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No more badmouthing clients

dvm360dvm360 February 2020
Volume 51
Issue 2

Dealing with veterinary clients can be inspiring, exciting and also frustrating. Do you agree with this practice owner who told her staff members they need a thicker skin and more understanding when working with the pet-owning public?

Aaron Amat/stock.adobe.comDr. Lisa Stone is a true professional, with a five-doctor practice she's built from scratch and a 38-employee team of mature, high-performing employees she's proud of. But recently she heard from one of her assistant managers about some disconcerting chatter in the break room. Staff members had asked one another if they'd worked with several clients in particular and referred to these owners as “real a-holes.” Some felt that they shouldn't need to deal with pet owners like these and that they should be told to take their pets elsewhere.

Dr. Stone felt that the talk warranted a staff meeting. She could then hear their perspectives and reasons and restate her policy concerning difficult clients.

She started the meeting by expressing her understanding of the challenge of dealing with inappropriate client behavior. She went on to say, however, that the clinic's primary directive is to assist pet patients, and that can't be achieved without pet owner compliance.

“I would never think to allow a client to be physically aggressive or verbally profane to you without taking action,” she said. “But a nasty demeanor, impoliteness or a challenge to our competence should be dealt with professionally.” In certain circumstances, she explained, excellent customer service requires thick skin, emotional control and professionalism. Times such as these, she told them, require everyone to wear their “professional hats.”

It was at this moment that one of Dr. Stone's associate veterinarians spoke up to disagree.

“We are veterinary professionals, and it's not too much to ask to be treated with respect,” said the associate. “People showing up an hour late for appointments or rudely criticizing our medical recommendations must have these problems brought to their attention.”

Dr. Stone explained that she understood her colleague's frustration, but just as not every dog is easy to handle, pet owners can be tough too. Nevertheless, she reiterated, each team member's job was to assist these pet patients, and that meant not alienating owners.

“Unpleasant conversation is not a reason to kick an owner to the curb,” Dr. Stone told her team. “When someone truly crosses the line, I'll be there to help.” But the practice's success and reputation had been built on both competence and tolerance, she explained. The badmouthing of clients had to stop.

“I know it's a form of venting,” she explained, “but it's not productive or good for morale.” Dr. Stone wrapped the meeting by making sure they knew they could talk to her: “My door is always open when you have a need to discuss any challenging situations.”

The staff got the message. Most were happy, some were not. 

Do you think Dr. Stone communicated the necessary staff support, or would you have done this differently?  Email us and let us know at dvm360news@mmhgroup.com.

Dr. Rosenberg's response

Being a practicing veterinary clinician is rewarding, but also frustrating. Not everyone is cut out to deal with the pet-owning public. I've always told my colleagues that entering the exam room is similar to stepping onto stage: You assume the persona necessary to allow your client to comfortably understand your medical message so that the patient gets adequate home care. In addition, I agree with Dr. Stone's urging that team members put on their “professional hats” at work. If a client becomes agitated or confrontational, team members and doctors should never escalate the situation. I know this is easier said than done, but it's absolutely necessary to enjoy our work in a clinical setting. The key to successfully helping your pet patients depends on our successfully interacting with their pet owners.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of the scenarios Dr. Rosenberg describes in his column are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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