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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do




Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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.


“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.”


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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.”

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do


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.”


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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


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

“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
“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, 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
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.




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