How to Deal with Difficult or Irate Patients During Collection Calls


Most dental office managers will occasionally find themselves on an uncomfortable phone call from an unhappy patient. And the anger only grows in magnitude when it comes to making collection calls. Whether the anger is justifiable or you happen to be a sitting-pretty target, your business has to handle these calls. Professionally.


Nobody likes dealing with irate customers, which can make dealing with them a pain in the butt, especially when the customer is threatening to kick your butt and then ditch your services. Take a deep breath, keep calm, and read these tips for dealing with angry, difficult callers, in a professional manner.


Apply these six easy tips for dealing with irate patients:



Don’t Take It Personally

While handling a complaint call from an irate patient, you’re likely to endure the brunt of the customer’s anger as expressed through yelling, venting, foul language, and possibly insults. You become a sitting-pretty target because you’re there to take (and eventually solve) their complaint, but know the customer is not mad at you personally. They’re mad at your company, a service provided, or the situation they’re in, and perhaps most importantly, they’d be mad at whomever picked up the phone.

Remember, no matter what the customer shouts your way, don’t take it personally. Almost everyone says irrational (and rude) things they don’t mean when they’re frustrated, and often direct them at the wrong party.


Irate patients want their complaint heard by whomever is forced to listen, and in this case, it’s you. It’s easy to roll your eyes and tune out someone who’s screaming in your ear, but you need to give the customer your undivided attention and patience to effectively hear what the customer is upset about. Let them know you’re listening (the occasional “uh huh” and “I understand”) and let them know they have the floor to take stage and vent.

Remember, understanding the complaint is the only way to begin solving it, and the only way to understand is to listen.

Never Argue Back

It’s easy to lose your cool when someone’s firing off at you, but when you fight fire with fire, everyone gets burned and nothing is salvaged from the mess. As a representative of your company, it’s your duty to uphold company standards and professionalism (not to mention your integrity), even when the customer on the phone is getting on your last nerve. However, matching their tone or behavior is only going to increase their fuel, as well as not solve the complaint at hand.

Remember, resolving an issue is not ‘eye for an eye;’ it’s about help, and returning the anger and attitude is never the solution. Maintaining a cool, calm, collected front is the way to go, even when it’s difficult. And most importantly, would you rather win the argument or take a payment? Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and allow the consumer to vent to increase your chances of successfully earning a payment.


After the patient rants, use your effective listening skills to show them you understand their feelings and why they’re upset by expressing empathy. “I completely understand your frustration – being placed on hold for 10 minutes is time-wasting.” Empathy will help show the customer you truly are trying to help them and feel bad about whatever their complaint is. When the sense of your understanding is felt by the patient, they’ll calm down and work with you, instead of continuing to fight you.

Remember, respect for a patient’s complaint will go a long way in resolving the issue at hand.

ApologizePicture of Collector

A lot of the time when a patient is upset, they’re simply looking for an apology because it makes them feel better about the situation – regardless of if the apology is legitimately deserved or not. The patient wants to feel cared about, which an apology projects. A simple, yet genuine, apology can be the difference between retaining that patient’s business and losing them.

Remember, this is not One Republic; it is never “too late to apologize” and let your customer know you care about them and their feelings, and finding a solution that leaves you both satisfied.

Know When to Say Goodbye

You kept your cool, you listened effectively, you expressed empathy and sympathy, you apologized, and you reminded the patient you’re there to help. You did everything within your power, but they are still livid. Sometimes you need to cut your losses in situations where the patient cannot be reasoned down from their anger and disconnect the call. Hasta la vista, caller.

Remember, it is okay to say goodbye. You can only help as much as someone lets you. If a patient isn’t willing to accept your help, it’s likely that nothing will please them and they’re simply wasting everyone’s time.


What’s YOUR Take?: Have you had an experience with angry patient – what best helped you deal with them? What other advice do you think should be included?






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