The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London. It is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at the company, as well as motivate employees to provide customers with good service.

However, there may be situations in the pharmacy where the customer is not in the right. Often, we have heard horrifying stories from our colleagues about obnoxious customers. Frequently, we must grit our teeth, stop and take a deep breath, and then brainwash ourselves to stand in absolute faith with the above statement.

Customers are humans as well, and just like us, they too can make mistakes. Here are a few examples of when a customer might have crossed the line, and you may need to stand up for yourself or your fellow colleague.

1) When they are verbally abusive

If your customer threatens or uses foul language to you repeatedly, tell them firmly that you will not tolerate being spoken to in such a manner. Additionally, explain to them politely that you as a pharmacist are there to help, but that you will terminate the call if you are on the phone or call the police if you are talking in person.

If the customer in the pharmacy is complaining about an issue that has been covered in a contract that you have with them, you can refer the customer respectfully to the clause that supports your position. Afterwards, politely communicate to them that it was their responsibility to review the terms and conditions in the contract before entering into the agreement.

2) When they are aggressive

Some customers may stir up trouble and may also demand to talk with the manager/supervisor so that they can either get compensation or have the manager deal with the employee – when it might not have been his fault.

Pharmacists must understand that customers are not kings or queens, and our employees are certainly not servants. Staffs deserve to enjoy their work and customers in turn can get good service from happy staff. They can try to remain polite, calm and attentive, regardless of the customer’s anger. Displaying appropriate behavior to an aggressive customer may influence him to calm down.

3) When they are excessively demanding

Some customers are just not worth the stress. When you give in to their bad behavior once, it starts a viscous cycle of misbehavior. It also invites trouble when the customer comes back with repetitive behavior demanding for more.

When you do not give in on subsequent occasion, they complain against you and make you and your staff look bad in the organisation. For example, supplying a drug addict with the drug of his choice invites trouble when he returns to ask for more. In your absence, he may demand and quote your name to ask for supplies, placing your staff in a difficult spot and creating misunderstanding among colleagues.

Having said that, customer service is a component of success. Here are 3 tips for pharmacists to suitably handle situations when “The customer is always right” is wrong.

1) Let it go!

Time is money, and when we spend time pleasing bad customers, we are also losing time and energy on customers who truly deserve our service. Pharmacists must focus on customers who matter the most and do not try to please every customer. For customers who do not oblige, do not be afraid to ask for them to leave.

2) Explain to them

What your customers demand for may not always be good. For example, when a customer is rude and insists for a non-urgent prescription medication without a prescription, explain politely to them that it goes against Singapore law and cannot be done.

3) Try to solve the problem

You must make every effort to get all the facts that you can, and afterwards tell the customer how you can try to help. Essentially, refrain from making promises that you cannot keep. Always get help from someone who knows more, or has more authority in the pharmacy. MIMS

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