The Nightmare Patient and Other Bad Customers

by Jim Du Molin

I was sitting with six people outside of a recent dental event. There were some high-powered consultants in the small group, and we were talking about dental management issues. A colleague’s Blackberry beeped with an email was from one of his recent client doctors. More than just an ordinary complaint, the email sounded like the tantrum of a two year old. I had a moment of deja vu as he read it aloud; I was instantly reminded of a similar experience I had a few years earlier.

As it turns out, I correctly guessed the author of the email: the same doctor I had dealt with. Another person in the group had a similar experience with the person as well. So, out of seven of us, three had negative experiencse with the same client doctor. What are the odds? It should come to no surprise that this individual was given a complete refund and told he would never get service again.

So what happened? How did this client get so bad? In my experience with him, he countered back to me “The client is always right!!” I disagreed. “The right client is always right. The wrong client is always wrong. You are the wrong client.”

I recall a story told years ago of a customer who complained about everything to Southwest airlines. After every flight, she would fire off another letter about all the things that she felt were wrong. Due to all the previous letters, they bumped her latest one to the CEO, Herb Kelleher. After reading her letter, he responded with the following:

Dear Ms. __________,

We will miss you.


That’s it. Mr. Kelleher understood that by backing down to this unruly and unpleasant passenger, he would not be standing up for and supporting his employees. That is a valuable lesson. My staff will tell you that I have fired clients and refused the business of people who were rude to them.

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store, in London in 1909. It is typically used by businesses to:


  • Convince customers that they will get good service, and
  • Convince employees to give customers good service.



Fortunately, more and more businesses and dental practices are abandoning this maxim. Why? Ironically, it leads to bad customer service. The main issue with it is it means that abusive people (like the person I mentioned initially) get better treatment than nice people. That’s just wrong. It makes much more sense to be nice to the nice patients to keep them coming back and fire the bad patients.

Put team members first and they will be happy at work. Teams who are happy at work give better patient service because:


  • They care more about other people, including patients.
  • They have more energy.
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with.
  • They are more motivated.



On the other hand, when the practice and doctor consistently side with patients instead of with team members, it sends a clear message that:


  • Team members are not valued.
  • Treating employees fairly is not important.
  • Your team members have no right to expect respect from patients.
  • Team members have to put up with everything from patients.



When this attitude prevails, dental teams stop caring about service. So put your people first, and watch them put the patients first.

Remember, happy team members always produce more and offer better patient service.

Jim Du Molin

About Jim Du Molin

+Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.


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