Ask Emily: I’m an angry client. Hear me roar.

February 26, 2021
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is regional director of operations at the Family Vet Group, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shiver resides in Florida.

Firstline, Firstline March/April 2021, Volume 18, Issue 2

Experienced practice manager Emily Shiver explains how to defuse angry clients.

Our team at dvm360.com and Firstline® magazine asked experienced practice manager Emily Shiver to answer your questions about life in practice for managers, technicians, assistants, client service receptionists, and others. Got a question for her? Email us at firstline@mmhgroup.com.

Q. “I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes. This is insane! I’m not going to tolerate this. I’m leaving and telling all of my friends, posting on every social media outlet, and leaving you a 1-star Google and Yelp review!”

Unfortunately, this exact scenario played out at my former clinic. The client walked in midmorning on a busy Friday. He had been written off 2 years earlier and demanded to be seen right away. My client service representatives were kind and warm, but he would not let up. The lobby was crowded with people and pets and he put on quite a show. After he exited the building screaming colorful language, the representatives approached me immediately to discuss how they could have handled that situation differently. So, what is the best way to deal with angry clients?

A. There are a handful of reasons why clients get angry. They love their pets but cannot afford the best care or they have unrealistic expectations or are under the influence. Sometimes emotions are high because, after all, pets are members of the family. No matter what has set off your client, here are some tactics to help defuse the situation.

When it goes too far

When dealing with an angry client, the first thing I do is ask whether we can move to a private area. Try not to come off forceful. Remember, they want an audience. You can say something like, “I can see how frustrating this is for you. I want to help you; come with me.” If they are really stubborn, they might not budge. At this point, I tell them that I am happy to help them, but that we need to step into an examination room or even go outside. If the result is still no movement or a higher volume, I ask them to leave the premises.

Listening is key

One of the best ways to defuse an angry client involves good listening skills. Be warned: You might hear things you either will not or do not want to hear about your practice, your teammates, or even yourself, but try not to take anything personally. The client probably has not read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 nor taken the test, so practice social awareness and maybe they will eventually apologize.

Be empathetic

Some of my go-to empathy expressions include the following:

  • “I completely understand. I would be frustrated, too.”
  • “Thank you so much for sharing this with me. We cannot improve without feedback.”
  • “I am upset as well. It is certainly not our goal to provide anything but a good experience.”
  • Sometimes the conversation takes a turn for the worst. The client might say, “There is no way you understand what I am experiencing right now” or “You aren’t upset, you just care about money and are going to let my dog die.” If the conversation goes in this direction, I typically let them know they are not in a place to discuss this. Then I excuse myself, letting them know I will return in about 10 minutes. Nine times out of 10, this works great, and when I return, they are ready to chat or have replaced themselves with someone more level-headed.

Tell them your practice values

Share your practice’s mission and core values with angry clients. For example:

“Our goal is to care for your pet as if they were a member of our family.”

They may tell that you have clearly missed the mark on your mission. Take the feedback with poise and grace and respond, “I am truly sorry we have not met your expectations. I do hope we can regain your trust and continue to provide care for your pet.”

Once clients become less emotional, they usually can explain what would make their experience better. Then you can work on a reasonable solution or compromise.

The takeaway

There are untamable clients in every industry. The goal is to make sure your team is prepared to handle them. I do not tolerate blatantly rude or disruptive behavior from clients despite our efforts and will ask them to leave the premises. You can do this.

The good news? It is possible to turn these untamable lions into purring little kittens with empathy, emotional intelligence, and effort.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is regional director of operations at the Family Vet Group, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shiver resides in Florida.

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