But sometimes, it’s best to show a client the door. Here’s how to do it with minimal heartburn for all.
You adore most of your customers and patients. They’re the reason you’re in business. They help put food on your table and send your kids to college, and you may even have genuine friendships with some of them.
But invariably, there are a few people who make your life miserable. These are the folks who disrespect your staff and complain endlessly. They’re the chronic no-shows, the Debbie Downers, the people who don’t pay their bills. Worst-case scenario, they’re people who steal from you or threaten to sue. It doesn’t have to be like this. We asked our Brain Squad members how they handle their problem clients — and, if necessary, show them the door. Here’s what you told us.
THANKFULLY, THEY’ RE RARE
“We’ve been lucky that in five years in business, we haven’t yet had to ‘fire’ a patient,” says Katie Root of Vaughn Vision, with offices in Guilderland and Saratoga Springs, NY. “If there is ever an issue, we do our best to resolve it. If a resolution isn’t possible, usually the relationship with the patient terminates organically. If it came down to having to ‘fire’ a problem patient, we’d most likely do so in a certified letter with a copy of his or her records. Buhbye!” Wendy Salle of Salle Opticians in Atlanta, GA, says she’s had to send perhaps two customers packing over 30 years in business. “I basically have told them we are at an impasse, and that as good as we are at what we do, we do not have the ability to make them happy.”
“It is such a rare occasion,” says Rexanne Collier of Texan Eye Optical in Austin, TX. “However, if a patient has unreasonable expectations or requests, we will be completely honest on what we can deliver. If the patient starts costing the company more money and wasting our valuable time, it might be time to let them go.”
Dr. Dave Schultz of Urban Optics in San Luis Obispo, CA, can’t remember more than a few times he’s had to dismiss someone from his care over 35 years of practice. But when it happens, he says, “I will usually see the patient at the end of the day, make sure all current problems have been resolved and then discuss how a mutual separation would be beneficial to both parties. These are usually people rude to my staff over a long period of time. I’m the only one that makes the decision and I really have to be pushed to the limit.”
IT’S WISE TO MAKE A PLAN
lthough few of our Brain Squad members say they have a formal script for firing problem patients (see “Do You or Don’t You” on facing page), it’s smart to set and maintain a chain of command and have a policy on what to do with people who disrupt your business. “When we have an unruly patient, we let the doctor know,” says Jeff Grosekemper of Casa de Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA. “Then it’s his call to say whether or not to let the person go.” But the staff carry out the orders by saying something like, “Dr. Fleming feels it’s time for you to find a new doctor as we seem to not be able to meet your full needs in our office.”
Some variation on the “we can’t meet your needs” phrase is one many ECPs use. “We simply advise the patient that what he or she is looking for, we are unable to provide,” says Dr. Kenneth Sawyer of Visionary Eye Care in Fort Mitchell, KY. Adds Susan Kantor of Central Phoenix Eyecare in Phoenix, AZ, “If we’ve exhausted all methods of satisfying the patient’s needs, we will send a polite letter informing the patient that because we have been unable to satisfy them and that we want them to be happy, we prefer that they seek their care elsewhere. We attach a copy of their records.”
“We have a letter we mail to them stating we unfortunately have not been able to meet their needs and feel it’s best for us to terminate business relationship,” says Tania Sotelo of Balfour Vision Optix in Brentwood, CA. “We give them a 30-day notice for emergency services only and offer help finding another doctor if needed.”
Sometimes, someone new within or outside your business can lend new perspective to a customer’s complaint and salvage the relationship. But often, it’s just time to part ways without prolonging the agony. Harry Roth of EyeQ Opticians in Millburn, NJ, says, “I tell them that for their specific concerns, it would be better for them to try a different optical. Sometimes a new set of eyes on the issue will produce a different result. Some people come walking in with problems that a pair of eyeglasses can’t fix.”
RESPECT THE DISRESPECTFUL
t’s always best to maintain your composure in even the most difficult situations. Faced with boorish behavior, “First I’ll say, ‘There’s no need to be unkind,’ then say nothing,” suggests Steve Whitaker of Whitaker Eye Works in Pennsylvania. And if the situation continues to escalate, he adds, “My dad used to say, ‘Some folks don’t “cotton” to each other. I think that’s the case here. Would you like copies of your records?’”
Respect is also important when the notice of dismissal is sent via mail. Mary O’Neil of Frio Eyecare in Chittenango, NY, says letters are carefully composed with an eye toward keeping the peace plus “care and concern for the patient’s needs, but a brief and vague explanation of why we cannot see them.” Handling problem customers with care is especially important in the age of online reviews. “It is important to keep our office reputation intact,” says Anke Andrzejewski of The Eye Specialists in Virginia Beach, VA. “With all the social media available to everybody, you have to be very careful.” (For advice on handling negative online reviews, see invmag.us/yelped.)
“I am careful to be respectful and to highlight the positive aspects of a person when I can,” says Daniel Amyx of Hillmoor Optical in Port St. Lucie, FL. That’s good advice. Don’t make it personal. Just move on and focus on giving your best service to the people who are happy to have you help them.
Don’t judge. “That person you don’t like is not intrinsically a bad human. The reason you don’t get along is because you have different values, and that difference creates judgment,” David K. William writes on lifehack.org. “Once you accept that not everyone will like you, and you won’t like everyone because of a difference in values, the realization can take the emotion out of the situation. That may even result in getting along better by agreeing to disagree”
Keep calm. Writing at Entrepreneur.com, psychologist Sherrie Campbell says that anyone trying to deal with an irate person should lower her voice and talk slowly but firmly. “If the sales professional doesn’t demonstrate a sense of control, the customer will pick up on fear and go for the jugular,” she adds. “A salesperson has to keep in mind that emotions are contagious and if he becomes caught up in a customer’s emotional chaos, the negotiation will not be productive.”
Validate. “One reason people put up resistance is because they do not feel heard or understood. Validating and listening to them to make them feel significant is the fastest way to move forward,” Gabe Nies writes at lifehack.org. Try the five-minute rule for venting, whether it’s in a staff meeting or while dealing with an upset customer. Give the person five minutes to unload, then it’s time to move on.