The art of apology


Sometimes you must say these two critical words to pet owners-"I'm sorry." Use this advice to sound sincere at your veterinary practice.

If someone at some point in your career told you not to apologize to clients, you're not alone. This advice used to be standard practice: Don't apologize, because then you've admitted fault. Well, times have changed. The apology isn't avoided anymore. It's expected. In fact, in human medicine, doctors who conduct a formal, sit-down apology with the affected patient and their family members significantly reduce the likelihood of a medical malpractice lawsuits.

Although we work with pets, the situation is really no different—clients expect excellence, and when our veterinary team falls short, they expect an apology. So you're probably wondering, "How do I apologize without looking like a dunce?"

Say it with grace

It's easy to utter the words "I'm sorry," but if there's nothing behind them, your apology will fall short. An example is, "I know you're upset, so I'm sorry." Your client wants to know that you're upset too. Say, "I'm very sorry about Bella's infection. There's always the risk with this type of procedure, but that doesn't make her situation any easier for you or for her. Our team is eager to help you get Bella back to good health." This response acknowledges:

> You're sorry. It sounds simple, but it goes much deeper than just two words.

> You understand that the patient and the client are going through a hardship.

> You're there for the patient and the client.

> You want to continue to have the opportunity to care for the patient to make things right.

When you're at fault

So what about when the situation really was your fault? An infection can happen, and it's really nature's work. There's the other side, though. The side where you actually did something wrong.

Let's say, for example, Mrs. Smith calls to ask for a prescription refill for her beloved pooch. Before you pass the information on to the clinical team, the phone rings again, this time with an emergency. You completely forget about the prescription Mrs. Smith needs for Rex—until Mrs. Smith shows up at your practice the next day to pick up Rex's prescription.

The good news: If you've read this far, you already have your solution. The apology is the same! If you take responsibility for those mistakes that are yours and for those that are not, you come out the winner in all situations.

Explain what happened, admit your guilt, apologize in a heartfelt way with meaning, and relate to the client by relating to the patient. Simply put, offer the excellent care clients expect.

Brent Dickinson is the practice manager at Dickinson-McNeill Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, N.J. Send your comments to

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