Insights From Our Editors

The Magic of “That’s Horrible!”

portrait of an angry grumpy funny looking woman isolated on gray wall background

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A phrase that’s exactly what angry patients want to hear.

By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO

Dec. 13, 2023

Have you read the book  “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless: Customer Loyalty is Priceless” by Jeffrey Gitomer?

There are so many gems in this book. I read it many years ago, and it surprises me how many ideas from this book we have used for years in our practice. We have used them so long, I forgot where I got them from! 🙂

Here is one of the ideas we use a lot:

Scenario: Imagine a patient walking into an optometric office, visibly upset. Patient: “I am really frustrated. I ordered my contacts two weeks ago and they have not arrived. I called twice and nobody answered, and I am leaving for vacation tomorrow!!!” This patient is ticked off!! Right?!?

What would your staff’s response be? Typically, they may respond with a well-intentioned, “I am so sorry. What’s your name so I can check into it?” While this response is polite and service-oriented, it probably will not immediately turn this patient’s irritation around.

What Does It Take to Turn Around an Angry Patient?

According to one of the principles outlined in “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless: Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” a more effective initial response would be to acknowledge the patient’s feelings by saying, “That’s Horrible!!!!” 

This empathetic acknowledgment instantly communicates to the patient that the employee is on their side and has their back. Following that up with, “That should not have happened. Let me see what I can do to help” will almost always help turn this patient around. I have found “That’s Horrible!!!” to be a magical response. It is incredibly powerful!

Let’s say you believe me and you want to implement this in your office. Having a meeting and telling staff how powerful and magical “That’s Horrible!!!” is will NOT immediately make it happen. It needs to be discussed in office meetings multiple times and routinely.

When an employee comes to the doctor or the manager about an upset patient, the first thing the doctor or manager needs to respond with is “What was your first response?”  If it wasn’t “That’s Horrible!!!”, that is a good time to remind the employee how you want them to respond in these tough situations.

Another way to get it to become part of your normal vernacular in your office is to bring up service issues from other businesses at your office meeting and ask your staff…”What should that employee have said?” Eventually your staff should all respond “That’s Horrible!!!”

Try it…it truly is magical.

Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO, is president of Lakeline Vision Source in Cedar Park, Texas, and the Professional Editor of Review of Optometric Business (ROB). To contact her:


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