Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Practice Makes Perfect--June 23, 2008


This week Dr. Fitzgerald discusses why he thinks that even in 2008 the customer is always right.

Be a good listener

My father was an uncomplicated person. The kind of man the Irish call “sound.” Today, he would be called “old-school.” He told me that a man must do three things: Shake hands standing up, pay his bills on time, and never rat on anyone. Fifty years later this still remains pretty good advice. He also taught me that the customer is always right.

From time to time, the veterinary literature, continuing education lectures, and seminars from consultants focus upon how and when to fire clients. In other words, when to terminate relationships and cease providing veterinary services. Although I agree that sometimes this is necessary, I think my father's advice still holds true. Difficult clients are draining. They suck up our energy, fatigue the staff from receptionists to doctors, and try the patience of even our most well-balanced staff. Nevertheless, I maintain that if I give you nine happy clients and I successfully turn one grumpy one in a year, I will have more clients. Sadly, happy clients don't talk as much as the unhappy, dissatisfied ones. Disgruntled people talk at their bridge clubs, at their churches, at their work, and to their friends and family. However, they also talk if you listen to them and help them. It is no problem taking care of laid-back clients; it is quite another thing to deal with crabby, demanding people. How do we accomplish this, how do we satisfy these seemingly miserable people? It's simple: We listen.

We must become good listeners. Often the grouchy, annoying whiner has a legitimate gripe with your service. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. I am not saying to always buckle under or give in, but I am saying we must always listen. Often, you can alleviate the problem just by giving them your genuine attention and hearing them out. Furthermore, be patient. Take time with the contentious client. Often by placing them in a quiet surrounding—a conference room or private office—and patiently hearing them out, you can do much to change the client's perception of your practice and of your business skills. What defenses do we have against the trying client? Patience, good listening techniques, and self-control. Our profession is like boxing, once we lose control and get mad, it only makes it worse. By being reasonable and patient and trying to really listen to the client, we can do much to salvage a business relationship and future mutually satisfactory relationships.

Be patient and creative. Say, “How can we help you?” and really mean how. I still think that even in 2008 the customer is always right, and if we can employ good listening techniques, it will come back to you in spades.

Talk to you next week, Kev

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