Veterinarian Interests   11/14/2022

Tips to Reduce Concern and Conflict at Your Veterinary Practice

By Jonathan Decker

Tips to Reduce Concern and Conflict at Your Veterinary Practice

Dealing with upset or angry pet owners is part of being a vet. Here’s how to handle such incidents with professionalism.

As a veterinarian, it’s important to limit emotional client interactions to stay focused on the business at hand: healing animals and keeping them healthy long-term. To that end, enduring pet-parent irritability and unreasonable demands is the price you must pay for fulfilling your veterinary mission. Which doesn’t mean you should let their feelings run amuck.

Difficult clients come in many forms. Some are demanding, wanting only the best (or would that be perfection?) for their pet. Others are bullies, complaining and spewing venom around your office. Of course, you’ve probably dealt with pet parents who think they know more than you, challenging your diagnoses and treatments at every turn.

And then there are the angry customers. They shout about your errors— real or imagined— then go on social media to complain even more.

Yes, angry clients are difficult to deal with. But those furious about veterinary costs are especially hard to handle. Sadly, they account for the greatest share of online vet complaints. For instance, a study of 1,000 Yelp reviews found that money was the number one reason for negative reviews, representing 41% of the total.

It’s not hard to see why this is true. Loving their pets, but being unable to afford their healthcare, sparks frustration, hopelessness and fear in pet parent hearts. With so much turmoil within, it’s no wonder they make unreasonable demands, guilt or shame their vets or simply melt into angry puddles.

Do you capitulate to such people–— which can harm your practice financially— or do you try to reason with them? If the latter, read on for how to better address your clients’ concerns over their vet bills.

How to Handle Angry Customers

  • Before you speak with an angry customer, try to calm them down. Start by moving the discussion to a private area where staff and other patients can’t hear their rants.
  • During your discussion, avoid internalizing their anger. Stay calm and centered within yourself so you can figure out how to best respond.
  • Then listen carefully to their words. This is important for two reasons. First, you want to understand exactly what they’re angry about. Second, you want them to feel their concerns are being heard. Sometimes having their vet acknowledge their frustration is enough to end the incident.
  • Next, reflect their concerns back to them. You want to make sure you fully understand what they’re upset about so you can offer appropriate solutions. If you didn’t hear them correctly, they will correct you.
  • During the discussion, try to be sympathetic. Never minimize their concerns or argue with them. That will just make them angrier.
  • If warranted, say you’re sorry they’re upset. However, don’t apologize for your fee or any actions taken that were clinically appropriate. If you did nothing wrong, apologizing might cause legal problems down the road.
  • After you understand what caused their anger, present a solution that you believe will ameliorate the problem. See if they’re willing to accept it, then promise to implement it as soon as possible.
  • Finally, end the meeting on a positive note, with agreement on future steps and an expression of your desire to remain their pet’s vet.

The above is a generic process for dealing with angry pet parents. However, what about those who are frustrated about their bills? Here you’ll need to employ special techniques.

When Pet Parents Are Angry About Money

It’s no wonder pet parents can get angry about their vet bills. The price for drugs and treatments has increased steadily over the last decade. Meanwhile, new technologies and advanced equipment have added to vet-practice overhead, which fees must incorporate. Result: invoices nowadays often produce pet-parent “sticker shock” and boiling emotions.

How to react to financially distraught pet owners? The first thing to do is explain what went into the procedure. Perhaps better understanding how complicated the care was, the materials and technology used and the staff resources consumed would help them better appreciate the fee you charged.

Then stress the quality of your practice and the aggregate years of veterinary education your care team represents. Make sure they understand that maintaining this team is expensive. Then say something like: “Our fees help us provide your pet with the skilled care they deserve. Do you agree they deserve that?”

Another approach is to say: “I know this invoice isn’t cheap. But the reality is your pet is quite ill. We need to find out what’s going on so we can give them the appropriate care. The tests I’m recommending are needed to discover the root of the problem. You want that, right?”

In your discussion also try to probe for other issues underlying pet owner’s financial concerns. Is it solely about the size of their bills? Are there care or service issues involved? Some other reason? Then encourage them to talk further about what’s really bothering them.

Preventing Financial Meltdowns

It’s always better to prevent money meltdowns than to do damage control after the fact. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Prepare a medical care plan with prices before rendering care. Then review the document with pet owners before the procedure and again afterward. Knowing exactly what the bill covers usually softens their “sticker shock.”
  • Present financing options (e.g.: CareCredit and Scratchpay) to help stage out payments over time.
  • Suggest grants from nonprofit pet-care associations and crowdfunding platforms.
  • Finally, before care is needed, encourage your pet parents to purchase insurance. Similar to human health insurance, pet coverage funds unexpected veterinary costs with any licensed vet clinic or animal hospital in the U.S. At the end of the day, it can spell the difference between effectively curing or managing a pet’s serious illness or having to euthanize it for financial reasons.

Emotions will always run high in veterinary business— people love their pets and want to provide the very best for them. Sometimes, their quality of care may come into question, but, more often than not, the root of clients’ anger and accusations stem from feelings of anxiety, helplessness and guilt regarding the high cost of animal healthcare. Being proactive can help, but at the end of the day, you will still endure stressed and frustrated pet parents.

Making sure you have the proper insurance coverage can help ease your mind; it ensures that no matter what happens, you have financial protection against lawsuits and other unforeseen circumstances. Visit 360 Coverage Pros to review our veterinary malpractice insurance offerings and get a quote today.