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Friday, December 2, 2016

A Client Apologized

A few weeks ago I had a client do something that has never happened to me in almost 20 years of practice.  She apologized for her behavior.
Vets are often faced with rude, thick-headed, or just difficult clients.  Most of us realize that this is part of working with people and most of those clients aren't intentionally causing problems.  We don't enjoy those kinds of people as it makes communication and treatment much more difficult.  But we learn how to handle it and how to continue caring for that client's pets.  Sometimes a client becomes very belligerent, unreasonable, or a general pain in the tush.  If the person is beyond the norm in their behaviors many vets will politely but firmly let that client know that they should seek veterinary care elsewhere.  While we can be used to tricky interpersonal situations, we're not psychologists and don't get paid enough to put up with anything that the worst client can throw at us.
Let's call my client Ms. A.  She is a long-term client of mine and I've cared for her pets for several years, being the preferred doctor when she comes in.  In October I saw her dog for some skin issues, and not serious ones.  I vaguely remember her being worried and asking some very pointed questions, even repeating them and saying "are you sure?"  But overall I didn't think much of it.  She can be a slightly difficult person, but well within reasonable limits and I've learned to have patience with her because she really does care about her animals. 
She came in for a follow-up visit and I was happy to see that her dog was much better and the problem had completely resolved.  As we were finishing up she asked my tech if she could speak to me alone.  That sent up some red flags!  I have never had a client do that, and I immediately started worrying and trying to figure out why she needed just me in the room.  I considered that there were problems with my staff, that she was angry at me, and a whole list of bad situations.  I was completely unprepared for what happened next.
"Dr. Bern, I need to apologize to you for my behavior last visit.  I was a real jerk."
I swear I think my jaw dropped open.  That was definitely not what I was expecting to hear!  And I started going through my memories to try and figure out what in the world she was talking about.  As I thought back to the previous visit I honestly couldn't remember her being a problem, and definitely not something that needed an apology.
I told her that and she thought I was just being nice.  I had to really firmly let her know that I couldn't remember anything bad that she had said or did, and emphasize that if I couldn't remember it then the incident must not have been a real problem.  She appreciated that but continued to explain and say how sorry she was for her attitude, as I've always done such a great job of caring for her pets and listening to her.
We talked for a bit, I assured her that there were no problems at my end, and we hugged it out.  I walked out of the room and explained it to my tech, who had also been wondering why she was asked to leave.
Over my career I've had numerous clients who really did owe me an apology.  I've been yelled at, cursed at, called names, blamed for every problem under the sun, and generally been treated by dirt.  Thankfully these bad clients are few and far between, otherwise I probably wouldn't be able to keep working in this field.  Most of my clients are wonderful and appreciative of our care.  But many of those difficult clients really did act impolitely and unreasonably, completely out of the realm of normal reactions.  Yet with all of those people I have never had a single one apologize.
Now I've had a client apologize for an attitude that I can't even remember! 
I told her how much I appreciated her and her apology, even if I couldn't recall any of the specifics and it didn't stand out in my mind.  Too many people don't take personal responsibility for their actions, and always try to blame someone else.  Ms. A absolutely sucked it up and put herself in a vulnerable position because she felt it was the right thing to do.  That amazed me and restored some of my faith in humanity.  And I'll be happy to put up with her in the future if she continues to have this attitude about herself.  A great client and one of the most positive experiences I've ever had.