5 client complaints and why they ditched their veterinarians


Try these tips to avoid client care mistakes.


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(A condensed version of this content ran in the April 2015 issue of Veterinary Economics. Scroll down for tips, forms and handouts to help you provide better service to your clients.)

We called on the experts-Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of PantheraT Veterinary Consulting, Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, consultant with VMC Inc., and Sharon DeNayer, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager of Windsor Veterinary Clinic-to guide veterinary teams through a few responses received after Veterinary Economics surveyed pet owners to ask why they left their veterinary practices. Think these scenarios could never happen at your clinic? Felsted says don't be too sure.

Client complaint

“One morning I sat next to a couple and their dog in the waiting room. They were called into an exam room, then emerged several minutes later crying and carrying the euthanized dog in a black garbage bag. It was extremely disturbing to me and the other two people who were in the reception area.”

You can do better 

> Review your euthanasia protocol. If you don't have one, create one. This document outlines details of the process, such as what time of day you schedule appointments, the preparations and how much time to plan for the event. It also explains how to handle the client's experience compassionately and discreetly, like planning a different exit from the practice so clients don't have to walk back through your reception area where other clients may be waiting-and watching. Go to dvm360.com/euthanasiaprotocol for a sample euthanasia protocol.

Client complaint

“The doctors at the practice we left were excellent, but the front-office staff members were overworked and rude. The practice was so successful, it was difficult to get an appointment. And when we had an emergency, the front office team was uncooperative.”

You can do better

> Hire a greeter. Greeters focus on hospitality, whether it's offering drinks or talking to clients about their pets, grandkids and softball teams. Go to dvm360.com/greetersheet for a cheat sheet for greeters.

> Use names. Here's a trick that will help: Tell clients you want the pet's photo for the medical record and snap a quick pic. When clients walk in, the receptionist will have the chart out, complete with picture, so she-or any other team member-can call the pet by name. 

> Use buffer appointments. Plan several 10- or 15-minute emergency slots in your appointment book every day. Even if you don't use the openings for emergencies, they're a great way to get caught up.

> Encourage drop-offs. Let clients know they can leave their pets for a doctor to examine when he or she has time and a team member will call when the pet is ready to go home.

> Make sure you're staffed appropriately. Decide whether your practice needs better delegation, if you want to grow or if you need to close your practice to new patients.

For tips on how to effectively schedule busy days, go to dvm360.com/scheduleright and for 10 ways to let your clients know you care, see dvm360.com/10simpleways.

Client complaint

“About the same time my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she acquired Maggie, a stray Rottweiler-lab mix. A year or two later, Maggie cut her paw badly. I wasn't sure of her veterinarian's name, and Mom couldn't tell me, so I made an educated guess. The receptionist who took my call that Saturday morning was friendly, and she said, ‘Of course the veterinarian can see Maggie.' Then she asked if Maggie was already a patient. I told her I wasn't sure and explained the situation. The young woman said that if I couldn't tell her whether the dog was a patient, the doctor couldn't see Maggie on a Saturday. She made no effort to look up the record, despite my suggestion that she do so. Then I called a hospital in the next town. That doctor made room for Maggie. 

“He has since become a trusted ally as I manage my mom's illness and Maggie, who is the only creature keeping my mother focused. The team members are wonderfully sympathetic and kind-I'm not leaving them.”

You can do better:

> Make sure you and your team know which rules to bend. Some rules are written in stone, others are written in pencil. Review your practice's rules and talk about which ones are flexible so you can respond appropriately to emergencies. “This pet needs care, so help the client now and sort out the details-like whether she's an existing client-later,” Grosdidier says.

> Discuss your practice's standards of service. These are your values and your creed. Write these standards down on an index card and keep it in your pocket. When you face tough decisions, use your own unique practice principles card to guide your way.

Go todvm360.com/principlescard for a sample practice principles card.

Client complaint: “I left my veterinary practice because the relief veterinarian's two large dogs were running around the treatment area. My cat hates going to the doctor under the best circumstances. She wigged out when the two large dogs got close. They started barking, my cat went into hyper drive, and the team members all started yelling. After we got home, my cat hid under the bed for three days. We now go to a cats-only clinic.”

You can do better:

> Keep anxious pets and clients separate. Take these patients straight to an exam room to wait in private. “You want clients to feel comfortable, you want their pets to feel comfortable, and you want to offer a safe, secure environment for your patients,” Grosdidier says.

> Don't let clinic pets roam. When cats and dogs wander, your liability skyrockets. Clinic pets can trip your clients, taunt nervous patients and even be at risk themselves. Grosdidier says your team's focus should always be on the pets coming in the door.

> Schedule smart. Whenever possible, try to group your feline appointments together, then block another time for dogs so these clients and pets aren't forced to mingle.

Go todvm360.com/fearfree for everything you need to embrace a stress-free clinic environment for your patients and clients.

Client complaint: “When my cat-which I'd had more than 15 years (longer than I'd known my husband)-became ill, team members told me I probably should put her to sleep. I said I needed to think about it and told them I'd call back later in the morning when the veterinarian was there.

“When I called back to give the go-ahead, I told them I wanted to be there, but they said they'd already euthanized my cat. I was devastated because I didn't want her to be alone when it happened. The experience made me feel much worse. I could never go back to that practice again.”

You can do better:

> Know your role. Don't make decisions for clients or judge their choices. DeNayer recommends that when a client gives permission for euthanasia, ask him or her to sign a consent form with a witness present and place it in the pet's medical record. If the client gives permission over the phone, ask another team member to listen on an extension. Then note the consent in the record. Don't ever proceed until you've obtained this documented consent.

> Empathize. The decision to euthanize is one of the most difficult clients face. It's an emotional experience-and the care you offer matters now more than ever.

Go to dvm360.com/euthanasiaconsent for a sample euthanasia form.

Click here to get a sample inactive client letter to invite disappointed clients back and find out what you can do to improve client service.

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