Business Briefs: Dealing with Dissatisfied Clients

Compassionate listening and appropriate boundaries are the key elements to successful management of client dissatisfaction.

It is essential to be a good listener and make sure your frustrated client feels heard. iStock/Artistan

If you are in the veterinary profession for any length of time, sooner or later you will encounter a client who is dissatisfied. This disgruntlement might be with lack of results after a treatment, the cost of services, the interaction with your office staff, or with just about anything related to your practice. 

There are well-established methods for easing clients’ irritation, and most of them require taking a step back from the situation so you can think clearly.

Clients can get rude or angry for many reasons, and while some are justified, others are not. How you respond can make the difference between a client who feels satisfied with the resolution and one who vows never to use your practice again and to tell all of his or her friends about the bad experience.

Unfortunately, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied customer will tell between nine to 15 people about his or her experience, and 13% of customers will tell more than 20 people! In contrast, customers who get their issues successfully resolved tell about four to six people about the experience.

In his book “Understanding Customers,” Ruby Newell-Legner stated that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. Clearly, it is important to make a sincere effort to mitigate the complaints of unhappy clients.

The first step in resolving dissatisfaction is to know that it exists! According to a study by First Financial Training Services, 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, 91% simply leave and never come back, and 5% suffer in resentful silence.

Consider polling your clients with a short survey about their satisfaction with your practice, utilizing a simple online platform such as Survey Monkey. Examples of surveys can be found on the AAEP Touch website. 

Angry clients make their dissatisfaction easy to detect! That’s one positive thing about it. Another is that you might discover some things about your practice’s performance that you might never have known about otherwise.

Adopt an attitude of openness about learning where your practice’s performance is failing to meet your clients’ expectations. It is essential to be a good listener and make sure your frustrated client feels heard. 

You must remain calm and control your own emotions. If a client starts yelling or being otherwise rude, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by responding in a similar manner. However, setting boundaries is important. Utilize the phrase “I want to listen and try to resolve this issue, but you may not speak to my staff (or me) like that.”

An angry or dissatisfied client wants to be heard and vent his or her emotions. By listening patiently, you can often defuse a situation, as long as that person feels acknowledged. After the client has finished explaining his or her angst, reflect back what you’ve heard and ask any clarifying questions.

Because up to 90% of communication occurs nonverbally, pay close attention to your body language! Maintain eye contact and a relaxed posture, keeping your arms uncrossed. Actively sympathize with the emotions the individual might have expressed. If an apology is in order, express it with sincerity. If it is appropriate, verbalize that you would never want your clients to feel the way this person feels.

Respecting the client’s perspective goes a long way toward smoothing things over. Share your perspective only after hearing the complaints of the client.

Compassionate listening and appropriate boundaries are the key elements to successful management of client dissatisfaction. 

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