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How Do I Handle Angry Veterinary Clients?

How Do I Handle Angry Veterinary Clients?

As a veterinarian or vet tech, you are likely familiar with one of the more unpleasant aspects of the job: dealing with an angry client. Bringing a sick or injured pet to the vet’s office is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time, and likely the pet owner is already worried about the welfare of their beloved furry friends. Considering the emotional circumstances, being distraught can likely turn to anger or frustrated outbursts when it comes to various aspects of dealing with pet care. And this anger affects everyone in the clinic, from the vet to the techs to the receptionist and even the animals. It’s important to know how to defuse tense situations and understand the client’s distress, in order to provide the very best care for the pet. 


Clients will become angry for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to remember to not internalize their emotions or absorb their pain. There have been countless studies that illustrate the difficulties that vets and vet techs experience as a result of their professions, and while clients have a right to express themselves, it is never acceptable to place an emotional burden on the professionals trying to do their jobs--there will be more on this in next week’s blog. But there are some helpful tips to calm a client down so that everyone can achieve the outcome they’re hoping for, which is the best care of the pet. 


Angry clients want to be heard. No matter what the source of the anger is, ultimately their anger is stemming from a place of feeling misunderstood or silenced. The first step to obtaining a mutual understanding is bringing them to a private room, or a quiet and more private space within the practice if a private room isn’t available. When a client gives way to anger, providing them with this source of privacy will allow them to maintain dignity following the outburst. It also keeps them from becoming a spectacle for people in the waiting room and a source of stress for other people and pets in the vicinity. 


Once in a private area, allow the client to express the source of their anger. Silencing someone only serves to increase emotion and giving the person the opportunity to explain why they are upset will help them feel more understood. While they vent, practice active listening, which involves nodding or making vocal acknowledgments as they speak. This shows that you are invested in solving the problem; it could also be helpful to take notes if the situation warrants it to show that you are committed to finding a solution to the problem. 


If the problem permits it, offer the client an apology. Can you think of some scenarios where it would be prudent to apologize? That could be situations like a continuation of an ongoing problem at the clinic, not going through the entire medical history of the pet, or an incorrect diagnosis or treatment process. Mistakes happen and it’s always beneficial to approach the problem from the standpoint of the client’s irritation or anger being valid. If the client is angry as a result of a mistake, it will help to sincerely apologize for the oversight. If the client is angry as a result of a more abstract complaint, such as the belief that staff were rude or they were under a misconception of how the treatment plan will work, it can help to acknowledge their frustration and apologize that they are going through an emotional time without taking the responsibility for their ire. 


Try to prepare yourself both physically and emotionally as you listen to the client before responding. It is easy to absorb someone else’s emotion, which then serves to amplify the feeling. Meaning that if you become angry or defensive while the client expresses their disappointment it will only serve to make the client even angrier. This is not the time to reiterate clinic policy or standard operating rules as it will only give fuel to the issue at hand. But it’s also important not to feign cheeriness or be bubbly, it will come off as inauthentic and insincere. The best thing you can do is be present and calm as you listen to the client’s complaint, not only will it make the person feel heard and understood it will also give you the opportunity to potentially find a solution to the problem. It’s also important to center yourself and remember to not take it personally, you cannot be responsible for the emotions of another person you can only work to defuse them. Are you familiar with grounding techniques to help during these difficult interactions? Grounding techniques can help you center yourself when in the midst of a troubling or upsetting conversation. Healthline has excellent tips to employ. 


And ultimately, try to take action if action is possible. Ask questions about the situation and don’t assume that you already know the root of the issue, there might be an underlying problem to the initial complaint. Once you’ve discovered what the true problem is, work to resolve it (if possible) quickly and completely. Explain how the complaint will be handled. That could be a technician ensuring that the complaint is passed to the vet responsible and guaranteeing that there will be a follow-up from the veterinarian. It could be the vet investigating a problem by talking with staff to get the details of what transpired, or it could be the receptionist ensuring that the client’s follow-up appointment is given priority. No matter what the action, if you are capable of providing a resolution to the issue, it is best to do so expediently.  


Does your office have a follow-up policy? Often future problems can be mitigated with a thorough and detailed follow-up by someone at the office. Taking the time to call a client who had previously had an issue shows that you have taken their concern to heart. Explain to them the steps your office has taken to ensure that they will not be dissatisfied in the future.    


There will be clients who are dissatisfied no matter what, so it’s important to remember that everyone is trying to do what is best for the pet. However, utilizing the above suggestions will likely deescalate the majority of disgruntled clients. At the end of the day, your commitment is providing the best care to animals in need and no matter how frustrated the client might be you and your work is valuable and important.