Stop judging clients

Stop judging clients

Some clients are difficult, but labeling them as such and guessing who will comply doesn't help anyone, especially pets. Take a gavel to judgmental thinking and you'll soon be letting clients—even the "bad" ones—off for good behavior.
Mar 01, 2009

Pamela Stevenson, CVPM
He approaches the front desk with a groan. Slowly bending down to pick up his toy poodle, the elderly client asks how much today's visit will cost. The receptionist explains she won't know for sure until the doctor sees Fifi, but the wellness examination will be $45. He harumphs under his breath and murmurs something about the price of keeping a pet these days.

A technician escorts the man and his dog to the exam room. During the physical, the veterinarian discovers that Fifi is suffering from advanced periodontal disease. After the doctor explains this could eventually affect Fifi's heart and kidneys, the man hugs the dog to his chest, kisses her on the forehead, and adamantly refuses the recommended dental cleaning.

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Your first reaction is probably to label the client as cheap, stubborn, or both. You might be right. But what if you're not? In this case, the reason the man declined the dental was because, in his day, anesthesia was more dangerous than any disease. He was afraid Fifi wouldn't wake up from getting her teeth cleaned. If you judged—or misjudged—this client, you would've missed the chance to alleviate his fears and improve his dog's health.

Judging clients is a chronic condition in veterinary hospitals. Judgments are everywhere and, no matter how hard you try, they'll never be eradicated. But their detrimental effects can—and should—be significantly reduced.

Swapping opinion-based verdicts with factual determinations will change your practice's culture. You'll exchange stress and negative energy for a positive feeling that will run throughout the practice. In turn, you'll boost your team's morale and efficiency. Perhaps most importantly, eliminating judgments will foster team members' desire to ask clients questions and listen to their feedback.


Are judgments really that bad?

To make all this happen, the first order of business is distinguishing between fact and opinion. "Toby is morbidly obese," is a judgment that can be validated by a physical examination and body condition scoring. "Ms. Large is an irresponsible pet owner," is an opinion. The fact that Toby is obese doesn't prove Ms. Large's worth—or lack thereof—as a pet owner. You might think it does, but without knowing the circumstances behind Toby's weight gain, you really have no idea how Ms. Large treats her pet.

Regardless, what does it matter if you peg Ms. Large as irresponsible? You're not going to say so to her face. Valid question. But the answer is clear: Constantly trying to size up clients drains your energy and gets in the way of communication, patient care, and your practice's financial success. When you judge, you feel small, mean, or superior—all of which suck the life out of a situation and cloud your thoughts.

Every team member's mind is filled with perpetual chatter about clients: "She dresses so shabby it's no wonder her cat has fleas," "I love Mr. Morris and his dog," "Great, Bozwell needs a recheck. I didn't want to see his owner for another year." Even when you're not conscious of these inner criticisms, they're present and they affect you—and your clients. For example, when you guess that a client can't afford the best care, you'll follow up your top recommendation with an offer of baseline care much more quickly than you would with a client who's in your top 20 percent. Doing this deprives the client of time to think, the pet of highest-quality care, and the practice of revenue associated with the best medicine.

But wait. Some clients really are stingy and difficult. They never comply with recommended treatments, they're disrespectful, and they're downright unpleasant. No matter how strongly you believe a client to be difficult, it just doesn't make it true. And your negative appraisal may be turning a good client into a bad one.

So-called difficult clients might be picking up on your feelings about them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Up to 93 percent of communication is through body language. If you've deemed certain clients as lesser, your actions could betray your negative thoughts even when you say nothing. This hampers your client relationship and, as a result, interferes with the level of patient care you provide.