Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's Not What You Say but How You Say It

I've never thought of myself as a people-person, and I highly doubt any of my friends have ever described me as such. I'm not exactly the most social person in the world. For whatever reason I don't like saying hello or goodbye to people. I don't ask people about their days or how they're doing. I don't ask or really care to know about anyone's personal life. In most conversations, I withhold my opinions as to not offend anyone (because most people seem to be so easily offended). I'm basically just a private person that likes to keep to himself. I'll never be the life of any party.

However, when it comes to dealing with customers, I'm somehow very good. Most of our customers really like me. I'm not overly friendly with them. I don't wave and excitedly greet them every time I see them. Most of the time I hardly acknowledge their existence until I either have to answer a question or explain something. Then I come across as easy-going and extremely helpful. I always try to make it a point to work with them no matter what I'm telling them. Whatever it is I do, it seems to work for me because no one seems to complain or have anything negative to say about me. Hell, three times this week I've had a customer tell me that they had a much better experience dealing with me than the other pharmacists (particularly Betty).

I guess the point of this post is that I don't know how I came to be the well liked pharmacist. I'm not a social butterfly. I've never been the most liked anything. Meanwhile, I work with a lot of very social people who tend to constantly annoy and get into mini arguments with customers. One of our technicians is one of the most social people I know. She goes out all the time, has a ton of friends, and meets new people all the time. However, she couldn't tell a customer he's won the lottery without him getting mad at her. It's just the tone she uses. It's that entirely unnatural customer service tone. You know that tone.... She talks in a slightly higher pitch and ends every sentence at an even higher pitch. She's overly polite to the point of sounding snarky and condescending. People can't stand dealing with her, and she can't stand dealing with them. She'd rather do anything else than wait on customers because of it.

I don't mean to single her out though. A lot of our staff has the same problem. They come across as confrontational no matter what they're saying. I just don't understand how such social and friendly people outside of work can have such difficulty dealing with customers. You'd think a friendly, social person would have a much easier time than an introvert like me. However, there seems to be no real correlation.

Again, I think it all stems from that fake customer service tone. Yes, you deal with customers in retail pharmacy, but you have to remember that those customers are people just like you and I (well maybe not like you or I in some cases). There's no reason to be fake with them. Just talk to them naturally. Be polite, but don't overdo it with the sirs, ma'ams, please, and thank yous. Talk TO them and not AT them. Moreover, don't automatically assume that if they question something you say that they're trying to argue with you. Some things are worth getting into arguments over, but in the great majority of cases, an argument just isn't worth your time. Most people are just looking for some sign that you understand where they're coming from. If you can find that tiny bit of common ground, you can avoid most disputes while still getting your point across.

I don't know... That's just my experience with customers, and maybe it doesn't apply to all customer populations. I just think that being natural when dealing with people is always the best way to go.


WonderTech said...

I couldn't help but laugh as I read this. I had to do a double take to make sure I didn't write it. As a fellow social catepillar I treat my interactions with patients as I would like it to be if the roles were reversed. I'll ensure that I remain as polite as the current shitstorm going on around me allows for, but primarily I'm more concerned with being direct and to the point. If I can answer your question in 5 words or less than that's exactly what I'll do, and then I'll send you on your merry way. Conversely, if the situation calls for me to take a little extra time to elaborate on something a laymen wouldn't be expected to know about how a pharmacy works then I'll dumb it down as best I can without being patronizing. I think people notice this and appreciate the fact that I conduct myself professionally and attend to their needs in the minimum amount of time required.

This is undoubtedly amplified by what that same patient might get if they have to deal with some of the other techs I work with. There's the one who would definitely contend for the "nicest person in the world" prize if such a contest were ever held. This is all well and good, but after they've been stuck in line while she wraps up her 10 minute conversation with the woman 3 people ahead of them they start to appreciate the quick yet thorough service they get from me that much more. Then there's the tech that's so perfectly described in the blog: She's been in the store for over a decade, and before that worked at the independent who sold to our current store. Due to this fact she does have a following of loyal and appreciative patients that have known her for a really long time. Which is why I'm all the more baffled each time I watch her verbally spar with a customer who recognizes the condescending, patronizing tone she employs for most everyone else.

The way I see it, the customers that actually do get anything more than my default level of courtesy are the ones who have established that rapport over many many interactions. If that friendly relationship doesn't exist then I won't go out of my way to smother them with phony politeness or condescending, dumbed-down answers to their questions as if I'm somehow doing them a favor. This strategy has made me a favorite among our regulars and kept the snarkiness and hostility (and complaints to corporate) between me and everyone else to a minimum.

Frantic Pharmacist said...

Very well put! Dealing with people (ie., strangers) in a business or professional setting is a talent that is not to be taken lightly. Like you say, keep it simple, courteous and straightforward and treat the person as you would want to be treated. I am totally mystified by the behavior of some of my co-workers, ranging from confrontational and obstructionist to just acting inconvenienced by the customer's very presence -- and they themselves would bitch endlessly if they were on the receiving end of that same behavior!!

pharmacy chick said...

It can be summed up this way, in a statement I have used a thousand times in my pharmacy when instructing my staff in the gift of communication.

The greatest communicator is the tone who has the ability to tell somebody to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

Anonymous said...

I am a first year pharmacy student and I found your blog interesting to read :)... I love to work with people I have been a tech for 2 years and I loved my job, but it is so funny most people in my class hate dealing with people, they all want to work at hospitals so they won't see patients, but honestly hospitals have their own dilemmas (crazy nurses , doctors ...) I have worked at hospital too .. interestingly all the pharmacist there hated their jobs :)... have a nice one

rinter said...

Hey Mike, still as ever great blog posts. I have met many pharmacists and techs with various personalities. My preceptor was the rockstar of his walmart pharmacy and the customers loved him for being so personal. My walgreens pharmacists near my home, are cordial and do their work, but no way do I expect them to say, "Hi Becca! How's it going today?" It's the sign of the times, where they are too busy to do chitchat. And I think there's a portion of customers out there that just want to get their meds and go cuz they are busy too!