Vexed veterinary client? How to put out the fire

August 29, 2020
Kelsey Gustafson, Associate Editor
Kelsey Gustafson, Associate Editor

Dealing with upset clients can be challenging for any veterinary team, but learning how to communicate effectively in these situations is crucial to the continued success of your practice.

In the age of social media, your virtual footprint can dictate the success of your practice. According to Brian Conrad, CVPM, practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Washington, it is imperative to understand the power just 1 client wields when they post a bad review of your practice online.

Today at the Fetch dvm360 virtual conference, Conrad shared a number of tactics veterinary teams can use to defuse potentially ugly situations with angry or upset clients.

What makes for an upset client?

Every experience is individualized, of course, but there are a plethora of reasons why a client may become upset with their veterinary practice. Conrad offered these examples:

  • Negative medical outcome for the patient
  • Client problem or concern left unresolved
  • Money/financial disagreements
  • Miscommunication or lack of communication between staff and client
  • Overpromised and underdelivered on service
  • Client inconvenienced
  • Long wait times
  • Lack of follow-through by staff
  • Personality mismatches
  • Lack of empathy or concern

Putting out the fire

Conrad noted that the common denominator in every disgruntled client situation is emotion. Acknowledging that a client is upset and offering a simple, transparent apology is the best first step in correcting the situation.

“When we are rude to our clients or tell them ‘that’s our protocol,’ we must be prepared for them to share a one-sided narrative with the digital world about their experience,” he said. Because social media is such a universally vast network, if a client leaves unsatisfied, the repercussions can do serious damage to your practices’ reputation.

In addition to demonstrating empathy, acknowledging the client’s concern, and offering an apology when warranted, Conrad offered these tips to help defuse these potentially damaging situations:

  • Isolate the client. If the client is getting vocal in the waiting room, bring them to a private room to continue the conversation.
  • Communicate a plan. Speak with the staff involved, and develop a plan to rectify the situation.
  • Make necessary changes. “Take ownership if there was any wrongdoing on your end and assure the client that, going forward, this will not become a repeat mistake,” Conrad said.
  • Maintain client–staff balance. “Don’t always side with either the client or with your staff,” Conrad said. “It’s important to maintain healthy and fair relationships with both.”

Conrad also pointed attendees to the AVMA for resources and tools to help practices with online reputation management and cyberbullying.

The bright side

Instead of dwelling on the occasional complaint, Conrad urged veterinary teams to think of all the good they do every day. “When you start to get into those emotional funks where you feel like nothing is going right, look at the total number of invoices your practice produces per month,” he suggested. “You likely have just 3 to 5 disgruntled clients out of a few thousand invoices. When you put it into perspective, you find that a majority of the work you and your staff are doing is excellent.”