Dear Hanna Mae
BY HANNA MAE GUMMENT (AKA SUE CONNELLY, FCLSA, AND URSULA LOTZKAT)
The excitement continues in our mailroom as your cards and letters continue to pour in. Let's get started answering your questions about the daily happenings in your offices.
Dear Hanna Mae, a staff member in my office really is nice, but she's often rude to patients. When they come to me to complain, I don't know what to do. I feel disloyal to her if I take the patient's side, but rude to the patient if I support my colleague. Help! --Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Dear Caught, you really are in a pickle! Yikes! I'm glad I'm not in your shoes! Okay, we need to handle two issues. First, what should you do when the patient complains? Apologize. (I know I often recommend this tactic -- but you'd be surprised at how many feathers you can unruffle when you sincerely apologize.) Tell the patient that you're truly sorry that he received poor treatment and then take care of the situation. Let him vent as long as he needs, ask if there is anything you can do for him and follow through if you need to resolve something.
The second issue (and the nitty gritty of this situation) is what to do about your colleague. It sounds like this is a pattern of behavior, so you must address it (even one patient complaint is too many). Ignoring this behavior doesn't improve it and ultimately reinforces it to continue. Your colleague represents you and the entire practice, so unless you condone her manners (or lack of), then you need to speak up.
According to Laura Neudecker, vice president of Human Resources at Minnesota Public Radio, the appropriate individual to nip this situation in the bud is the person to whom your colleague reports. If that's an office manager, then bring that person into the loop. To help you feel less "disloyal" to your colleague, remember a few key things: provide only the facts about the situation and keep your opinions to yourself. Also, while you should spread the word if a colleague gets a nice compliment, don't spread bad feedback about this colleague to other co-workers.
To whomever falls the ticklish task of speaking with the co-worker, that person should be supportive, but remain firm. A professional office is no place for rude behavior and it must not continue. While every story has two sides, the fact that the patient felt strongly enough to complain and that others have witnessed this behavior before leads me to believe that this colleague needs a wake-up call. Someone must let her know that a concerned patient spoke with you (not "complained" or "criticized"). Don't be confrontational, but remind her that her behavior reflects on the entire practice and that it must always be professional and courteous.
Dear Hanna Mae, patients often comment on how expensive our contact lenses are. I'm tempted to tell them that if they can't afford them, then they should go somewhere else. Instead, I end up with my mouth hanging open and then I change the subject. How can I explain this to patients without looking stupid? --All Choked Up
Dear Choked Up, first of all, close your mouth. It's important to remember that patients react to the price of contact lenses because they're most familiar with it. They don't know what else is important to ask.
Patients want reassurance that they're making a good economical decision. Look them straight in the eye and tell them that you may not have the lowest price, but in eye care it's important to compare value, not price. Assure them that the quality of care, level of service and expertise that your office team provides is the best value in town.
Please submit your human management questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Hanna Mae Gumment would like to thank Mr. Ralph Hogabaumstadt, the mail carrier in the small Midwestern town where she lives. Since the column began, he has had to change the corn pads in his shoes twice, and Ms. Gumment truly appreciates his effort in delivering these letters (and gifts!) from readers.