How to Train Your Budtenders to Better Serve Customers and Patients

(John Locher/AP)

Your dispensary’s staff is crucial to the success of your business. The employees are the outward face of your brand, and a bad experience with staff can sour a customer on your company for life.

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Because staff can make or break your customer’s experience, employee training should be an essential part of your regular business practices. By constantly going over best practices and reiterating good customer service, you’ll reinforce the care and attention you expect from your employees.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when training your staff to be as helpful and welcoming as possible to your dispensary visitors.

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Know the Difference Between a Patient and a Customer

Cannabis is inherently an unusual market in that there are two distinct groups with very different needs. Patients rely on medical marijuana for their health. They use these products to treat and alleviate symptoms related to a condition that may be chronic or intractable. Many medical marijuana patients do not fit the mold of the typical cannabis consumer, and that’s often because cannabis as medication comes as a last resort. These are patients who have exhausted all other treatment options before turning to cannabis.

If your dispensary is licensed to cater to both medical marijuana patients and adult-use customers, it might be wise to set up a private area where patients can consult budtenders for advice on certain conditions or symptoms. Medical ailments are a very sensitive topic, and not necessarily one that patients want to discuss publicly at the dispensary counter with customers waiting behind them in line.

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Patients should generally take priority over adult-use customers. This is up to the discretion of the managers, of course, but patients are there for a specific and often urgent need, and their symptoms and conditions should be treated with a degree of respect and sincerity.

Be Inquisitive (But Don’t Pry)

For a first-time customer, it’s best to start simple. Ask them what kind of effect they’re looking for—uplifting or sleepy? Do they prefer to smoke or are they looking for non-smokeable cannabis products?

With many adult-use consumers, it can be fairly simple to help them find the right products, but you’re never going to know for certain unless you get to know the customer a bit. For a newbie who doesn’t like the act of smoking, a vape pen or tincture is a great alternative. More experienced consumers can often tell you exactly which products they like.

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When it comes to helping patients, however, the experience can be a bit trickier. Trying to find the right cannabis product to help alleviate a patient’s symptoms means delving into somewhat personal, sensitive information, but try to focus your queries on their symptoms and the products you have on hand.

Are they seeking to relieve pain? Inflammation? Nausea? No matter what, always be cognizant that a patient may be less than forthcoming and might not want to discuss medical ailments in detail. Don’t push them; instead, let them tell you what they’re hoping to accomplish with medical cannabis and base your recommendations on what they choose to share with you.

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Know Your Products

In order to best serve your customers and patients, it’s crucial that you have a base knowledge of the products in stock and what they do. Sample the different strains and test the edibles, vape cartridges, and topicals your dispensary carries. In states like Washington, samples are provided for budtenders and employees to have a better understanding of the products in-store. Nothing turns off a potential customer more than a blank stare when they ask about a terpene profile or a specific product that’s on display.

Spend time learning about the endocannabinoid system, the major cannabinoids, and how THC and CBD interact with the brain and body. This knowledge will help legitimize you as a trustworthy, respected source among new customers and patients, and it will also earn you the respect of anyone well-versed in the cannabis realm.

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Nail the Customer Service Basics

Much of this boils down to a few basic tenets: Be courteous, efficient, and friendly. Don’t be rude, and don’t make assumptions about your customers, whether it’s about how much money they’re willing to throw down or about how they plan to consume their products.

Refrain from using a condescending tone, especially with first-timers and newbies. These people took a leap of faith walking into a cannabis shop, and a negative experience with a rude budtender is enough to make them want to turn and run in the opposite direction.

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Be clean. Hygiene should never take a back burner, and certainly not when you’re interacting with customers on a daily basis. Wash your hands, especially before and after handling cannabis products (particularly in states where cannabis is still dispensed from large jars), or wear gloves. Be considerate with your personal hygiene and be aware that your personal odor (perfumes and colognes included) may affect the scent of the cannabis.

And, most importantly, don’t be stoned. Even if you’re a medical marijuana patient and your employer allows consumption during work hours, don’t be incapacitated when speaking to patients and customers. If you know you can’t consume cannabis while being a productive, functional employee, wait until after your shift to toke up.

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Ultimately, being a good budtender all comes down to respect. Respect your fellow coworkers, your customers and patients, and the products you carry. A little respect goes a long way in making a good impression to your clientele!