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Veterinary Forum October 2009 (Vol 26, No 10)

Doctor to Doctor — Calming the complainers

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    It may be difficult to acknowledge, but the concerns of unhappy clients need to be addressed immediately.

    If client expectations are not met, it is important to learn how to address concerns in a professional, straightforward manner. The goal is to resolve conflicts and work toward an outcome that is beneficial to your clinic, your clients and your patients.

    Clients can become upset for many reasons, such as:

    • Finances
    • Treatment complications
    • Dissatisfaction with the level of service
    • Time conflicts
    • Poor communication
    • Lack of satisfactory information

    Conflicts do not go away if they are ignored; they must be dealt with head-on. Because of this, it is crucial to immediately address problems to avoid losing existing or potential clients. Dealing immediately with unsatisfied clients helps you gain insights that can improve the practice, avoid recurrence of similar problems and increase the chances of timely payment for services rendered.

    The first step to conflict resolution is letting clients know that the practice team values their honest opinion. Make it easy for clients to complain by having your staff ask open-ended questions that give clients ample opportunity to be honest and explicit.

    Classifying angry clients also may be helpful in resolving problems. Sometimes, even-tempered clients may have justifiable reasons to complain or they may simply be having a tough day.

    These encounters may become confrontational, so your staff needs to develop skills that allow them to deal with uncomfortable situations and soothe dissatisfied clients.

    Clients who complain need to be:

    • Listened to and taken seriously
    • Reassured that attempts will be made to avoid future inconveniences
    • Treated with respect

    The first rule of dealing with a dissatisfied client is not to take his or her complaints personally. Although some of the angrier complainers may hurl personal insults, staff members must control their anger. It is usually hard for a complainer to be angry at someone who smiles and refuses to fight back.

    Above all, veterinarians have a responsibility to resolve the complainer's concerns, minimize potential embarrassment to other clients and minimize disruption in the practice.

    Clients who are upset usually calm down if they feel they are being taken seriously and someone is willing to understand and address their issues.

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