Digging for gold


You'll never avoid client conflicts completely, but you can face confrontations with less stress if you focus on finding the treasure in the tribulation.

No one likes confrontation and conflict, so when emotions start to rise, it's natural to feel like avoiding the situation—or to come out swinging. Unfortunately, the most natural approach isn't always the best approach—especially when you're dealing with an upset client.

Seven steps to resolving conflict

Instead, you must learn to handle conflict calmly and confidently. How? By changing your mindset. Instead of dreading confrontations with clients, think of these difficult moments as opportunities for the practice to improve the level of service it offers.

Additional sources on conflict

Mining for the good

Positive outcomes really


result from client conflict. Consider these benefits of confrontations with clients:

  • A chance to identify problems. An angry client may point out a flaw in your practice's operation that otherwise would go unnoticed. For example, veterinary team members may be uncertain about the practice's billing policy, or perhaps someone is giving clients inaccurate scheduling information. Identifying such problems helps prevent future client conflict—and makes your practice run more smoothly.

  • Increased job satisfaction. Many team members say that facing conflict diminishes their satisfaction in practice. By taking the lead and building your skill in dealing with upset clients, you'll feel better prepared to handle conflict—and more confident that you will resolve any problem successfully. You also will build your value to the practice.

Understand conflicts main ingredient: anger As your team gains confidence working with angry clients, heated confrontations will occur less often, positive outcomes will become more frequent, and the prospect of handling conflict will impact your job satisfaction less.

  • Increased client loyalty. When team members resolve conflict skillfully, clients appreciate their efforts, often becoming more loyal to the practice. Look at every conflict as an opportunity to wow clients by exceeding their expectations.

  • Better pet care. When clients get angry about a doctor's recommendations for treatment, the problem often is that they don't understand something about the service or treatment. Team members can help resolve this situation by listening well and offering more information when it's needed. When you can persuade clients to follow the veterinarian's suggestions, the outcome is better health care for the pet.

For example, let's say Dr. Stewart prescribed an antibiotic for Mr. Stevenson's dog, Sunny, who was fighting a stubborn urinary tract infection. As instructed, Mr. Stevenson administered the antibiotic four times per day. On the third day of treatment, he grew angry and called the practice. Mr. Stevenson told Suzanne, the receptionist, that Sunny had been vomiting since the day after he began the medication. Mr. Stevenson then demanded a different medication.

With attentive listening and gentle questioning, Suzanne discovered that Mr. Stevenson was giving the antibiotic four times per day, but he wasn't spacing the doses six hours apart. Instead, he was giving all the medication within a 16-hour period, so it was upsetting Sunny's stomach. When he began administering the medication correctly, Sunny's gastric upset subsided and the treatment was successful.

  • More opportunities to educate clients. When clients feel frustrated because they're struggling with their pets' bad behavior, parasite control, or some other problems, they may display a combative attitude toward team members. By offering solutions, you ease their frustration and worry and dissipate their anger. You also make the client a better educated pet owner—and strengthen his or her bond to your practice.

You may never enjoy dealing with dissatisfied clients, but by practicing the strategies I suggest here, you'll learn to resolve conflicts more easily. And by taking the time to dig beneath the surface, you'll find countless opportunities to make a positive difference for clients, patients, and the practice.

Cecelia Soares, DVM, MS, MA, is a veterinary communication specialist, a consultant, a speaker, and a workshop leader based in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Editors' note: For more on preventing and resolving confrontations with clients, see "When clients flare" in the June/July 1998 issue of Firstline and "Disruptive client ahead" in the June/July 1997 issue.

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