How to Turn a Difficult Patient Into a Raving Fan

Use these five strategies to help you deal with difficult patients and provide them with outstanding customer service.

6/30/20

Stand here, bite down on the mouth piece and take a step forward,” the dental assistant said as she put me in the zippy 3D panoramic X-ray machine. It was clear she wasn’t thrilled to be doing this since I was being seen on an emergency basis right at closing time and this was making her stay late. I did as she asked.

“No, step forward,” she repeated with a nonverbal tone that said, “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

Since stepping forward was now throwing off my balance, I took only a small step. Yes, I was holding onto the little handles in the machine, but I had now begun to lean backwards with each step forward. I kept thinking, “This can’t be right.”

“No. I said step forward. You’re doing this! I want you to do this!” she impatiently barked. She proceeded to demonstrate with her feet. I could feel my blood pressure starting to elevate.

Since I had my mouth locked in on the mouthpiece and couldn’t possibly see what she was doing with her feet, I released my bite, stepped back from the machine and said, “I cannot see what you are trying to show me.”

“You don’t need to SEE what I’m doing. I’m saying step forward and you’re taking these little tiny steps!”

Really? She is snapping at me like I’m some recalcitrant child? Seriously? I grabbed the handles, repositioned my mouth and took a huge step forward. This forced me to lean way back, totally off balance, and remain there while she completed her task.

When we were finished, I didn’t even try to hide my annoyance. I said to her, “If a patient doesn’t understand your instructions, maybe you need to figure out where the breakdown is occurring.”

“I told you to step forward and you didn’t do it. What’s not to understand?” And that’s when my brain scrambled.

“If you would let me tell you what my problem was with your instructions, you might not frustrate the next patient the way you have totally frustrated me.”

She promptly turned on her heel and walked away. Walked. Away.

Okay, breathing. I’m now breathing. As a motivational speaker who talks a lot about the power of effective communication I know that, in this moment, I need to take no action other than to simply breathe. Just breathe and calm down. And I begin writing this article in my mind.

It starts with this question: Should you, as a staff member in your dental office, allow yourself the luxury of getting annoyed with a patient who isn’t doing what you want them to do? A patient who can’t understand the simplest of instructions, and who has the audacity to actually get annoyed with you?

And the answer is: Never. Ever. Ever. Here are the reasons why:

  • You are familiar with everything in your office–they are familiar with nothing. This is all new to them.
  • Many people get very anxious when visiting the dentist. They are on high alert. They are in a fight-or-flight mode and view everything they see, hear, taste, smell or touch as a potential danger. Oh, and that includes you.
  • It is not their job to be nice, friendly, happy, and kind to YOU!
  • They are looking for any reason to walk out of your office and never come back. Don’t give them one.
  • And my number one customer/patient service rule: The one putting the money on the table wins.

First, let me be clear. I’m not talking about putting up with physical or verbal abuse. If someone is in any way threatening you, here’s your response: “Mr. Smith I can see how upset you are and I want to fix this situation immediately. Let me bring in my (office manager, co-worker, dentist, someone) to help us.”

What I am talking about are those patients (like me, apparently) who simply do not understand the directions. The ones who ask you the same question three times. The ones who turn their head to the left when you say turn it to the right. The list goes on and on.

I must reiterate that visiting a dentist for many people can be a scary, nerveracking, unhappy experience. And when a person is under high stress, they might not process information very quickly. They may use coping strategies that are not the most effective. They may act or react in incongruent ways. But they are your patients. They are the ones putting the money on the table. They deserve the very best that you can give them. And I contend that your very best is even better than you think.

Here are a few strategies that you can employ to help you deal with someone…well, like me.

  1. Explain everything as you go along. “This may taste a little funny, but it will dissipate very quickly.” “You’re going to hear a beep and that will signal…” “We are going to remove your temporary now and you will feel…”
  2. When you perceive someone isn’t understanding… “I’m so sorry. I must not be explaining this well. Let me rephrase my instructions.” (I wouldn’t be writing this if that woman in my dentist’s office had said these words.)
  3. Set a positive, helpful tone as early as possible. “Mrs. Thompson, I can see you are apprehensive about this. Please know that my job is to make you as comfortable and happy as possible. I’m going to explain everything as we go along, answer any questions you may have, and make certain you are doing great. Please let me know if there’s anything you need as we proceed.”
  4. Smile a lot, kindly and sincerely. You have no idea how comforting it is when you are anxious to see warm, happy, smiling faces. I’m not merely talking about being nice and giving good service. That’s basic. I’m talking about taking your service to the highest level possible. I’m talking about tuning in to each patient as if there is no one else in the building; as if their comfort and well-being are what you are totally living for in that moment. Read their non-verbal behavior and respond accordingly. Be kind. Be patient. Take nothing personally.
  5. Assume that the person you are serving right now is going to go home and write a blog post about you that will be read by thousands of people. Or maybe they’ll just post a comment on Facebook to their 2,133 friends. What do you want them to write about you? Do you want them sharing an experience like the one I had? One that ends with, “Run! Run for your life!” Or would you prefer something like the following rave review?

“Wow! The entire staff at Dr. __________’s office is amazing! Not just great — but exceptionally great! Especially __________! She made me feel like I was the most important patient they had all day! It seemed like her main concern was that I be happy and comfortable. She was incredibly kind and patient and went out of her way to make certain I understood everything that was happening. I can now honestly say I love going to the dentist! If you are looking for an amazingly positive and enjoyable experience at the dentist, this is the place!”

And if you’d like the rave review, then here’s the big question to ask yourself in every given patient interaction: Is what I am about to do or say (and how I am about to do or say it) going to get me that rave review? That’s a sure-fire way to create the results you want.


Learn More

For more ideas about improving your customer service, read “Creating an Exceptional New-Patient Experience” and “Preparing for the New-Patient Phone Call.”

Visit https://www.dentrix.com/products/eservices/patient-engage to discover Dentrix solutions that help you communicate with your patients.


Originally published on Linda’s Positively Speaking Blog. Rants & Raves by Funny Motivational Speaker Linda Larsen By Linda Larsen – Wednesday, April 02, 2014 http://www.lindalarsen.com/lindas-positivelyspeaking-blog/how-to-turn-a-difficult-patient-into-your-greatest-raving-fan


By Linda Larsen, Certified Speaking Professional

Linda Larsen, motivational speaker, author and trainer, helps dental practices build Super Star Teams who create deliriously happy, loyal patients for life! Linda gives people the tools to enable them to bring the absolute best version of themselves to the party, enhance innovative thinking, improve effective communication and provide exceptional patient service! A favorite speaker in the dental industry, she received rave reviews as the keynote speaker at the 2013 AADOM annual meeting. She can be reached at 941-927-4700.

Published in Dentrix Magazine, Winter 2014