Communication – Difficult Clients!

We’ve all met our fair share of challenging clients, haven’t we?

Theresa Time-Consumer: she overruns consults & pesters staff non-stop
Katy: Know-it-All who refers everything to ‘Dr Google’ or the breeder
Charlie: Cheapskate who wants it all but isn’t going to pay for it
Terry: Tyrant who has zero tolerance for everyone, everything and lets us know it
Susie: Sceptic who says she has tried it all before, but none of it works

How can you deal politely, professionally and effectively with these clients so that everybody gets a positive outcome?

Generally speaking, setting boundaries and being polite and respectful works wonders with most people. However, sometimes you need extra tools in your kit to handle five of the most difficult client personality types you’ll encounter…

This edition: The Time-Consumer, the Know-it-All and the Cheapskate

Number 1 – The Time-consumer:

  • Usually a very intense-natured person
  • Highly focused on the health & welfare of their pet
  • Their pet is a huge focus in their lives
  • Wants to spend “whatever it takes; to get the best”
  • Contacts you daily with updates/questions

Your tool-kit: time, control, involvement

Additional time:

Contact your client and say that “We do normally run our consults for [15] minutes, however we’d like to offer you an extended [30] minute appointment to make sure you have enough time to cover everything you need to ask” [Apply as appropriate for your practice/client]

Ensure your client understands that there will be an additional cost for this; however if they aren’t willing to pay for your extra time then they need to understand that, as a general rule, they must keep to your standard consultation time!

Control:

Ask your client to write down their questions and bring the list with them to the consultation. This should keep them on-track. Or, better still, email them to you before their consultation appointment, so that you can be fully prepared. It will not only streamline the consultation it could reduce the number of telephone calls they feel they need to make to you.

Involvement:

Ask for, or take, photo’s of their beloved pet for your social media site and seek their feedback on the service you provide. Your client will appreciate the fuss, attention and should certainly be a positive contributor when their demands are met and handled well, (with you at the controls).

  • Remember that the time-consumer can be a valuable asset to your practice’s pocket.
  • Compliance with advice is usually never an issue as they are willing to consider anything that will help their beloved pet.
  • As long as you strive to meet their demands, they will remain one of your greatest enthusiasts and will be a loyal client, happy to spread the good-word.

Number 2 – The Know-it-All

Diagnoses what is wrong themselves “Bert has got XYZ–I’ve seen it on the internet”

Double-checks everything “I’ll check with the pet shop/breeder/internet/greengrocer”

Refuses a vet appointment “It’s not necessary; I know what’s wrong with Bert”

Not so special “No that’s expensive rubbish [e.g. a special diet] I’ll feed them tripe”

Not an expert “I did the bandage myself”… [Oh-Oh!! Leg is badly swollen as a result]

Your Tool-Kit: no debate, control, educate & praise

No debate – an RVN cannot diagnose so we cannot agree or disagree with what your client attests is wrong with Bert. We can’t prescribe most meds without VS approval.

Don’t enter into a debate. It’s a non-starter!

Take charge of the conversation – politely but firmly state that a vet-check is required for a confirmed diagnosis and especially if they want medications prescribed. Leave it up to the client to decide whether or not to continue.

It is important you record all recommendations given and declined.

Educate offer nursing advice such as that for patient care, nutrition, wound management, behaviour, the action of preventatives… about anything that isn’t a diagnosis!

Your client clearly wants to be knowledgeable so give them the correct information, e.g. a bandage management hand-out or preventative leaflets.

This should allow them to make better choices next time.

Praise if your client insists their pet’s condition is caused by ‘X’ then tell them that you accept that this “might well be one reason” but as you can’t diagnose that they have “done the right thing” by bringing them into the practice to check.

Client feels supported and is more likely to take your advice to refer them for a vet check because you haven’t disagreed (even if they are wrong).

Success! You can try to get the pet the right treatment.

  • The Know-it-All, like the time-consumer, wants the best for their pet and can therefore be an asset once you have firmly established the boundaries; so don’t allow them to take over – guide them.
  • You could make them part of the solution by pointing them in the right direction for their research. Ask them to bring it to you for discussion together. This method may very well tick every box and everyone ends up happy!

Number 3 – The Cheapskate:

Free tries to avoid vet consultations whenever possible to avoid paying fees. Always scouting for samples and discounts.

Won’t pay

  • Says they can’t afford it
  • Wants to know if the pet shop do the same stuff.
  • Always asks for discounts but won’t sign up for any care plans.
  • Says they can get it cheaper elsewhere & expects you to price-match.

Guilt-trip pulls out the ‘guilt trip’ card on you because they know you know their pet will benefit from whatever has been recommended. You love animals so you’ll do it for free…

Extreme case: will accuse you of letting their pet suffer or die if you don’t help financially.

Your tool-kit: Stand fast, alternatives, confirmation

Don’t back-down reducing your price under threat diminishes the value of the service you provide and could seriously weaken the practice profitability. Moreover, as the Cheapskate can’t help but crow loudly about the success of beating you down in price, you run the risk of upsetting other full-fee paying clients.

Refer the Cheapskate to your vet or boss to discuss options. It is usually not up to you to decide (relief!) 

You will clearly encounter life-threatening cases and this is one of the hardest things to deal with. When the client has no funds but the animal desperately needs treatment your only recourse is to refer them to your vet (or boss) to discuss other options. It is definitely not up to you to decide. 

Alternatives

  • 1 at a time – offer to sell one item at a time, e.g. flea treatments, to suit a tight pocket. Being flexible like this will outwit a crafty player everytime.
  • Budget schemes – Payment-plan scheme or care-plan scheme if you have them
  • Bare-bones estimate prepare a budget estimate for the client to compare against a normal one. They will see savings but also what they are missing out on. Possibly (don’t hold your breath) they will consider adding things on if they see what’s not on the budget version…
  • Reinforce the message that the products and services you offer and recommend are the best options for their pet, so why settle for less?

Water-offa ducks back. Don’t take the (shrewdly delivered) guilt-trip personally. The ultimate responsibility for their pet’s well-being lies completely with the client

State, repeat, confirmat the beginning of the consult or conversation, state how much the client will be expected to pay. “For ‘X’ that will be £xxx. Confirm: Would you like to go ahead?”

At the end of the consult or conversation; repeat the statement “That will be £xxxx”. I’d like to confirm how you’d prefer to pay today please?”

Tip: Ensure payment has been made/agreed before you hand anything over, perform the procedure or promise anything!

Have any questions or thoughts on this blog? Send them over to Alison – info@vetseekers.co.uk