Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

How to Handle Angry Pharmacy Customers

OCTOBER 04, 2015
Anyone who has ever worked in a pharmacy has dealt with angry patients. Even though a patient may have a very good reason to be mad, pharmacists don’t always see things from the patient’s point of view.
  
I believe that every pharmacist and technician aspires to treat patients with respect, but some days, it just doesn’t happen. Angry patients who walk into your pharmacy are often already mad about something unrelated to you.
 
Your response to angry customers might feel more chaotic than controlled, which is guaranteed to escalate the situation.
 
What if you could hardwire your response to angry patients and avoid feeling awful afterward? What if you could keep your cool no matter how ugly the situation?
 
Starbucks wondered the same thing about their coffee-deprived customers, who baristas would probably argue are almost as angry as pharmacy patients who don’t get their narcotic prescriptions.
 
Starbucks tried many approaches to deal with angry customers before finding one that worked.
 
Starbucks trainers had tried to bill self-discipline as the source of great customer service. They thought that if baristas were emotionally disciplined, then they would respond with kindness when provoked by coffee-crazed customers.
 
They also tried to increase baristas’ willpower through gym memberships and diet workshops, but that wasn’t making a difference in customer service ratings. 
 
The training masterminds at Starbucks then decided to program a behavioral response within baristas that is triggered when angry customers appear, much like a habit hardwired in our brain.
 
After all, behaviors associated with habits occur without needing to think about them. That’s because the brain turns off the decision-making process.
 
Starbucks trainers believed that if they taught an angry customer routine to new baristas, then they could make it a habit. Thus, the LATTE method was born.
 
LATTE stands for “We Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred.”
 
The LATTE method has proven so effective that every Starbucks barista now learns the routine. Starbucks trainers go a step further by asking each barista to craft a plan to employ when angry customers complain.

The Starbucks training handbook for new employees includes open-ended questions such as “When a customer is unhappy, my plan is to…” By outlining their angry-customer response plan in advance, baristas gains confidence while feeling empowered and autonomous.
 
So, the trigger for the behavioral habit is an angry customer, the routine is LATTE, and the reward is a (hopefully) satisfied customer, or at least a less angry one. 
 
Starbucks made customer service a habit of willpower by teaching baristas how to handle difficult customers. This LATTE training works so well that Starbucks’ CEO once told a reporter, “This is better than a visit to my shrink.”
 
A study referenced in The Power of Habit found that productivity at a plant increased 20% after employees received LATTE training. Why? “Giving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to their jobs,” the study read.
 
When you have a response plan in place, you are more likely to take the appropriate action.
 
So, the next time an angry patient arrives, remember the LATTE method and your response plan. After the ordeal is over, reward yourself with a well-deserved real latte.

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