Today's Veterinary Business

DEC-JAN 2017

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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49 December 2017/January 2018 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM and employees who are flustered after dealing, yet again, with someone who tore into everyone in sight. These pet owners may not feel abused themselves, but their experience in your practice is undoubtedly marred. Important Points to Consider The decision to fire a client is not easy, and it should not be taken lightly. Never forget that we often see people on one of the hardest days of their lives. When someone is losing his furry best friend to can- cer and he can't scream at the carci- noma, that grief and anger may be redirected unfairly at others. In cases like this, we must remember our compassion and commitment to those families we serve. We never know what pet owners are truly going through. I met a Texas veterinarian who had practiced for 50 years. He told me he had only one client in all that time with whom he simply could not reason. She screamed and yelled at him and finally said, "The next time you hear from me, it will be through my law- yer!" She then stormed out. About 45 minutes later, the phone rang. It was her lawyer, who told the veterinarian, "Listen, she's going through a divorce and she's furious at everyone. Don't worry too much about this. I'll talk to her when she calms down." That's the case of a person who was obviously hurting from some- thing our colleague had nothing to do with. As the saying goes, ev- eryone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Let's bear in mind that our most difficult clients are often a product of our own creation. I frequently hear practice owners complain about clients who demand dis- counts on goods and services. When I ask, "So, what do you do when they make those demands?" the answer often is, "Give them what they want." If we repeatedly offer positive reinforcement for bad behaviors, we cannot be surprised when clients exhibit them over and over. While maintaining our compas- sion and commitment to clients is of paramount importance, we must remember that we go through this life one time only. If you or your staff members live in a state of dread be- cause of one regular client, you are paying too large a toll for that pet owner's business. This can burn out talented people and increase em- ployee turnover. If we must choose between a great receptionist and a single abusive client, that choice should not be difficult. Finally, we must reject the idea that losing a client equals failure. Some clients are simply not a fit for your practice and would be happier somewhere else. Perhaps they are adamant that veterinary care should be as affordable as possible and that your focus is on providing the gold standard of care. In this case, neither party is wrong. They simply have incompatible philosophies. How to Fire a Client When the time comes, the most important aspect of terminating a client relationship is to approach from a place of compassion. Try to avoid making moral judgments about the person; that will almost certainly escalate the problem. For example, instead of telling a pet owner, "You are an abusive jerk and I don't want to see your face again," try something like, "We do not allow people to use language like that toward our staff. We will therefore no longer be able to serve as your veterinary health care provider." Generally, there are two ap- proaches I have found effective when terminating a client relation- ship. Which one you use depends on the nature of the problem at hand. After an Acute Incident Some instances of abuse warrant a zero-tolerance policy. Threats of (or actual) physical violence, racial slurs, or aggressive and obscene language would generally fall into this cate- gory. In these instances, the best approach is to communicate a clear message that the client's behavior was unacceptable and that you are terminating the relationship. Be clear and concise. Do not verbally attack the pet owner, argue or offer an extended explanation. Say it. Mean it. Be done. Delivering this message in writing has the bene- fit of documenting your position as well as decreasing the chance of im- mediate further verbal abuse. Alert law enforcement if necessary. (I hate to even write that line, but we must remain safe in this crazy world.) In Response to a Chronic Problem Everyone has an occasional bad day. Unfortunately, some people seem to have bad days every time they come to your practice. They leave angry each time, and your employees feel frustrated or hurt for the rest of the day. At some point, enough is enough. In these cases, it's best to reach out to the client as if you're offering a service. Talk about their experi- ence, how you want them to be happy and how your clinic is not making that happen. Tell them they will need to find care elsewhere, and ask where you should send the medical records. An example of specific wording might be: "It's important to me that you are happy with the veterinary services you receive. Our practice does not seem to be meeting your needs. At this point, I do not feel that continuing our relationship as your veterinarian makes sense. I believe you need to find another veterinary care provider who can better serve you. We will complete- ly support you in this transition and will transfer your records to you, to another veterinary clinic or both. Thank you for giving us the chance to serve you up to this point." Other Tips Here is some additional advice: • Don't act from a place of anger. If you're considering when to have the conversa- tion or send the email, the best answer is do it when you are no longer angry or upset. • Be brief. Know your talking points and stick to them. • Be compassionate. We can enforce boundaries without making assumptions or pass- Dr. Andy Roark is an author, speaker and practicing veterinarian in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a three-time winner of the NAVC Practice Management Speaker of the Year award. Learn more at www.DrAndyRoark.com. ing moral judgment. • Remember that firing a client should be a once- in-a-blue-moon event. Be open to clients giving critical feedback, asking questions, challenging your knowledge, voicing valid frustrations, struggling with prices or showing a lot of emotion. This is, to some degree, what we signed up for. • Don't make a rash decision about firing a client, but don't ignore the staff's feed- back either. The Fallout What will happen after you cut ties with this person? Generally, one of four things: • They will go away. (Yea!) • They will want to come back. (It's amazing how many peo- ple will apologize profusely and ask to stay on. Consider this on a case-by-case basis.) • They will pretend it never happened and keep showing up. (If their behavior changed because of your actions, this might be acceptable. If their behavior does not change, you might have to recommu- nicate your wishes or refuse to book their appointments.) • They will attack your repu- tation. (Retaliation, usually through online reviews or on social media, is a distinct pos- sibility. Fortunately, in many cases the client posting neg- ative reviews after being fired exhibits the exact behaviors that got them fired. Ratio- nal readers recognize these behaviors and interpret the review in that context. Also, if you have a lot of positive reviews, you should be able to absorb this single outlier without any ill effect.) Breaking up is hard, but with care it can be done smoothly and with as little fallout as possible.

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