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No matter the profession, there will inevitably come a time when you have to deal with bad clients.

Especially due to covid, veterinary professionals are increasingly having to deal with angry clients who are frustrated with practice restrictions – amongst other things. 

Whilst this obviously is not your fault, a lot of this anger can be directed towards you or the client facing team simply because you are the face of the company. 

So how can you deal with bad clients as a veterinary professional? 

Read on to find out. 

Practice Empathy

Whilst it can be hard to practice empathy when someone isn’t being particularly empathetic towards you, this is key for client cooperation. 

Although when confronted with a difficult client it can be easy to go on the defensive, it is best to avoid doing so. Your client is likely projecting a great deal of anxiety and frustration onto you, and the last thing you want to do is create a us vs. them dynamic.

Try to create an emotional rapport with your client. Remain calm (as to not invoke an emotional response from them) and take a step back. 

Ask yourself, what is the fundamental issue here, and how can I resolve it? 

Try to really listen to your client. Why are they actually angry? Oftentimes, the conflict has more to do with their predisposed mood than your tangible actions. The best way to calm someone down who is angry or frustrated is to listen to them!

So try to practice reflective listening. Reflective listening requires you to respond and reflect back on the thoughts and feelings of your clients, by analysing their words and actions. 

So instead of replying to a complaint with:

‘I understand what you’re saying but…’

Say ‘what I’m hearing is that you’re concerned XYZ, is this correct?’.

You can see that the difference between the first statement and the second statement is that the second acknowledges the clients’ reservations, whereas the first dismisses them. 

Therefore by practising reflective listening, you can create an emotional rapport that benefits both parties. 

Affect Heuristic

Affect Heuristic is a mental shortcut that can allow you to make decisions and solve problems quickly and efficiently. 

Every decision that we make is influenced by certain emotions. Affect Heuristic can be used to evaluate the risks and benefits of a decision based on your feelings towards a specific person, feeling or thing. 

During client conflict, we can use affect heuristic to ask useful questions which can deal with the emotional drivers which may be causing conflict.

Questions such as:

‘What can I do to make you feel more comfortable about this decision?’

‘What are your reservations about this procedure?’ 

‘Is there anything I can do to relieve your anxiety before we move on?’ 

By asking such questions, you can address your clients’ emotional concerns and move on.

For more on how to make rational decisions in practice, click here. 

If in Doubt, Seek Help

Sometimes you can bite off more than you can chew. 

No matter how good your client communication skills may be, sometimes client interactions can become so emotionally charged that not even a hostage negotiator could calm things down. 

At the end of the day, as a practitioner you are not deserving of verbal abuse. If you feel like your client is getting out of hand, get help from a senior staff member. 

Whilst it is obviously not an ideal situation, there is a line between acceptable client communications and non acceptable client communications. 

If the conversation between you and your client is going nowhere, and ultimately not benefiting either party – it is far better to seek help early (as to save yourself the emotional strain) than continue to try to salvage a relationship that is non-functional. 

Try not to take these occurrences personally, and instead recognise the benefit of them. Life is very much a contact sport and much of the learning happens in real-time.

Communication breakdowns can teach us a lot about our strengths and weaknesses, and reflecting on these sorts of experiences can improve our skill in the future; leading to better outcomes for all.

Want to learn more about how to deal with angry customers when you’re the person in charge?

Listen to our podcast here.

Takeaway Thoughts

Knowing how to deal with bad clients as a veterinary professional can be immensely challenging. 

However, if there is one key point to takeaway from this article, is that it’s not always personal. 

We are living through unprecedented times with high levels of uncertainty and anxiety within the population. Inevitably, some of that fear will be projected onto you, and that’s not your fault. 

At the end of the day you cannot do your job properly if you are not taking care of yourself, so try not to internalise such instances, and know that you are doing the best job you can. 

While you’re here, why don’t you join our Thrive community? It’s easy to join and filled with other veterinary professionals navigating practice life – such as yourself. So what are you waiting for? Join now.

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