Embrace Your "Difficult" Clients


Embrace Your "Difficult" Clients!

08/24/2015

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Jackie Schletter

We all "work with animals". However, I think more than loving animals and following our desires to help heal them, we must also be willing to feel that way about their owners. I have learned that we bond with people through their pets, and in healing their companions we are able to heal the human heart as well.

I am by nature a people person, so I'm often surprised to see practice teams adopting a negative mindset regarding clients that are perceived as a pain in the backside. Too often when a client complains or is upset the staff discusses the incident with an eye roll and an "oh, that client is just needy or difficult". It is far too rare that the team gets together and looks inward first before deciding a client is just having a bad day, or in the case of some chronically cranky clients it seems, a bad life.

Ask your team who is responsible for their paychecks. Many will say the practice owners, some will think of their managers. A team can not truly embrace service excellence until they all buy into the idea that the clients are the primary providers of their paychecks, job longevity and practice success.

Make no mistake - I do not advocate giving in to every client demand no matter what. The "customer" isn't always right. Clients aren't ever allowed to be abusive in any way and sometimes firing a client is necessary. However, well communicated policy that clients can understand and team protocol that delivers consistency goes a long way to not letting a client relationship dissolve.

Unhappy clients actually have the potential to become your most loyal clients. They are also a great source of information as to how a practice can improve policies and processes. Experience has shown time and again that most client complaints are borne out of poor communication and unclear/inconsistent policy. Rarely is the client just mean or nasty for the fun of it. If you can identify this kind of client, it might be time to let them go!

When do we see clients get angry? There are many scenarios we've all experienced but generally it is because expectations were not met. Think about examples of client dissatisfaction and then decide whether or not it was just an irate personality at play. Could the practice have prevented the problem? Often times the answer is yes.

When someone is upset in a veterinary practice, listen. If your team didn't meet expectations, own it and apologize. Let them know that while you strive for perfection, the team is human and will make mistakes. I always thanked upset clients and let them know their complaint would be discussed in order to make us a better team.

Offer up a "We're sorry" token; this can range from a bag of treats to an exam fee waived. Maybe it's a free bath next time. Maybe it is just a heartfelt apology. What is important is that you heard the client, told them you we're sorry, and let them know their complaint was appreciated and you'll work to not let it happen again.

Frankly I am relieved when a client complains. It means I can address the issue and hopefully keep the relationship on great terms. Once I have have my arms around the issue that occured I can rewrite policy, address a staff member, or just find a solution that might help a client having a bad day. How many clients do practices lose every year because they are quiet, non-confrontational people that just walk away? It is a frightening prospect and this type of client is one you most likely will never be able to reclaim.

Remember that clients, like our colleagues, friends and family are people too. They deserve our time, our attention, our compassion, empathy and our understanding. To talk about them in a disparaging way is disrespectful and unprofessional. This applies to our colleages too of course, but that is another blog :-)

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