Providing exemplary customer service is good for patrons and the dispensary, and it also helps create a more pleasant working environment for the staff. Consumers who perceive that they are getting good customer service are more likely to treat you well in return.
A person may arrive with preconceived ideas (about cannabis, the dispensary, providers, and legal issues, for example) that are challenged by their lived experience. For most people, cognitive dissonance passes quickly. Do NOT be surprised, however, if people sometimes seem reluctant, timid, or defensive when they initially visit the facility.
Good customer service will help them overcome their reservations. The term “cognitive dissonance” is used to describe the uncomfortable mental state that results from conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. In a cannabis retail setting, some consumers may be faced with some cognitive dissonance that influences their dispensary experience. There are a few simple things you can do to help create a great customer service experience in the dispensary:
- Greet everyone when they enter the front door (and again when they enter the sales area if it is a separate room)
- Acknowledge people who are waiting to be served: “Hi. Come on in. I will be with you in a minute.”
- Smile and offer eye contact
- Stop doing routine tasks such as filing, cleaning, or stocking and give your full attention to the customer
- Do not eat or drink while serving a customer
- Be patient. Let the person ask questions and make up their mind
- Do not interrupt the person while they are speaking
- Adopt a pleasant demeanor – avoid coming off as cynical, distracted, sad, or angry
- Build rapport, if the customer is receptive
- Ask how they are doing, feeling, etc., but do not get too personal or take too long
- Never comment on a customer’s physical appearance, as this may cause an unintentional offense
- Consider your tone of voice and body language since these can sometimes communicate more than the words you say
- When the transaction is completed, thank the person for coming in and invite them to return
Dealing With Difficult Customers
You will sometimes have to serve an unhappy or unpleasant customer. This is part of the job and CANNOT be avoided. Treat difficult people with the same respect and good service you provide to everyone else. Resist the urge to argue or retaliate, which would just make the experience worse for both of you.
Some customers may be unsatisfied with their experience at the dispensary, but you may be able to fix the problem and mend the relationship. People have a right to complain, and the staff has a responsibility to resolve reasonable complaints when possible.
When a customer presents a complaint, listen carefully to what they are saying. It is a good idea to repeat the complaint back to the person so that they KNOW you understand.
For example, “I hear that you are unhappy with the quality of the medicine you received. Is that right?”
Let the customer restate the complaint if you misunderstood. How customer complaints are addressed will vary from one workplace to another. All businesses should develop processes and procedures for, and employees should receive training on, the handling of complaints. Discuss complaint resolution with your supervisor. Is there a specific form that you or a customer may fill out that details the nature and aspects of the complaint?
Does the dispensary offer refunds or exchanges? What should you do if a customer complains about you or a co-worker? In most cases, a sincere apology and a promise to do BETTER next time will help resolve a complaint. Remember that you are apologizing for their bad experience, not necessarily admitting any intent to cause harm.
For example, “I am sorry you felt disrespected because of my tone of voice. It wasn’t my intention to make you feel that way, but I completely understand how upsetting and frustrating it is to feel disrespected. I will try not to let that happen again.”
Hopefully, everyone will leave the dispensary feeling good, but in some cases, you will not be able to do what the customer wants. If that is the case, be polite and clear as to why you cannot accommodate him or her. Avoid using phrases like “that is just our policy” or “I cannot help it.” Try offering the person a respectful and complete answer, and a solution, if possible.
For example, “I cannot accept a credit card with someone else’s name on it because we have to follow the credit card company’s procedures to be paid for the transaction. I can accept a card with your name or cash.”
Occasionally, you will encounter an irate person. You may not be able to make them happy, but you must still maintain a professional demeanor. NEVER lose your temper at, insult, or provoke a customer; this will make things worse. If you do not think that you can control your reaction to an angry customer, you can ask for help from a supervisor or co-worker.
You can help de-escalate the situation by speaking calmly. Be reasonable, even if you do not think the customer is. However, you do not have to let an angry customer insult or belittle you, and you should leave the area and notify security personnel if a person threatens you or if you feel that you might be in danger. Cultural competency is an important component of good customer service.
Be aware that what is considered polite may vary based on one’s background, ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs. What you consider norms – how close someone stands to you, how loud they talk, whether or not they make eye contact or shake hands, and their approach to other such cultural conventions – may NOT be understood as such by someone with a background that is different from yours.
As long as the customer’s behavior is not overtly offensive, do not take umbrage if a customer interacts with you and others in a way that differs from what you expect or consider “normal.” Finally, going beyond the fact that there is no room for racism, bigotry, misogyny, or other discrimination in the workplace, it should be noted that cultural competency is an important component of customer service.
Working With Cannabis Patients Effectively
Many ailments are invisible to outside observers. When working with medical cannabis patients on a daily basis, we can forget that these are people with physical and/or mental illnesses.
But they are coming to your facility because they NEED relief from their pain or other symptoms. They can seem agitated or upset as a result of their distress.
Things to consider and keep in mind when helping patients:
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect
- Maintain privacy through confidentiality
- Create a culturally sensitive environment
- Help patients and caregivers understand products, delivery methods, and identify educational materials available to them from the dispensary
- Think about how an illness and its physical symptoms may be affecting a person physically, mentally, and socially
- Think about how to be respectful of the person and what they may be experiencing
Positive interactions and rapport-building are ESSENTIAL components of a pleasant experience for patients, but some points to keep in mind while interacting with patients are:
- Start where the patient is – try and gauge the person’s experience with cannabis and then tailor your information accordingly
- Don’t reveal too much about yourself and your personal experiences
- The purpose of the initial interaction(s) is to hear the patient’s story in their own words
- Don’t judge their experiences against your own
Skills and traits needed to form GENUINE partnerships with patients:
- Genuineness: Be real with your patients
- Acceptance and Respect: Demonstrate kindness, politeness, and positivity in your interactions with patients
- Trustworthiness: Show that you can be trusted with sensitive information
- Empathy: Show the customer you understand and share their feelings
- Cultural Sensitivity: Be mindful that patients may view things differently than you, and seek to understand their perspectives
Interactions with patients can be both verbal and non-verbal. Strive to make them all POSITIVE! Pay attention to your own and your patients’ non-verbal cues. Some might be unintentional, but they can convey a lot.
Cannabis Consumer Education
Cannabis consumers need to be educated as to their rights and responsibilities under the law, effective use of their cannabis, and how they can ADVOCATE for their own medical and adult-use needs. An informed consumer will make better choices and get the best outcome from their cannabis use.
Education is a priority in the field of cannabis because legal consumers and patients must carefully obey the law in order to benefit from its protection. They also must understand how to protect and assert their own rights and customers need accurate information about the therapeutic use of cannabinoids, cultivars, dosage, and routes of administration.
Staff should help foster this learning by participating in the peer-to-peer education process and helping customers locate educational resources or organizations that can be helpful. Empowering consumers to participate in the development and implementation of cannabis policy is CRUCIAL.
The best outcomes for people result from educated constituents working with policymakers and providers. Customers’ voices and experiences are crucial to evaluating cannabis laws and improving them where necessary. Educated and empowered consumers are also the dispensary’s best asset when it comes to government relations, community outreach, and responding to government interference or intimidation.
Dispensary staff can contribute to this process by actively promoting printed and online educational materials. These materials may include explanations of the laws regarding cannabis, condition-specific information, explanations about routes of administration, and information about opportunities to PARTICIPATE in policy development and implementation.
Staff should take a minute with new customers to highlight these resources and ensure that customers know where to find them.
Let us know what you think.