This content is taken from some of the learning materials we offer in The VetX Graduate Community, and is targeting the younger generation of vets specifically. But I think there will be something of value to everyone.
I know this will help you to enjoy a happier less stressed life in veterinary medicine. :) So without further ado, here's lesson 1.
Dealing with tough clients is far and away the hardest thing that most vets have to deal with. It’s one of the things we are taught the least about at vet school or after we graduate.So how do you maximise your chances of having clients eat out of your hand? Strategy One - Don’t upset them in the first place. Humans like to work and engage with people they know, like and trust. So the first strategy has three points of attack.
1. Be present and hang around.
Now I know you might not like this one. However, if you choose to work as a locum, or skip jobs every 12 months, then very few clients are going to get to know you. So you always start from zero trust and have to work very, very hard to get anywhere. Do yourself a favour and hang around in a job for 2-3 years. When clients get to meet you a few times and like what they see, then they will build trust and follow your advice more often. Plus be more forgiving of errors when they inevitably occur.
2. Build a personal brand.
Personal branding is more important now than ever. If a client can read about you on the practice website, watch some video and learn a few opinions that you hold, then they have the chance to start to like you and form a relationship. So make sure you have a great, professional photo and bio on the "about us" page of the practice website. Also, you want to have posted engaging content there in the form of written articles or videos so clients can see what you are all about as a vet. Plus, you should add links to your professional social media profiles.
3. Do a good job and at the very least, keep your word.
Trust builds when people believe you can do the job well. This is part confidence, part skill. So train hard in both your clinical and presentation skills. Also, if you say you are going to do something (like complete an insurance form, or call back about a blood test, then make sure you do it on time. Each positive interaction is another step on the trust staircase.
But what can you do to turn things around when something has gone wrong?
Now you have an upset or angry client, so how do you handle this like a boss? Here’s the second strategy, my proven formula that will get people back on track quickly.
Ask what happened and listen in carefully. The best and fastest way to diffuse an anger bomb is to make someone feel listened to. So ask questions and be on their side. Avoid getting defensive or hurt by the complaint like the plague. Your negative emotional response will only fuel their fire. Listen in and take things on the chin.
Repeat back their concerns to make sure they know you were paying attention. This is also a great tool to help build empathy.
Apologise! I know many people say not to do this, but the evidence is stacked against them. You are not admitting liability by apologising. You are demonstrating that you are a good human being. Say something like, “Mrs Emery; firstly, thank you for the feedback. Secondly, I’m so sorry that was your experience today, that doesn’t make me happy at all. I hear what you say, and I think that if I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way.”
Instead of the somewhat passive-aggressive “I’m sorry you feel that way”.
Ask what they would, like you to do about the issue. Again listen in and repeat back their request(s). You may or may not be able to meet their demands, and you may not feel that it is warranted. However, asking and listening is key to building empathy and helping the client to feel engaged.
If the demand is reasonable, and you have the authority, then meet it. If not, or you do not have the authority, then tell them that you will discuss the feedback and requests with your boss and get back to them. Then make sure you do just that. Even if you cannot meet their demands, I assure you that by listening and apologising, most clients will feel a lot happier and get over the issue.
By following these strategies, you will encounter far fewer problems with clients in your career and be far more likely to have a happier, more productive time in your career as a veterinarian.
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