Does Your Culture Include Your Clients?

Society's relatively recent obsession with workplace culture is an interesting phenomenon. It is undeniably overdue, and it is exciting to see increased numbers of employers viewing employees as assets.

In our industry, and many others that are service based, I think it is important to extend the "asset" viewpoint to the clients. Perhaps it is even more crucial to do so when businesses like veterinary hospitals that rely on repeat business and referrals are ignoring the fact that we see clients less frequently now than we used to.

Just as the crowd in a football stadium is "the 12th man", we might consider every client an extension of the veterinary practice team. After all, they are driving our revenue! I have never treated a client any differently than I would my own staff.

Simply stated, practice teams that have learned to speak to each other with respect, work around weakness and praise strengths, be kind when a teammate is having a rough day, and go above and beyond to help when needed do not always take this viewpoint with clients. Clients are often the subject of gossip, complaints, often perceived as "difficult" and even scapegoated when the team drops the ball.

When a team employs a different standard of behavior for clients than they have for themselves, the practice culture is degraded.

How to interact with clients, the gracious and the challenging kind, is great staff meeting fodder. This discussion isn't just about how your team reacts when you ask them respond to some client scenarios, but what might be some of the reasons these clients are perceived as behaving badly? Are these clients really bad apples? If so, what can be done? Could the team have had anything to do with creating the upset client without knowing it? Create some situations that have, or might happen, and discuss. Example:

~Mrs. Smith calls in at 3pm on Friday afternoon to say her dog Mojo has had diarrhea since Tuesday and started vomiting yesterday. She has a really busy weekend and can only come in today. The receptionist tells the DVM on duty with an eye roll that a pet that has been sick for a week has to come in now.

In a case such as Mrs. Smith's, what are the pearls that can be harvested?

First, no one can know why there was a delay in bringing Mojo into the practice, but Mrs. Smith is on the case now so be kind. People work, care for sick family members, and sometimes time just gets away from us. Remember your client's humanity the same way you give a pass to a co-worker who isn't on the ball.

Eye rolling and snarky tone are contagious - another attribute of our humanity. Rather than feeling put upon by Mrs. Smith, remind yourself that you are here to help her and Mojo. Focusing on how the team might help that dog feel better is a much better response than feeling that a client made your day difficult. Why create an atmosphere of anger and resentment? Ask your team if they prefer upbeat, let's git r done vs. stressed out, irritated, here comes another needy client. Remember, we are responsible for the workplace atmosphere, not the clients.

Finally, have some discussion about the client revenue role in the practice. Ask your staff who handles payroll, or who writes your paycheck? Many will say the manager, the owner, whomever .... but at the end of the day paychecks come from one place ... the clients. That fancy ultrasound and digital x-ray? The clients. Staff lunches, PTO, insurance, the next pay increase? The clients. It's a powerful thing and we must never, ever forget it.

So, treat your clients like a teammate and watch your atmosphere change along with your bottom line.

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