“Who’s the manager here? I’d like to speak to them, right now.”

“That’s me. How can I help?” (smile)

“I want to talk to the manager of this pharmacy.”

“I am the one responsible for the operations of this pharmacy and business.”

Over the years, I’ve been overlooked as a manager so many times; most likely, because people expect someone 10 or 20 years older.

When I was a new pharmacy manager, I would laugh secretly at these customers.

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Haha, nice try. You’re still talking to me.

In addition, I would say politically correct things that they couldn’t argue with, and even offer the best of solutions. Yet, the customer would still be dissatisfied, and they let me know with their verbally abrasive remarks.

“YOU are the manager? Who’s your supervisor?” (insert profanity in between)

Of course, these moments used to make me smile because I knew my age and appearance fooled them. And with my help, they were now making a fool of themselves.

Joke’s On Me

But sadly, the real joke was on me. Here was a manager who couldn’t solve customers’ problems or lead a business. He was too busy playing games.

All the while, the pharmacy and its patients suffered because this pharmacist was available only to one customer who was complaining for 20 minutes.

As I matured, I began to see these requests to speak with a manager as problems that I needed to diagnose and solve. I was the leader, and I had more knowledge and skills. So I learned and became quicker with my root cause analysis.

No longer was I laughing. There’s too much work to do, and my patients need me. 

For these reasons, I knew I needed to make a changes to my conflict resolution tool kit. Through more failures, I learned to probe and triage problems efficiently. I was becoming a pro at root cause analysis, amazingly enough.

But even though I could mentally solve these problems quicker, I ran into the same resistance and frustrations. For instance,

“You don’t get it. Let me speak with your supervisor, this instant.”

No, I totally get it. What’s wrong with YOU?

The Turning Point

Finally, I encountered a patient who came up to the counsel window, slamming her bag of prescriptions on the counter.

“You filled the WRONG medicine for my mom!”

Oh man. DEFCON 1. I’m so sorry, let me look into this.”

“You had BETTER. She took one of these, and she could die!”

Thinking about my own mother, “First off, I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. If I were in your shoes, I’d be so angry, scared, and sad at the same time.”

“I have no idea what medicine she got. What’s going to happen to her?”

(Curious, perplexed, and concerned) “I don’t know how this happened, but I certainly am going to get to the bottom of it. My first priority is to make sure she’s safe and that the doctor knows about this medication error.”


“I need to get more information. When did this happen? How many doses did she take? What symptoms is she exhibiting, if any?”

To my surprise, she answers calmly, cooperatively, and very worried for her mom.

“Based off the potential adverse reactions for this medicine, I don’t deem this to be a high-risk scenario. Mom should be just fine. I’m still going to contact the doctor and report this. I want to make sure this never happens again.”

As a result, the daughter nods and thanks me for understanding. No request to speak to the manager. No complaints to corporate.

She just thanked me after we had dispensed the wrong medicine to her mom.

Mind Blown

What would happen to my own health and well-being if I never learned to stop fighting my patients? In addition, how could my technicians follow a leader who continually put his own interests before others?

Don’t get me wrong. The patient is not always right, believe it or not.

However, I can create conditions so that neither of us is wrong. This way, we can both get what we want: better healthcare.

Ultimately, I learned that customer complaints have nothing to do with the customer, and everything to do with me, my ego, and my choices.

“Let me talk to your manager.”

“Look, I’m sorry we’re getting off on the wrong foot. I feel I must not be communicating effectively. Let’s start over and let me show you that I do care.”

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Business Tips from The Corporate PharmD

  • For verbal de-escalation and conflict resolution, present yourself as someone with empathy, not authority
  • Use empathy, diagnosis, and solution thinking, in that order
  • Analyze patient’s preferences, clinical safety, and professional liability
  • Teach your team these skills, and you’ll never hear a request to speak to the manager

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