “The big thing is to monitor your own feelings and, if you’ve had a challenging week, be sensitised to them. Thinking about your own issues and using whatever resources you have in your support network can be key.”
If this means talking to colleagues, friends or family to resolve any personal issues you may have, then so be it, advises Mr Fisher.
Comprehension of a patient’s medicines or illness, and why they might bring about an onset of anger, can also be crucial. Ms Tuckley gives advice and an example: “You can take steps to avoid confrontational situations if you know what your customers expect. For instance, some patients who come in for methadone can get very anxious if there is a delay, so spotting them as they come in and trying to help them as soon as possible can alleviate a tense situation.”
Above all, advise those in the know and don’t take things personally. A distinction must be drawn, says Mr Fisher, between anger due to a personal problem with somebody and anger that has its root in frustration because someone is not receiving a particular product or service.
“Remember: don’t take it personally. It’s a professional relationship and most people who work in these [customer service] fields don’t take it personally,” he says.
And remember: dealing successfully with the stressed-out and put-out can be imperative to a successful working relationship with customers. Any pharmacist should heed the maxim: ‘If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.’
Angela Chalmers, Boots, Goodge Street, London
“I had a guy spit at me once, all because we didn’t have one of the items on his prescription. He started calling me all sorts of names; then, as he turned to leave, he turned and spat at me from a distance of about 6ft.
“It is amazing how violated you feel when somebody spits at you. I was traumatised – I think I had a bit of post-traumatic stress – and I didn’t sleep properly for a couple of months.
“I do reflect and think ‘Is there anything I could have done differently?’. But, to be honest, there isn’t. We spoke to him in a very low tone, and it was only when he started abusing us that I said ‘I think it’s time for you to leave, sir’. It was then that he spat.
“I heard later that he’d gone into another local pharmacy and acted as if nothing had happened to get the items for his prescription. That was how the police were able to identify him.
“I didn’t press charges, because he wasn’t a well man, but the police did go to round to his home and explained to him why what he did was unacceptable. His wife was appalled.
“In any situation with an angry customer, you need to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Let them get it out of their system and don’t block any exits because, if they want to leave the store, they are going to leave the store whether you are in front of them or not.”
How I handle Mr Angry
“You just have to be patient – be very polite and clear in what you are saying to them. More than 95 per cent of our customers are fine – it’s just the odd one or two.”
David Badham, Stewart Pharmacy, Evesham, Worcs
“It’s best to think that they are always right, even if you don’t think they are. You want to do everything within reason to keep them happy and maintain a good professional relationship.”
Gordon Couper, Handbridge Pharmacy, Chester
“Take them aside and ask them what the problem is. If you can’t solve it at that time, explain to them that you are busy, but that you’d be very happy to make an appointment with them to try and solve things later.”
Jignesh Patel, Rohpharm Pharmacy, Plaistow
Tips for your CPD entry on customer complaints
Reflect Are customer complaints handled effectively in my pharmacy?
Plan Review customer complaints procedures and observe actual incidents.
Act Update procedures and arrange training where necessary.
Evaluate Are customer complaints handled more effectively in my pharmacy?[SOURCE]