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Monday, July 15, 2013

You Can't Make Everyone Happy

When you deal with clients it's impossible to make every single person happy.  No matter what you do, somebody isn't going to like X, Y, or Z and will complain.  This is as true in the veterinary profession as in any other business.

My practice has several locations and we utilize and outside survey service to measure our client service.  Like many businesses our receipts have a website where you can rate your experience and enter to win a prize.  The location I manage repeatedly has the highest service score in the area, so people like us and what we do.  On a less "scientific" basis I also know we have many loyal customers and our business is growing.

Even so we get upset clients.  Last week I had someone get very upset because her cat may have had a vaccine reaction.  It had diarrhea and vomiting after being in for kitten immunizations, which are potential signs of a reaction.  The diarrhea had started while in the exam room, something noted by one of my associates who cautioned the owner about reactions and offered to treat.  The next day the client called because the kitten still vomited some.  We told them to bring her in, but they went and had lunch instead and by the time they came in our doctor was at lunch.  Rather than understanding they got upset because they hadn't been told not to come in at a certain time, and wanted one of the techs just to give a shot.  They also didn't want to bother leaving the kitten with us for observation.  All of this was clearly documented in the pet's medical notes, so when she came back for boosters we expected to have her dropped off for premedication and observation (our practice's required protocol for suspected or known vaccine reactors).  The client got upset at this and refused to drop off, so I went up front and talked to her.  She was livid about the whole situation, even though I explained that we had documentation of all of the discussions with her (which she denied having had).  Knowing that this wasn't going well I said "I can see that we aren't going to be able to give you the care you want.  I'll be happy to provide you a copy of your medical records or send them to another vet."  She debated a bit but despite all of the complaints decided to leave the kitten with us after all...until she saw the costs.  Yes, we do antihistamine injections and place an intravenous catheter in cases like this, which the client must pay for.  Once the charges were rung up she took her records and stormed one of our satellite clinics with the same policies and costs!

Another client had called to get her dog in for a routine rabies vaccine.  We had seen this dog a few times over the last year, so it was a normal set-up.  Apparently one of our receptionists made a mistake and accidentally misquoted one of the prices. The owner called up to confirm the appointment, spoke to my office manager, and was told about the mistake.  The person was furious, and began to yell about the situation.  My manager tried to get a word in edgewise and warn the client not to be loud or use that tone.  At one point she even offered to waive the office visit charge as a gesture towards rectifying the mistake.  Instead of taking this the client proceeded to register an official complaint with the practice owners, even saying that the manager was "screaming" at her.  Keep in mind that in over three years of working with this manager I have never heard her raise her voice to anyone in any circumstance and she is very good at client service.

Client's like this aren't just recent.  Many years ago I was doing routine vaccines on a dog and talking to the client.  The dog was well behaved and didn't flinch or react when I gave the shot.  I walked the client to the reception desk and then he suddenly accused me of not giving the vaccine.  I was surprised because he was standing across the table from me when I did it.  I tried to explain that I had used a small needle and it didn't always cause pain, so his dog simply didn't act bothered.  He didn't buy that and continued to press the issue.  I offered to re-vaccinate his dog with him watching at no extra cost, though I warned that this might increase the risk of a reaction.  He didn't want to do that either.  He paid the bill and left, still not seeming to believe that I could give a quick shot without him noticing.

So why am I posting about this?  Believe it or not I'm not trying to rant against stupid clients (at least, not this time).  I'm pointing out to anyone who has been or will be in these situations (vet students and new graduates, I'm looking at you!) that no matter how hard you try or what you do there will always be people that you can't please.  There will always be people that seem to have a chip on their shoulder and are ready to take offense.

Don't let them get to you.

One of the things I've learned in my 16 years in practice is to quickly get over these clients.  I know that the majority of people love us and what we do, so a cranky person here and there doesn't bother me anymore.  In fact, I get a little amused by them.  I wasn't always like this, as earlier in my career I took it personally or as a reflection on me.  Then I realized that the problem was actually with the clients themselves.  Sure, there is always room to improve client service, and I'm always on the lookout for these opportunities.  But some people just refuse to be satisfied.

One of my favorite websites is  I go there every day to see stories of other client/customer nightmares.  It helps give me perspective on my own job to see other people dealing with similar situations in different professions.

So once again advice to those new to the profession.  No matter how nice or good you are, you're going to get displeased clients.  Rather than getting depressed by their actions, recall all of the clients who really appreciate and like you.  The latter will outnumber the former.