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The Dilemma: Don’t say “no” to your clients

dvm360dvm360 August 2021
Volume 52

Find out how this animal hospital was able to mitigate unruly clients, reduce team stress, and boost client relations by enforcing a “don’t say no” policy.

Svyatoslav Lypynskyy / stock/adobe.com

Svyatoslav Lypynskyy / stock/adobe.com

The Clarkwood Animal Hospital strives to adopt the concept of lowering its staff members' stress levels to improve client satisfaction. One way the clinic sets out to achieve this goal is by periodically reassessing staff procedures to revamp its customer services. Unfortunately, much of the team has demonstrated posttraumatic stress disorder due to the heightened anxiety and increased workload brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation seems to have taken a toll on clients and staff.

Recently, a technician and a receptionist approached the medical director with some concerns regarding clientele. Many clients, because of the current environment, had been making unrealistic requests like refusing to accept the appointment waiting times (created by the increased patient load) and wanting hardship fee adjustments. For the receptionist, one client became rather unpleasant when a request couldn’t be accommodated immediately. Even the technicians experienced similar issues; some owners wanted to hold their pets while the technician examined the patient.

Although COVID-19 restrictions within the state had been lifted, the clinic policy still required mask-wearing and social distancing to ensure the safety of clients and their pets. When one technician attempted to explain the abundance of caution that was being observed for the foreseeable future, aggressive responses followed.

After hearing about all the negative client encounters the staff was having, the medical director decided to implement a procedure to mitigate these experiences. Although much of the staff appeared relieved, the situation seemed to cause more stress for the medical director. Trying to juggle the well-being of colleagues while maintaining safe and efficient clinic procedures felt nearly impossible. Nevertheless, the answer came to them in 3 words: “Don’t say no.”

The new policy required staff members to accept the requests of all clients, despite the poor treatment. The staff was instructed to listen and help problem-solve all clients’ requests, even if they refused to pay their bills or demanded to be seen when no appointments were available. These requests were then referred to 1 of the 4 supervisors at the clinic, who contacted the client and discussed the situation in a professional, informative manner.

On one occasion, a client refused to wear a mask, angrily explaining that the statewide mask mandates had been lifted. The client was referred to a supervisor, who, in a professional manner, explained to them that 20% of the individuals entering the clinic were unvaccinated and rather than interrogating individuals about their vaccination status, the clinic opted to enforce the mask-wearing policy for the foreseeable future. Luckily, the client appreciated the explanation and personal attention, defusing the situation instantly.

The staff reaped the benefits of this policy by feeling less stressed and becoming more comfortable with not having to say no to client requests. As a result, this policy was deemed effective because it improved client relations and staff morale.

Do you agree with this new clinic policy, or do you feel that it is reasonable to allow all staff members to politely say no to clients when it is appropriate? We would like to know what you think. Email us your thoughts at dvm360news@mmhgroup.com.

Dr Rosenberg’s Response:

Every successful veterinary clinic practices excellent medicine and is highly service-oriented. Receptionists and medical staff already have challenging jobs that often leave them a bit overwhelmed. So why should they have the added responsibility of refusing client requests and dealing with the fallout? Knowledgeable supervisors are capable and should deal with situations that require extended explanations and sensitive client interactions. The “don’t say no” policy is a wonderful solution for minimizing stress and improving staff morale. With no more added stress or apologies, the response now can always be yes.

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

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