It’s pretty much inevitable. At some point during your time at the hospital, you’re going to encounter an angry or upset client. Whether it’s in the hospital, over the phone, or on social media, you should always be striving to create exceptional client and patient experiences. However, it’s important to realize that this is not always easy.
Because you are dealing with peoples’ pets, the negative conversations you’ll encounter will often be when a client is at their most sensitive. Your team’s words and actions during those moments will define their entire experience at the hospital, so it’s important to make sure you handle these conversations as carefully and respectfully as possible. Here are some strategies when dealing with triggered clients.
1. Listen with Intent to Understand
Nobody likes having to repeat something they’ve already explained or feeling as if someone only listened to a small portion of what they had to say. When a client is bringing a complaint to you and your hospital, it’s important to make sure you are practicing active listening. Active listening lets the client know that you are listening to everything they are saying and making a genuine effort to understand exactly why they are upset. Basically, it tells that client that you care.
While you are listening, be sure you aren’t actively coming up with a response at the same time. Allow them to share their story without interruption, read or communicate your understanding of the client’s situation back to them to make sure you understand it completely and ask questions to clarify anything that you may be unsure about. Remember that the key in these conversations is to avoid arguing with the client, and understanding where they are coming from will help you with that.
2. Exercise Empathy
Once you’ve listened to the client and understand why they feel the way they do, the next step is to show empathy. Acknowledging a client’s frustration and sharing an understanding about their emotions does not necessarily mean you agree with them. It just shows them that you can see where they are coming from.
When you’re able to show empathy for the client, it can act as a guide for the rest of your conversation with them. By understanding how the client feels, you are able to relate to them on a more personal level, de-escalate the issue and share your solutions to the issue in a more efficient manner.
3. Power in the Name
Something that seems small but holds so much power in conversation is using the client’s name. A client who is frustrated probably doesn’t want to feel as if they and their pet are one among many others for you to “deal with.” Making the effort to remember their name, their pet’s name, and actually using them in conversation makes the conversation feel more personal and is another way to let them know that you care.
Another reason why you want to use the client’s name is that it adds a human element to the conversation. When a client is upset, they don’t want to feel as if they are talking to a bot or that you are reading off of a script. Using their name reminds the client that they are talking to a real human who knows them and their pet. Using a client’s name can also be seen as a sign of respect.
4. Be Cautious About Negative Language
Have you ever had those moments where you say something and the person you say it to interprets it completely different than how you intended? This is why it’s crucial to be extra careful about the words and phrases you use when responding to a client that is upset. Using the wrong words can make a client feel as if you are trying to invalidate their complaint. Remember that regardless of whether or not a client is wrong, you want to make sure that they feel as if their opinion matters.
Words and phrases like “for your information” and “actually” can make a client feel small or that they are being talked down to. They may also think you come off as argumentative and escalate the conversation. Instead, default to words and phrases like “yes” and “I understand, and…” and make sure they know you are looking into the situation for them.
5. Identify Whether the Client is Emotionally Stressed or Abusive
This is a difficult one, but one that helps you determine where and who the conversation needs to go to. While these two circumstances are similar to each other, there is a key difference between the two.
A client who is emotionally stressed will confront you with their pet’s circumstance and be visibly angry or distraught about it. They will often have angry outbursts and mood swings, and while they may have multiple things they are frustrated about, the conversation will usually still focus on their pet and their pet’s situation.
A client who is being abusive will also be visibly angry or distraught, but the conversation with that person will be drastically different. An abusive client will often direct the conversation in a way that is personal to you or your team. This includes name-calling, cursing, gaslighting, or in extreme cases, threats. If you are unable to de-escalate the conversation with the strategies mentioned above, it is best to pass the conversation off to the practice manager or your medical director.
As veterinary professionals, you have the very rewarding, but also very difficult task of providing a great customer experience to both a client and their pet. Although it is far from the easiest thing to do, practicing and utilizing strategies to handle a frustrated client is crucial to the overall success and health of your hospital. Remember that every client is going through a battle of their own, so take the time to listen intently, empathize with them and let them know that their pet is seen and their concerns are heard.