Client complaints are inevitable, but they don’t have to cause monumental problems. Just follow these six steps to diffuse client grievances.
All veterinary practices are bound to receive complaints. Some may be factual, while others may be based purely on emotions. Some will be large, and others relatively small. Regardless of the size or scope of the grievance, Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, CEO of Veterinary Business Advisors, says it’s always best to take complaints seriously and respond quickly.
This approach will mitigate damage and prevent issues from spiraling out of control. Generally, clients sue or complain in an official capacity if they think the veterinarian was either unresponsive or negligent. It’s often the unheard client who escalates a complaint to higher authorities or pursues litigation.
Dr. Lacroix suggests taking a six-step approach after receiving a complaint to improve client satisfaction and stop a potential malpractice suit in its tracks.
Step 1: Listen First
Above all else, let them be heard. Give the client filing a complaint your undivided attention and don’t interrupt them. Many times the client just wants to vent, and the mere act of listening and documenting the talk can improve the situation immensely. Allowing the client to fully offer his or her own point of view can work wonders.
Step 2: Be Objective and Calm
To avoid reinforcing the client’s perception of careless or inappropriate acts, put defensive or emotional responses aside. Keep in mind that unhappy clients mostly want to be heard whether they are right or wrong. You also need to realize that even reasonable complaints don’t necessarily mean your practice was careless.
Step 3: Make Your Points, Too
Failing to adequately communicate with a client is the source of many lawsuits. It’s highly unlikely that you will over communicate to the client. Don’t leave things unsaid because the client may have had unrealistic care expectations or may not have fully comprehended a diagnosis or course of treatment. To best deliver the message, get informed consent, offer free estimates, encourage questions, explain services with handouts and speak without any medical jargon, which often confuses and intimidates clients.
Step 4: Display Empathy and Concern
The loss of a beloved pet often brings out sadness in a client, as well as the need to blame someone — namely the veterinarian. Practitioners are more likely to manage a client’s feelings about a pet’s death if they act with empathy and courtesy. Clients who may be having coping difficulties should always be directed toward a grief counselor or pet loss support group.
Step 5: Train the Team
Since veterinary staff plays a key role in managing client complaints, they require the proper training in how to handle these tricky situations. They must always act professionally and seek to sidestep any contentious conversations with clients. Additionally, many clients are more intimidated by the veterinarian as compared to other staff members, which can make for less hostile conversations.
Step 6: Never Admit to Mistakes
It’s only human to want to apologize when things go wrong, but flat out apologizing or taking responsibility should be avoided. The problem with doing so comes when a client files a lawsuit. With more complicated cases where a malpractice charge is made, veterinarians should quickly reach out to their lawyer and/or insurance company before admitting any fault or considering a settlement with the client.
Greg Kelly is a long-time health care writer and editor. He has written for the Physician’s Money Digest, Dentist’s Money Digest and Veterinarian’s Money Digest websites. He lives at the Jersey Shore and welcomes comments at email@example.com.