5 types of difficult clients. Do you meet them in your veterinary practice?

5 types of difficult clients. Do you meet them in your veterinary practice?

Does it make any sense to dispute with troublesome clients? To try to explain something to them? Do you often encounter aggressive, rude, overly self-confident or malicious clients in your practice? When comes the time, when you have to show someone the door or let someone leave? We have no classes about that during veterinary studies. Nobody tells us how to deal with such situations. Can those people be changed? Well, sometimes yes, sometimes not. Maybe communicating with them is a better solution than giving up and accepting their behaviour?

Who is a difficult customer?
Difficult customers are those who always complain, have a sense of entitlement, very high requirements, are impatient, ignore recommendations, are indiscreet or undermine our authority. Regardless of how offensive their behaviour is, it is worth considering what may have caused it. Maybe they are stressed out, have personal problems, difficult life situation? Or maybe they’re worried about their pet’s life and that’s why they behave irrationally? The only way to find out is to simply ask an open question. It’s very helpful to show understanding and compassion, for example, “I know this is a very difficult situation. Please tell me how you feel?” or “I understand your frustration. How can I help?”

Five types
If we try to classify difficult customers, it may turn out that the most difficult are:

  • demander
  • tyrant
  • miser
  • “I know everything”
  • pessimist

Each of them requires a different approach, but we are not defenceless. Below are some tips on how to deal with specific situations.

Meet the requirements
For the demanding customer, the animal’s health is the most important thing. He asks a million questions, wants to run all tests, uses twice as much time as we have for him, regularly calls with updates on how his pet is doing. As long as we meet his expectations, he praises us and tells everyone how great we are. If, however, we do not find time for him… How to deal with that situation?

You can not allow him to take control completely. When you meet such a client outside of practice, do not be unkind nor dismiss him knowing that he will start his story. Tell him that you will be happy to hear about Lola, but you ask for a phone during working hours. Remember to choose the right time and the duration of the visit and to calculate it accordingly. Say that your consultation usually takes 20 minutes, but you can offer an extended service to make sure you answer all your questions. If the client agrees, do not forget to remind once again that such a visit involves additional costs. Brace yourself with patience. Ask to prepare a list of questions at home. This can help to reduce the number of calls and your time on the line.

We are not a charity
The miser expects the animal to be treated for free. He waits until the end of the visit, blood tests, consultations and surgery to announce that he has no money to pay for our services. He promises that he will pay in the future and either he never does, does not appear again, or pays in instalments in pain, telling how difficult his situation is. Sometime later he returns to the clinic for further treatment or when he has already benefited from cheaper clinics in the area. When we refuse to treat his pet for free, he denigrates the clinic on the Internet or accuses us of putting the animal in jeopardy. He may even claim that we deliberately wanted to kill his pet because we’re completely heartless.

Such a client takes advantage of our sense of mission and medical oath. He sucks all of our energy and good will. For him, money does not matter anyway, because he has no intention of paying from the beginning. There are several ways to prevent this from happening. However, we must be consistent and firmly stand by our position.

Do not change the price of your services, do not give discounts – miser will not appreciate it anyway, because he thinks that he deserves everything for free. When you lower the price, you harm the entire veterinary profession. Is your hard work, all those years of demanding studies and gigantic debt, huge investment costs in the practice worth so little? Are you not expected to be paid? Do you need such a client? A miser is always a problem, so do not take his complaints personally. Probably loads of your colleagues in the area have already met him. The owner is responsible for the health and welfare of the animal and it is him who has to pay for it. Remind him of the charges for treatments and prices of the services before his visit and request a written payment obligation. This is your only protection, unless, of course, you want to support such a client. You can then go to a court in the future to collect the debt. But why would you waste your priceless time and energy?

Clash with the tyrant
The tyrant is a pure malice. He is not smiling, he is rude to the personnel and other customers. He often also has something of a miser or has absurdly high demands. He is a master of making everyone feel guilty for everything from having to wait for a consult, to the cost of food sachets. He comments loudly and sometimes vulgarly, he hates opinions different from his own. As in the case of a miser – it is better to avoid him than to try to change him. However, if you come across him, there are some tips on how to deal with such a nuisance.

First of all, do not be upset. Secondly, do not try to please the tyrant or meet his abstract expectations. Thirdly, do not get into a discussion with him, you will not change his point of view, so it’s a waste of time and energy. Next, do not take his offensive comments personally – he treats everyone in this way. Finally, be cool and professional at all times – the tyrant senses irony, a change in the tone of the voice. Therefore, speak calmly, with dignity and like an expert.

Express your expectations clearly, treat the tyrant with respect and expect the same. Do not let yourself get lost and do not let him take over. Make it clear that if he does not stop behaving this way, you will no longer treat his animal. If he does not change his attitude – stop talking, finish the visit and ask him to leave the office. It’s difficult, but it’s the only solution. You have to ask yourself – is this client really worth my nerves?

My breeder says that …
The “I know everything” client comes with a ready diagnosis. He found a matching diagnosis on the Internet and expects a specific treatment. Possibly, he talked to a neighbour whose brother-in-law had a dog with identical symptoms or listened to his breeder who knows everything. He knows that his animal needs a certain prescription or a specific drug, so he came alone. By the way, he often does not want veterinary medicines, because there are cheaper, human equivalents, that he also found online. “I know everything” is impatient, refuses to bring an animal for an appointment and does not understand that it is impossible to prescribe a drug without examination and correct diagnosis. What’s more, it is also a malpractice.

Such a client gives advice to others in the waiting room, rejects additional tests because he is convinced that his animal is doing all right. He does not allow himself to think that his animal has diarrhoea because it may have worms or food poisoning. On the forum with dog tips, he read that garlic is the best for deworming and he has already given it to his pet.

You may not believe it, but this client can be a real gift for the clinic. Therefore, take advantage of this opportunity, because he can become your best, walking advertisement. But how to deal with him?

First of all, you can not allow him to dictate the standards for your clinic’s health care. If you agree to give him the drugs so that you won’t lose him as a client, you can expect such behaviour in the future. Do not get involved in discussions about his opinions and diagnoses – it is rude to question someone’s point of view 😉 Do not forget about important medical recommendations, even if he refuses to listen to your advice.

At the same time, educate this client. The all-knowing loves to know best, so become his best source of information! This will allow him to make better decisions in the future. He does not believe his dog has fleas? Show them to him under the microscope. When he finally believes and agrees to start the treatment, praise him for making the best decision about the animal’s health. Take notes of all recommendations, and if he refuses to accept them – also make a note! If such client appears in your waiting room, find time for him to minimize his contact with other clients. If you manage such a client well, he will start listening and will be even more satisfied with the fact that he knows so much.

Why should we treat him, he will die anyway
The pessimist has just got a new puppy and everything goes wrong. He barks too much, bites everything, destroys the flat, pees everywhere. He has already seen the behaviourist and the trainer but now reaches out to you because their recommendations do not work. Show that you can solve his problems. If it works, he will become your loyal customer.

Do not let him think that things are hopeless. You are an expert and you know what to do. The pessimist exaggerates the problem, does not want to fight, surrenders and has a negative attitude. Sometimes he also has something of a miser in himself. Then it’s difficult to argue with someone refusing a treatment because of financial reasons. However, it is worth emphasizing in this situation that the improvement of his animal’s state or comfort of life is possible only with his cooperation. Do not offer alternatives, it means you lack confidence. Hold on to your opinion and focus on the task. “We have extensive experience in treating chronic renal failure in cats and many of our patients have recovered “.

Looking for an agreement
People are looking for attention and want to be heard out. They often come to our offices from the need to get up. Many doctors nod and listen, which makes the visits last even longer than usual. Clients appreciate doctors who show empathy and compassion and listen to their stories. However, listening is an active process, it requires proper facial expressions, posture and eye contact in order to show interest. It is helpful to formulate messages in such a way: “We know how difficult it is for you, but we do everything in our power to help your dog.” Also in difficult times, like euthanasia, it helps to share your own experience: “I also went through the process of putting my dog to sleep, so I understand your pain. I know how difficult it is.” The words of encouragement act on the owners soothingly and build our image of a doctor full of compassion and goodwill. When we make a mistake, it is worth apologizing at once, which usually eases the nervousness of the client.

How to solve problems?
If the customer is dissatisfied with our service, the last thing he wants to hear is our explanations. He wants to solve the problem immediately. Even if you are not sure if you can do something for him, start with the phrase “Please give me a moment, I will see what I can do”. This diplomatic answer gives us time to think, ask our boss or a coworker for help or call to ask for advice from a colleague. One should not be upset because our actions will be doomed to failure. Also, uncertainty will be immediately noticed by the customer and used against us. Thank for his opinion and express your willingness to help. Never promise things you can not provide, such as a quick call back, when you know you have a queue in the waiting room. Customers are very sensitive to our promises and will certainly remind you that you did not fulfil them.

Do not get upset
Everyone has bad days, this applies to our clients, but also to ourselves. Our professionalism is demonstrated by the ability to keep a cool and analytical approach to the matter in such moments. We must be able to put aside our problems and focus on the needs of the patient and, above all, on the needs of its owner. Because although we treat an animal, we work with a human being. So a customer with a “difficult” label can turn into “great” thanks to our actions and the understanding we offer him. Nevertheless, clients who notoriously behave inappropriately or offensively should be confronted because they sometimes do not realize that their behaviour is unpleasant. Let’s do this by saying: “Ma’am, I’m really trying to help your dog, but I’m very sorry about the insults I’ve just heard” or “It’s very hard for me to do anything when you raise your voice. Can you lower the tone of your voice, please? ” You should never throw accusations or reply in a similar tone, as this will only exacerbate the situation and make us lose our position.

Clients show bad behaviour usually towards younger doctors. For this reason, it is worth emphasizing the status of each team member or – if we work alone – expect a general respect for our profession. If the client wants to visit you and clearly set a border, he will eventually understand that he will have to change the behaviour to use your services – “I care very much about you as a client, but your behaviour makes me very sad and I feel uncomfortable. If you want us to continue to treat Bob, I am asking for more respect for my work. Are you able to do this? “

The customer is always right
Unfortunately, some hospital owners adhere to the principle “the customer is always right” and therefore accept various unacceptable behaviours of the clients, recognizing that they set out the rules. This creates tension in the team and makes customers abuse the situation for as long as they can. In the times of the Internet, we are afraid that an attempt to confront such a customer will end up with aggressive online comments and a false or offensive opinion about our practice. In extremely unpleasant situations, it should be remembered that this type of behaviour is punishable, so if we know who is responsible for such actions, we can report the matter to the appropriate services or moderators of the social media we use.

If you work in a place where customers do not respect you, it is worth discussing with the boss or colleagues the consequences of this situation for the functioning of the practice. Low staff morale and well-being can be destructive to the work of the entire team and customer satisfaction. Ask your boss if he would like to hear your version of the story and if he would be willing to help you solve the problem. It will strengthen the relationship between you and make you rely on him in the future. When you are unable to resolve a conflict with the client in person, ask for help and show respect to all parties. Never show him that you are upset. When emotions take over, it’s difficult to think rationally. The client will use it, and our authority will suffer.

Keep in mind that not every difficult customer can turn into a great one. If his behaviour is unacceptable or offensive, politely suggest that he can look for medical help for his pet somewhere else. Let him respect our profession and us. Do not let him offend you or make you feel guilty. It should be stressed out to such a client that we will be very happy to send him to another clinic, where his animal will receive the care he expects.

The above article “How to deal with difficult customers?” appeared in the magazine Veterinary No. 4/2016. [ORIGINAL IN POLISH]

Author: Natalia Strokowska DVM MRCVS


1. http://veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/5-most-difficult- veterinary-clients.

2. www.veterinaryteambrief.com/article/addressing-angry-client-empathize-apologize.

3. www.veterinaryteambrief.com/article/transforming-difficult-clients-excellent-clients.

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