Client complaints still happen to us no matter how long we have been out in practice. So if you are dealing with one as a new veterinarian, just know that you will learn how to handle them over time. They are always hard to hear and often feel a bit unjust. You are not alone in what you are feeling or in wracking your brain over and over as to how you could have made the situation better.
This week, I had a client call and say they wanted to get care for their dog elsewhere. I read the complaint and felt instantly defensive, deflated, and quiet.
As it always is with vet medicine, I had to go into another appointment right after and try to give 100% of my concentration to that pet. It is always hard to do this and not mull over the complaint that left you feeling low.
The complaint was about a dog I had seen a few weekends ago that had not been acting well for several weeks. When the owner brought the dog in, it was in renal failure. I bent over backwards with plans to help their dog and even went out of my way to coordinate with the emergency doctor at the local 24 hour hospital on plans and transfer (The ER was so backed up that we ended up starting treatment at my hospital first.). When I went to dismiss their dog, the owner still asked for more from me despite everything I had done to make the treatment and transfer process smooth. One more phone call was made to the ER to to talk them about their dog being first in line at the ER, even though I explained that I could not guarantee that but would have the front desk call. No, he needed me to call one more time and tell the ER vet the values we had discussed so that they could get his dog in right away. When I explained I could not guarantee that would happen, he was irate and insinuated that I did not think his dog was critical. I clarified that I did think his dog was important but that did not mean I could determine who was triaged first, etc. at the emergency hospital.
As you can tell from this conversation, we were going in circles at this point. It is important in these scenarios to take a step back sometimes because it can be very emotionally draining. It was obvious he did not seem to understand the flow of emergency medicine and was just very emotional about his dog. Those two factors can influence how an owner communicates with us and feels about the visit.
So let’s go back to some tips on how to handle client complaints when you hear about them from management, reviews, etc. Hopefully you have a management team that does not bring all client complaints to you and is able to handle most of the simple ones. Our doctor and management team have a great relationship here where we can each determine when complaints should get back to doctors and when they just cause unneeded stress.
So here are some things that help:
1- Do what you need to do, but then give yourself some time. Because you are a vet, and chances are you will have five things that you need to do at that exact moment. In these situations, I will get through my appointment, and then go outside for five minutes to have some time to myself. I asked my team to get started with the next appointment where they can pull samples, etc. to get things moving, and I’d be back. This can help me feel all of the feelings you might feel: disappointment, annoyance (I had bent over backwards for this client!), reflection…what could I have done differently? What did I learn..), etc.
2- Talk it over with someone. in my case, I spoke to one of the managers about it who had been there the entire visit with this patient. She listened to me, heard me, understood me and supported my frustration. That allowed me to reflect on it a little deeper. Be mindful about who you talk to as we try our best not to vent to staff on the floor with us so we don't lower the morale. But sometimes this happens.
3- Remind yourself of your wins. Give yourself some perspective, this was 1 of 100 patients I saw in the past week. It would be ridiculous to think that you can interact with 100 people and not have one not look on you favorably!
NOW...let it go and reflect on it another time. Give yourself that moment we talked about before. Discuss it with someone, which can help to give yourself some perspective. Remember that this is a small blib in your career and that there are many more happy clients out there. Celebrate those WINS! Because remember...this will not be your first or last complaint. We all get them, and you are not alone.
So, let's chat! What helps you shake client complaints? How does your management team handle them?