When clients attack

Jul 01, 2007
By dvm360.com staff

Amy answers the phone and by the look on her face, tone of her voice, and contortions of her body, anyone can take a good guess who's calling. Let's face it: There are some clients everyone dreads.

Some folks are never really happy—they're tigers in the shadows waiting to pounce at the first whiff of weakness. These clients resort to sneaky, mean-spirited tactics to gain power over others. They reach into their toolbox of lies, theatrics, and selective memory to pit team members against each other with shifting sands of untruth.

These impossible clients destroy office decorum with ready, frequent use of a verbal bazooka: the accusation. And once we've been publicly accused of dropping a dog, failing to record an appointment time, or making a beloved cat sick, we're forced to defend ourselves—an action that makes us look guilty. We're eager to appease and quick to give away resources. They win again. These are full-time jerks who make their living off the good nature of others.

Jim Kramer, DVM, CVPM
While these dreaded clients prowl in our hallways and reception areas, their numbers are fortunately few. And surprisingly, not all of these clients need to be fired. Once you've explained where the boundaries are, they may sheath their claws. If they don't, it's time to take action.

Why they pounce

There's a difference between authentic jerks and well-meaning people who care so deeply about their animals that their behavior turns beastly. Many of these folks are good-hearted, sweet, wonderful people elsewhere in their lives—the kind of people who wouldn't put up with the treatment they give us. They don't realize their actions are unreasonable. They're blinded by a higher calling: a fierce loyalty to those who can't speak for themselves.

Animals aren't small children. As children grow older, they can talk about the care they receive. Animals always await the pleasure of others, which brings out the mother bear reaction from otherwise reasonable folks.

Love is perhaps the most powerful force on earth, and it blinds some clients. While love is unlimited, resources aren't. There are only so many hours in a day, so many team members, so much patience, and so much goodwill.

Tranquilize angry predators
People who are on a holy mission produce boundless demands, because they believe their actions are necessary to protect their pets. We're criticized for failing to supply a variety of wants, including unspoken desires. The more we give, the more they expect us to give. For example, they call to say they're on their way to pick up Romeo if we can stay open 10 more minutes. They show up 30 minutes late. Then they use this exception as a precedent to coerce us to meet them before we open or long after we're closed because "Dr. Jim always does this for us." Once you explain the physical limits of your well-intentioned care, they may respond. If they don't, you may need to part ways.

Other clients act irrationally for reasons we can't see or understand. Almost all of our experiences with clients involve loss: preventing it, mitigating it, or reversing it. And grief is the spontaneous response to loss. Remember, grief isn't an event, it's a process. So grieving people are often confused, angry, sad, scared, in denial, or all of the above. They can be difficult to work with and hard to reach.