Using empathy statements to put stressed-out clients at ease


Kindness is the best defense against negative emotions.

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Content submitted by NorthStar Vets Animal Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner

In these trying times, it is vital to treat everyone with kindness. When faced with others’ negative emotions and behaviors, it can be easy to become defensive or return the negativity. However, it’s important to remember the gravity of the situation others are facing and that one cannot know what someone else has experienced during the pandemic. That grumpy client may have lost his or her job, had a loved one affected by COVID-19, or gone through the other hardships that have befallen so many over the past 2 years and counting. Everyone’s resolve has been tested, and it can be a challenge to find the strength to take the high road in a difficult situation, but the one thing everyone can aim to achieve every day is to show kindness.

External problems weigh on clients’ shoulders and pile up, with something as simple as a sick pet causing all their fears and emotions to come crashing down. In these scenarios, anxious clients need their veterinary professionals to remain steadfast. Some require guidance: “My dog has been up all night with vomiting and diarrhea—is this an emergency?” Others need help solving a problem: “Why was I charged twice for this medication?” Their circumstances may be different, but they all need empathy. They need practitioners to infuse their emails, chats, and social media responses with words that show everyone in the clinic understands what they are feeling. They need reassurance that the people they rely on for their beloved pets’ health care can see things from their point of view and, most importantly, that they truly care.

Empathy is not easy. Some frontline client service representatives may not be sure how to show empathy or even resist doing so. They may feel it is risky because of a misguided belief that it implies that they agree with the client’s complaint. Client service representatives have been feeling bruised and battered, and even the most empathetic employees struggle when they are overburdened.

The direct approach

Here is a list of easy, empathetic responses with which to address the concerns of clients. This cheat sheet can help employees practice empathy, without having to invest emotional energy investment on figuring out what strategy to employ.

  1. No, I get it. I would be upset, too.
  2. I realize how complicated it is to…
  3. I can imagine how frustrating that would be.
  4. That would be disappointing, especially when [paraphrase the client’s point of view or efforts].
  5. We want to understand what happened just as much as you do.
  6. I can see why that made you angry.
  7. This situation is unacceptable to us, too.
  8. If I were in your situation, I would feel the same way you do.
  9. As a [insert “pet parent,” “traveler,” “baseball fan,” “hay fever sufferer,” etc] myself, I understand why you contacted us today.
  10. If I were in your situation, I would be asking the same questions.

The indirect approach

Sometimes it’s difficult to empathize because the client’s emotions are way over the top or their argument is just plain wrong. These situations may call for indirect empathy that focuses on the client’s behavior, such as their willingness to follow up, instead of the accuracy of their complaint.

  1. I can understand why you have followed up on this issue.
  2. I do realize that the [eg, “check-out”] process can be time-consuming.
  3. It certainly makes sense that you contacted us again to ask about this.
  4. I’m so glad you let us know about this.

The short-and-sweet approach

With empathy, a little goes a long way. The important thing is to recognize when the client is stressed-out or unhappy and acknowledge it. Expressing one of these short sentiments is often enough to make a person feel heard.

  1. Oh, no!
  2. That’s not right!
  3. That’s not what we like to hear!
  4. We’ve let you down, and we never want to do that.
  5. Yikes! That’s not how we want our customers to feel.

A key empathy strategy

Mirror the client’s words back to them. If they complain that the wait time for the emergency department is ridiculous, the response should include the word ridiculous. For example: “I understand, Mr Client, that the wait seems ridiculous. However, look on the bright side: Since pets are seen in the order of most critical to most stable, Fluffy is healthy enough to wait with you and doesn’t have to be rushed in.” Reusing the client’s words demonstrates that the staff member has carefully listened to the complaint and empathizes with their feelings.

It is impossible to expect everyone at the clinic to truly empathize with every client who walks through the door, but it is possible for every client to feel that they are being heard. When clients feel understood, it enhances the well-being and satisfaction of the people on both sides of the front desk.

Although sincere empathy comes from the heart, practical expressions of empathy in client service situations can come from a prepared list of statements like the one above.

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