4 Challenging Customer Service Scenarios & How Your PT Clinic Should Handle Them

Your patients are your most valuable resource. Without them, your physical therapy clinic is just another institution struggling to stay afloat. So, of course, you want them to receive the best care and have a stellar experience every time they schedule an appointment with one of your experts.

But, in spite of your best efforts to provide great experiences and address their needs, requests, and concerns with professionalism, it’s not always a smooth ride. You will experience numerous, unexpected hurdles in your attempt to provide prospects with the best care. After all, you will get in contact with people from all walks of life. And, let’s just be honest: some patients are more challenging than others. What matters, though, is that you know how to handle any problem that may come your way and turn an angry or unsatisfied patient into a loyal one.

Let’s make one thing clear from the start: it’s not going to be a simple task. There aren’t any secret formulas or scripts that can teach you how to handle a difficult patient and be victorious after a challenging encounter. Good customer service relies on real conversations rather than on a fixed, cold script.

With that in mind, here are four of the most challenging customer service scenarios and what you can do to handle them properly and provide prospects with a professional and nurturing experience.

  1. When You Just Don't Know

Here’s the hard truth: there will be cases when a prospect asks you a question so baffling that you won’t know how to answer it. It’s frustrating, but it can happen.

Look, just because you are an expert in your niche, it doesn’t mean that you have all the answers. So, don’t beat yourself up over your inability to provide prospects with what they need. And, most importantly, don’t make things up just for the sake of providing an answer. Instead, admit that the question is beyond your capabilities and ensure the patient that you would look into it and get back to them as quickly as possible. Sure, it’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s better than mumbling inaccurate information.

Here’s an example:

Let’s imagine that you are a new customer service representative and you are still learning how things work around the clinic. A mother calls to tell that her child has a deployed hinge and to ask if you offer pediatric physical therapy for such a problem. You are uncertain of the answer. How do you act? What should you say to her?

The answer is twofold.

First thing first: never use the phrase "I don't know." This response is a frequent mistake that many call-center representatives make, and it doesn't help. The mother may be sympathetic to the fact that you don't know, but she's not interested in hearing about it. After all, she called with a specific request, and she’s expecting to receive help.

Secondly, you should focus on the prospect’s needs rather than your context. Sure, you are new and still have a lot to learn, but don’t use that as an excuse. Let the patient know that you will do everything in your powers to help them.

So, instead of an answer like “I’m not sure, I guess we could help you with that,” use something like “Let me try to find out for you.”

Customer service is all about knowing how to respond to adverse situations. You must be able to prevent them and not let a challenging scenario damage your reputation. When your prospects know that they can count on you, they are more willing to forgive certain slip-offs. That’s because they are confident that even though you can’t help them right now, you are working hard to find the best solution for their needs.

  1. When You Have an Angry Patient

Given the nature of the healthcare environment, be sure that you'll most certainly encounter angry patients or relatives at some point.

Imagine the following scenario: after being left to wait a long time, a patient heads to the front desk and asks you why any doctor isn’t seeing him. He believes he has an appointment, but as it turns out, he was scheduled for the next day.

The patient gets angry and considers that it’s the clinic’s fault since they didn’t make the time and date of the appointment clear enough. Moreover, he claims that he will leave town tomorrow and requests to be seen by a doctor today.

How do you avoid a crisis and still let the patient know that you’re not able to follow through with their request?

Once you determine that you have a challenging situation on your hand, the first thing you need to do is to adjust your style of communication to defuse the patient’s feelings or at least prevent the problem from escalating. Often, angry patients don't realize how their negative behavior is affecting others.

Try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment: they may be struggling with a health condition that makes it very painful for them to perform routine activities. They’re in a new environment, not knowing what to expect and how painful the procedures are going to be. They don’t have anything against you; they’re merely reacting on an impulse.

Here’s what you need to do to defuse the situation:

  • Acknowledge their feelings;
  • Demonstrate active listening by keeping eye contact and nodding;
  • Allow them to express how they’re feeling and avoid interrupting them;

After you’ve listened to their concern, show empathy both verbally and non-verbally. However, if the clinic isn’t responsible for the negative situation a patient finds himself in, then don’t enable them to blame you.

If the person still doesn’t want to work with you, ask a superior to intervene and help. That way the patient may see that you are trying your best to help them.  

If you know you provided the best customer service, but the person remains outright abusive, do not argue back and keep your self-confidence. You can use the words: “Excuse me, but I’m trying to help you. I will have to ask you to not talk to me that way.” If nothing works, calling the police is the last resort.



  1. When Transferring a Patient

Nobody likes hearing the phrase, "Please hold while we transfer you." And, it’s understandable. Your patient has probably waited for a few minutes to get in touch with a representative, and now he has to wait some more until he can talk with someone who can help him. While you are trying to provide them with the best customer service, he sees this as an inability to answer his request.

The problem is that, more often than not, support reps don’t offer a proper explanation and don’t even try to let patients know why they need to transfer them. When they hear "My apologies, Sir/Madam, but we'll have to transfer your call to department X," patients instantly feel they are going to get passed around and be treated disrespectfully, and as if their request was a hassle.

For example, a patient calls for information regarding a particular orthopedic treatment, but he accidentally called the wrong number. You’re actually in charge of finance-related complaints.

To prevent misinterpretations, don’t treat them in a hurry and immediately transfer them to the appropriate department. Imagine using this language instead:

“Hello, Sir/Madam. I’m here to help you obtain the information you need. So I’m going to transfer you to our orthopedic treatments’ specialist who is the best-suited person to inform you about everything you need.”

When a patient hears that the customer service representative has their problem in mind and that his call will be sent to an expert, then he becomes confident that you are, in fact, trying to help him, not just get rid of him.

  1. When You’re Dealing with Online Complaints

In the era of social media, prospective patients are more likely to search for your Facebook page or ask you a question via Twitter than pick up the phone and get in touch with a customer service rep. So, it’s vital that you know how to handle online requests and complaints with grace and professionalism.

For example, if a prospect contacts you via chat, always greet them by using their name. Be polite and professional and never interrupt them regardless of how rude or obnoxious they may be. Read their message carefully and make sure you understand their request. Keep a reflective attitude. It helps to revise what they told you and ask for confirmation to ensure you got everything right.

But, what can you do if a patient posted an angry comment on your Facebook page? How do you deal will negative reviews and rants?

For starters, address the problem objectively and try to find out what when wrong. Tell your patient that you are sorry that they had a bad experience and ask them to send you a direct message or email to explain the situation in detail. Let the patient know that you are doing everything you can to remedy the problem and ensure that nothing like that would happen again. Depending on the severity of the problem, you could even offer compensation, such as a free consultation or a discount. Be careful, though: you don’t want your patient to perceive this incentive as a bribe, but as a genuine desire to help them and make things better.

Knowing how to respond to negative comments online will not only help you turn an angry prospect into a loyal patient. It’s also an opportunity to showcase your professionalism and customer service. So, take advantage of it.


Customer service is not something that your PT clinic should take lightly. After all, if patients are happy with the way you handled a problem and helped them find the right solution for their needs, they are more likely to refer your services to friends and family. Always be prepared for the unexpected and learn how to handle all possible situations with care and professionalism.

And, don’t forget, if you ever need help with your online reputation management needs, you can always find a trusted ally in PatientSites.com. We have a thorough and tested process in places that enables us to monitor and manage your reputation with ease.

Find out more!

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