Can Angry Clients Be Avoided?

Many veterinary hospitals are struggling with an increase in rude and hostile behavior of their clients. It has been a tough couple of years, and we feel your pain. We know you have read the tips for dealing with bad client behavior: listen carefully to a client’s criticism, do not interrupt, listen fully to the client, try to see things from the client’s point of view, etc. As a veterinary digital marketing firm, we assist clients every day with negative reviews.

But you may still be experiencing bad client behavior and negative reviews. Is there anything else your staff can do to proactively stop bad client behavior?

The answer is yes. You may not even realize that well-intentioned and idealized policies along with compassionate staff may be causing negative feelings toward your practice. I decided to share a personal experience to start a different conversation, one that begins before the client walks into the hospital. A conversation that may have easier answers and maybe some positive results for your practice.

So here is the first question:  Can a Simple Office Visit Cause Angry Clients?

The answer is yes, and here are 3 easy tips that may produce better client behavior in your practice:

1. Avoid Profiling Your Clients (Dog Walked in Wearing a Prong Collar = She Must be a Horrible Pet Owner):

Recently I visited a new veterinary office with my new, rambunctious, huge (76 pound) 1 year old Labrador puppy. I am an experienced pet owner:  I have been a proud pet parent for over 40 years, started the largest animal therapy organization in Chicago and participated in therapy work with my Labradors (and dachshunds!) for over 25 years. I regularly attend positive dog training class with my dogs. And I have been involved in the veterinary industry for over 30 years. I am AVERSE to any harsh, punishing methods to train or use on a dog.

However, as I am getting older, at times I cannot always control my dog in certain situations. So here is my big confession:  I have a prong collar to use when I am worried about my–or my dog’s–safety. The prong collar allows me to effectively manage my dog. I use it as a “stop” method, not as a training method. I only use this collar in certain situations, not as a regular collar.

I pulled up for my appointment and was immediately concerned for my dog’s safety exiting the car. I had to park on a very busy street and get my dog out of the back of my SUV, which backed up to the street.  I chose, for my safety and my dog’s safety, the prong collar to use while taking my dog out of the car and into the office.

I could see the looks from the receptionists as I entered the clinic, and the looks from the technicians:  her dog has a prong collar on. How terrible. She must be a horrible pet owner. Frankly, I felt humiliated by the stares. I kept asking myself why should I feel humiliated because I wanted to keep my dog from getting run over and killed by a car? It is not my fault the parking spaces are on a busy street.

2.  Avoid Making Assumptions (She needs to Be Scolded While Being Educated by Us):

Without comment, the staff led me into a room to wait for the veterinarian, whom I had never met. Three technicians came into the room, all dressed in scrubs. One technician came over to me and said, “I’m taking this collar off” and removed it. (Never asked me if it was ok to remove the collar and never introduced herself.)   She had peanut butter, treats, a touch stick, a clicker, and a lick mat. For 45 minutes she proceeded to “train” my dog as I watched. The assumption must have been that I needed to be “educated” (read scolded for using the prong collar) on the positive ways to train a dog.

3. Understand that Lack of Communication and Basic Trust Prevents Any Positive Relationship Between Client and Practice:

After about 45 minutes, I started to wonder what happened to the veterinarian. I was getting bored and, frankly, the dog show was getting boring too. I was shocked when the technician handed the peanut butter to me and said that the other technicians would take the blood and handle the rest of the veterinary visit.  HUH? What just happened here?

Turns out SHE was the veterinarian. She never: (1) introduced herself, (2) asked me a single question about my dog, (3) talked to me about my dogs health, (4) asked me whether I had concerns about my dog’s health, (5) asked my why the dog was wearing the collar and whether I needed any help with training, and (6) left the room abruptly as my dog was jumping all over her.  She knew absolutely nothing about me and never connected with me at all. She could not care less about who was sitting in the room.  I must have been a lost cause to her and not worth her time or MEDICAL expertise.

Of course, I was furious when they handed me a bill for $254.00.I paid the bill without comment and left, with no intention to return.

Here is the second question:  What If I Was:

  • A screamer
  • A social media fanatic
  • A Yelper
  • A Google reviewer

What would have happened if I had a different personality type and did not love the veterinary profession as much as I do? Since I have NO relationship with the hospital, you can imagine the negativity and horrible client behavior that would have occurred from these personality types. A different personality type would have NO problem leaving scathing reviews everywhere. No relationship, no trust, no caring.

No matter the personality type of the client, bad behavior can simply be avoided if the staff and veterinarian had attempted to build a small relationship with me, a new client.  If only the front desk staff–or veterinarian–had started the conversation by introducing herself and simply asking me “why was my dog wearing this collar? Or do you need help finding a positive trainer?”  If the front desk staff had asked me about the collar, the advanced message to the veterinarian would have been significantly different, and maybe my dog and would have been worth her time.

How could this visit have gone better?

By now you probably have lots of ideas on how the client visit could have been handled. After all, preventing the bad client behavior in the first place will make treating patients much easier in the long run. Be honest with yourself and ways your staff may be contributing to bad client behavior. See if you can make internal improvements and see if this reduces, even a little, the bad client behavior or negative reviews.

Let’s get the conversation started.  Here are my ideas of what could have been done:

  • Introduce yourself immediately to every client. Everyone who meets a client should introduce themselves, including the front desk staff. Does your staff introduce themselves every time they see a client? Does your veterinary staff walk into an exam room and say, “Hi I’m Dr……” or “hi I’m Cathy the technician” each and every time they walk into a room? If not, consider adding this simple, easy step to a client visit. It will certainly start building the relationship, and will go a long way to solidifying your client relationships.
  • Start every office visit with a relationship building discussion. In my situation, build a relationship with me and get my involvement by asking me why my dog was wearing the prong collar. Introducing yourself would be the best way to start building rapport with me. What would work with you?
  • If you see something, say something. You may be surprised at the answer. Find out what is happening in your client’s life at the current time. Maybe your client’s husband or child just died….
  • Do not profile your clients–ever. Just because I was using a prong collar (or you fill in the blank:  badly dressed, smelly dog, bad makeup, bad hair, etc.) does not give you information about the type of pet owner I am.
  • Involve your clients in the exam.
  • Give the client your interrupted attention during the exam.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let the client know you are open for conversation and questions.

As an internet marketer, we see and respond to these types of negative online reviews all the time. We also try to educate our clients on the ways in which the review could have been prevented in the first place. If you have any questions, give us a call. If want to use this case study as an example in your practice, please feel free to use it to start the dialog in your practice.

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