Train your difficult clients

Train your difficult clients

How do you handle bad behavior from good pet owners? Use this advice to deal with your most difficult clients and keep messy exchanges to a minimum.
May 01, 2007

It's happened to all of us. We check the schedule and notice that Gabby Blahblah is dropping off her limping Labrador, Bowser, for radiographs. Gabby can talk for hours about the simplest nail trim, and all of Bowser's ailments present with a detailed narrative she'll repeat to anyone within earshot. Without the right approach, not only will your schedule spiral out of control, but Gabby may get the impression you don't care about Bowser or her concerns.

Successful practices do more than sell products or services. They offer high-quality, caring customer service that exceeds clients' expectations. But some clients make offering high-quality service difficult. If we don't handle these clients with care, they won't return. And worse yet, they'll warn off potential clients.

The good, the bad, and the truly poopy

So what turns a good client into a difficult client? The issue generally comes back to clients' expectations about your services—how long the appointment should take, the outcome they want, or the price they believe they should pay. Most of their expectations are probably reasonable, but sometimes they're not.

Support your special clients
For example, clients who walk in and expect the doctor to drop everything and see them immediately don't have reasonable expectations. The hard part is that you need to handle these clients just as carefully as you do clients with reasonable expectations that your team hasn't met.

Here's a look at a few classic types of dissatisfied clients and how to handle their complaints:

  • Stuart Steamer: "I'm going to tell everyone I know not to come here. You're just trying to get my money!" It's critical to keep your cool with these clients. You might say, "Mr. Steamer, you know we're trying to give Fido the best possible care. To do that, we need to run some lab tests that will give us an overall picture of Fido's health. The equipment and supplies necessary to run these tests aren't cheap, but the results will help us help Fido."
  • Ms. Can't Hardly Wait: "My appointment was at 10 a.m., and it is now 10:10! I need to leave soon!" A good response: "We usually run pretty close to schedule. Let me check with the technician to see if there's a problem." If there's a delay, give Ms. Can't Wait some options. For example, "It looks like an emergency has put us a little behind. I can reschedule your appointment for another time, or if you can wait a little longer, I can credit your account $5 for the inconvenience." If you don't have an agreement with your supervisor or hospital owner to offer a credit, talk about the benefits of this gesture. You may even want to offer the credit before clients complain to build goodwill.
  • Mr. Bigstuff: He calls in for a last-minute wellness visit and you're booked solid. "I'm a personal friend of Dr. Smith's, and I know he would see me!" Your response: "I understand you would like to be seen today, but Dr. Smith has no open appointments. You can drop off Max and Dr. Smith will try to see him between appointments, or we can schedule you for an appointment tomorrow at 10. What works better for you?"
  • Mrs. Gabby Blahblah: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. And then ..." You might say, "I see you have several concerns about Bowser's health. I want to be sure you see Dr. Smith on time, so let's get the basic information first. Then Dr. Smith can ask you additional questions about Bowser's condition." Keep the client moving in the direction of the exam room so the technician can start the appointment on time.
  • Ms. My Way: "I want to be sure Roscoe gets his walk exactly at 10 a.m. and he gets his special treat at 11:30 a.m." What to say: "We will check with the doctor to be sure that won't be a problem or interfere with Roscoe's treatment plan."
  • Mrs. Hemenhaw: "Well, I just don't know. Do a lot of people neuter their cats? Is it expensive? Maybe I should. But I don't want Shadow to feel any pain. Does the medicine really work? How do you know?" The best way to handle these clients is to answer their questions completely and go over each item in a treatment plan. These phrases might help: "We use this because ...," "Studies have shown ...," and "This is the best treatment for your pet because ..."
  • Nellie Nothing's Right: "Last time Iwas here Iwanted Dr. Jones to see Prince, but Dr. Smith saw him. Iknow Dr. Smith didn't check Prince's ears the way Dr. Jones does. And Dr. Jones doesn't listen to Prince's heart carefully during exams."Because you know Nellie's difficult to satisfy, anticipate her objections and verify her requests when she visits with Prince. For example, you may smile and say, "Nellie, you seem to prefer seeing Dr. Jones. Would you like me to note on your file that you always want us to schedule Prince with Dr. Jones?I know how carefully you take care of your pets, and we want to be sure you both get the care you need."