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5 Steps to Turn Around Patient Anger


February 4, 2021

5 Steps to Turn Around Patient Anger


For a variety of reasons, anger over telehealth is more common than anger when face-to-face. Dealing with an angry caller is never an easy task. Patient satisfaction is tied to a number of health benefits. Satisfied patients are more likely to listen to advice and to follow through with recommendations. Their health outcomes are better. Thus, ensuring that each patient hangs up feeling satisfied is of utmost importance.

Everyone Gets Angry

Anger is a basic human emotion experienced by all people and usually occurs when we think we have been mistreated, confronted, or prevented from reaching our goals. Additionally, it’s important to remember that many of these people are ill or in a crisis situation. Therefore, it's usually not about you specifically. If you can keep these things in mind, it will go a long way towards preventing your own stress or anger levels from rising.

5 Steps to Turning The Anger Around

  1. Slow down and listen
  2. Remain calm
  3. Apologize, empathize, and summarize
  4. Avoid the ‘Hold’ button
  5. Make the caller happy

Step 1: Slow down and listen

You can usually determine whether or not the caller is angry within the first few seconds of a call. When it happens, it is important to simply listen to them before trying to defuse the situation. Anger is frequently nothing more than a means of getting the attention and focus they believe they need. Often, after a caller has been given the chance to vent, they’ll apologize and allow you to solve the problem with gratitude instead of anger.

While they are speaking, it may be helpful to jot down the major points of their problem on your notepad as angry callers tend to go on tangents. This will help you to cut through the crap and find a real answer to their problem. Writing also has another benefit – it allows you to maintain your focus in the face of a stressful situation.

Step 2: Remain Calm

It is important to stay calm \to prevent the situation from escalating. Here are a few tips to try:

  • Focus on using an even tone while you speak.
  • Remember the customer isn’t angry at you – it is the situation that is making them angry.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if this happened to you? Having a little bit of empathy can go a long way.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves while the caller is talking

While you should always remain calm, this doesn’t mean you have to put up with whatever abuse the call is heaping on you. There are limits. If the caller is threatening you, using violent language, or swearing, follow your company’s policy guidelines for handling difficult customers. If company policy allows you to end the call in these situations, by all means, do so right away.

Step 3: Apologize, Empathize, and Summarize

After you’ve listened to the angry caller and taken notes, it is important to make them feel as if you are on their side. One way to do this is to apologize about the problem, convey empathy, and then summarize what you believe is the central issue or issues. Doing so will not only make the caller feel you are listening to them, it will also give them a few moments to calm down. You will be surprised at how much calmer they are when they start talking again.

Step 4: Avoid the Hold Button

Many customer service representatives will put an angry caller on hold, believing that will allow them a moment to calm down. Don’t do this! The opposite is true. The hold time will add to the caller’s frustration, escalating the situation.

Some callers believe that hold time allows representatives to talk rudely without being heard. Others believe that they are put on hold so the representative doesn’t have to deal with the problem. While this may not be true, a caller’s imagination will have plenty of time to think up negative reasons for why they are on hold.

If you have a real reason to put them on hold, talk them through it. Let them know exactly what you are doing while you research the problem. For example:

“It seems to me that you may have a billing error. I’m pulling up your bill, Ms. Jones, and taking a look. I see that you were billed on the first of the month and the payment was made automatically through your credit card. You said you changed your method of payment, so now I am going to take a look at the notes on your account to see when that change was made.”

5. Make the caller happy

Ultimately, it is in everyone’s best interest that the caller ends the call feeling their situation has been resolved. If you have not been able to resolve their issue, Hopefully you have at least taken steps towards resolution.

1. Summarize- it is a good practice at the end of the call to summarize their problem, steps you were able to take, and additional steps that still need to be taken (if any).

2. Ask for more - ask them if there is anything else you can do to help them.

3. Document their desired resolution – if you’ve not been able to complete the resolution they wanted, ask how they think their issue should be resolved. Let them know you are documenting their desired resolution even if you can’t complete it yourself.

While the stress and anxiety of handling these situations fades as the clinician gains experience, the importance of carefully handling difficult customers never does. As a representative of your healthcare organization specifically and telehealth in general, when you satisfy the client, you help give them and the system better outcomes.

About Keona Health

At Keona Health, we believe that relationships matter. We know that a clinic’s telehealth system can test a patient-doctor relationship, especially if a patient cannot easily get the help he or she is seeking. Keona Health offers healthcare software and automation solutions to ease the burden of telehealth on medical practices and help medical professionals better communicate with patients.

Posted By

Gina Tabone

Gina Tabone, MSN, has 25+ years of experience in telehealth. She has consulted for physicians, health systems, call centers, & other healthcare entities.

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