How to Handle Difficult and Dangerous Pharmacy Customers

by pharmacy on January 23, 2013

How to Handle Difficult and Dangerous Pharmacy Customers

As with any service profession, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are not immune to the depredations of unruly customers clamoring for preferential treatment.  Due to their evening hours and limited staff, grocery stores and drug stores are prime targets for crime.  Many would-be ruffians find it easier to throw their weight around when the store is nearly empty.  There are, however, a number of guidelines to be aware of in order to protect yourself and your business from these kinds of threats.

Sometimes, They’re Just Difficult                                                                                                            

Sometimes, the issue is as simple as an unruly customer.  Whether because of a bad day at work, emotional stress, or any combination of other factors, they may be irritated at being told to wait their turn for service, particularly if an order is complex or will otherwise require considerable time to fulfill.  When a customer confronts you and makes demands of you or your co-workers, remember that you are in control.  While threats should certainly not be taken lightly, a cool but uncompromising demeanor will almost always defuse the situation – even if it results in the customer threatening to “call your manager” to complain.  Eventually, they will come to realize that their complaints are only serving to extend their delays and may grumble off to patiently wait their turn.

I witnessed an incident recently when I had to make a late night run to the pharmacy myself. It was past 1:00 am, and the pharmacist on duty had just received a prescription to fill from one woman and was helping the next woman in line when another customer pulled up at the drive-thru window demanding service “NOW,” after the pharmacist had already explained that he would be with him in a moment. Apparently this man was a regular customer, so the pharmacist smoothly replied, “As you can see, I’m with another customer right now, and she’s a lot prettier than you.” The customer at the drive-thru window laughed and agreed, and thankfully the woman at the counter did, too. The pharmacist immediately apologized to the woman, because he realized it might have offended her, but he had judged the situation well enough to determine she would have a sense of humor about it. That being said, it’s not advisable to make comments involving your customers’ appearance, but it can be helpful to note when humor will defuse a potential problem.

But It Can Turn Dangerous

When the situation escalates to violence and direct threats, however, it is always in your best interest to cooperate calmly with their demands and be attentive to details that may help police track them down later.  No amount of money or product on the shelves is worth dying for, and if a customer threatens you or your co-workers with a weapon or behaves in an openly violent and hostile manner, you should always obey their instructions promptly and smoothly in order to minimize the likelihood of injury.  Avoid the temptation to be a hero, and do not attempt to sound an alarm in the presence of such an individual, as doing so may only provoke them to rash action.  Additionally, you should warn the individual of any surprises they may encounter, such as other employees or customers in the store, to minimize the possibility of an instinctual violent reaction.  Once they are satisfied and have left the premises, only then should you seek to contact police, after locking all the doors to the building and ensuring the safety of everyone inside.

Remember not to touch anything the individual has handled, as it may tarnish evidence the police investigators might need.  Gather as many details as possible from other witnesses and commit them to writing as soon as possible to minimize the likelihood of details being lost in memory.  By remaining level-headed and calm, you minimize the risk of violence to yourself and others in the store and maximize the chances of police making a successful apprehension of the suspect at a later date.

Do you have any memorable experiences with problem customers that you’d like to share

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