How to handle cyberbullies and other veterinary client tyrants
Feeling beat up, put down and turned around? Use these tips to handle difficult clients.
When clients attack on the Internet or in person, it can be uncomfortable-or, at times, downright frightening. Consider these cases-and use these tips to protect yourself:
It only takes one poor experience and an ounce of Internet courage, and a client can quickly tear down a practice's reputation. Review sites offer a megaphone for clients to complain, and a few websites are targeted at demeaning veterinary clinics and their teams. Plus, it can be difficult to differentiate complaints posted by upset clients that we need to take to heart from bitter ex-employee reviews. The effects can be damaging and emotionally draining.
What to do: Instead of ignoring complaints and poor reviews, you may consider engaging the reviewer with a calm, solution-oriented approach. Start the conversation by showing empathy. You need to put yourself in the reviewer's shoes. Research the client and patient and the incident that initiated the complaint. It's hard to appear sincere if you haven't investigated the situation. While it's important to be empathetic, it's also important to stand your ground if your hospital wasn't in the wrong. Take a calm, collected approach and tie in the facts, making sure to educate the audience.
Sometimes the real source of clients' upset can stem from receiving a difficult diagnosis or poor prognosis for their pets. A client then may decide to refer to Dr. Google, which may offer a varied take on the condition-usually one that doesn't favor spending on further diagnostics or treatment and indicates the doctor was wrong. Educating these clients and explaining the facts behind the diagnosis may be important to squash any false facts.
The penny pincher
This client doesn't grasp that the hospital is a business, not a charity. We all love animals, but this is also our livelihood. There's nothing immoral about charging for services. These types of bullies will imply that you must not care about their pets if you won't give away services for free. They may even manipulate the team and claim a lower price was quoted to them over the phone.
What to do: To help deal with these bullies, offer different payment options, such as third-party payment plans. These options can help deter clients' financial frustration because they can spread out payments.
Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't get approved for these services, and they may still be upset. Calmly explain that you want to do what's best for their pets and can work with them regarding different treatment options, but you do have to charge for services rendered. Aside from the expense of team time and skill, you need to cover the price of equipment, electricity, rent and all of the other costs that make up your fee.
If clients claim they were quoted a different price over the phone, ask them who they spoke with. If it's not your error, then negotiating with them so they aren't simply told they're wrong may be worth a small loss for the clinic. Losing $20 and keeping a client happy is sometimes the better choice. Let your manager guide this discussion. Just remember to be firm about future pricing and explain they will always receive the most accurate and up-to-date estimate at the hospital instead of over the phone.
You're in midst of drawing a blood sample and this bully starts petting the cat's head and talking close to his face, causing him to get stressed and jerk out of your reach. These clients insist on holding pets themselves, agitate pets in the middle of a procedure and may even stop a procedure.
What to do: Try to find the reasons they insist upon holding-are they trying to protect their pets? Explain the pet will do better and the procedure will be quicker if the professionals are involved. And there's legal concern if their pets were to bite them. Add that even though Fluffy loves them to pieces at home, Fluffy may shred them to pieces in this stressful environment.
For more invasive procedures that require the doctor's full attention and the patient's cooperation, a good rule may be to separate the client and patient. Tell clients it's in the pet's best interest to complete the procedure quickly.
Last, procedures such as euthanasia need to be guarded the most with these clients. Thoroughly explain the finality of the decision and make sure they're ready. Using an IV catheter for all euthanasias is more peaceful for the pet and can help avoid a client interrupting the procedure and harming the patient. I've seen a client try to stop a doctor mid-euthanasia. Thankfully the doctor was able to calmly ease out of the IV port, then back again once the client was subdued by the support team and the client's family.
The busy bee
You're swamped with phone messages and have a booked schedule. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, you remember that client who calls every day with an update or question. They refuse to speak to anyone but the doctor and take up massive amounts of your day.
What to do: Often these clients' hearts are in the right place. They're trying to take the best care of their pets, and they're loyal customers. It may help to educate them on the support team's educational and training background so that they feel more comfortable talking to team members when it's appropriate.
Ultimately, if they're taking up huge chunks of the doctor's time regularly on the phone, ask them to come in for a follow-up consult or charge for phone consults. This is perfectly acceptable if the doctor has to tend to lengthy phone calls instead of seeing appointments. When these clients visit for appointments, it's wise to budget more time for them if possible. Explain that you can offer an extended consultation, and be sure to charge appropriately for the doctor's and team members' time with these pets and their owners.
You'd imagine since clients have many options for where they choose to take their pets for veterinary care, they would have strong trust and faith in the hospital they visit. Unfortunately we still see those clients who doubt the doctor's every decision. They can also become argumentative with medical team members when they offer diagnostic and treatment suggestions.
What to do: When these clients begin to argue, stay calm and educate them about why these tests or treatments are necessary. If they doubt a diagnosis, offer reliable educational material from multiple sources, backing up your point. Stay solution-oriented and emphasize compliance as a huge part of success in their pets' treatment. Reiterate that the care and decisions for their pets are in their hands, so they don't feel you're forcing anything on them. It can help to add that your team supports their decisions either way-unless a patient is endangered.
Eventually if these clients continue to behave belligerently to medical team members and act condescending to the doctor, it may be time to suggest they seek another opinion elsewhere if that would make them feel more comfortable.
The time and energy consumed by the many types of bully clients out there can be exhausting for team members. Bully clients can erode your work satisfaction and lead to burnout. And it can damage the practice too. Whether it's high team turnover or nonproductive time doled out in free extensive phone consults and lengthy appointments, client bullies disrupt the team and hurt the bottom line-and it distracts from other patients at your practice. For the practice's well-being, as well as the patient's, it's crucial to put an end to client bullies.
Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, VDT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a technician in Richmond, Virginia.