What Client Complaints Are Not Saying

The most common complaints concern long waits and unexpected fees.

We have all heard clients complain. Some of the most common complaints concern long waits and unexpected fees.

You have probably developed routine responses for these complaints, citing policy and price justification. Yet at times we miss the point completely and send the client away even angrier. The client leaves in a huff while we go to “the back” to vent to our co-workers about the high maintenance client who just left.

We hear what the client says, but we often don’t stop to think what the client really means. If we evaluate the emotions behind the gripe, we have a better chance of addressing the problem. Let’s work through some common client complaints and explore how you can rethink your response.

How Much Longer?

When clients complains about how long they are waiting, is it really the minutes ticking away that causes their frustration? If you ask, you may discover that the wait seems long because of something that isn’t immediately obvious: They are worried about their pet in the back (being admitted or treated); they have a baby who is about to explode because nap time is approaching; they are worried about getting out on time to meet their child’s school bus; or they’re not sure how they are going to pay for the visit now that they noticed the “Payment due upon service” sign.

These circumstances are aggravated by the wait; the wait itself is not always the issue. Sometimes all it takes is for a team member to update the client, let him know how long he can expect to wait, and ask how the team can make him more comfortable.

It might be as simple as dipping into the “client refreshment fund” to buy the hungry toddler a snack or a drink.

When clients complain about the long wait, what they are saying is: “I need someone to help me if I’m going to be sitting here for any extended period of time … like 15 minutes!”

Am I Going to See the Doctor?

You may hear, “I didn’t get to see the doctor when … .” This problem is not always as obvious as it seems.

Does the client have a strong desire to see a particular doctor? Perhaps. But more often than not, she just wants to be sure she is getting the right advice and information from someone who knows her pet. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the doctor every time, for every client.

Other members of the team should be trained to know the patient, the information that needs to be delivered and how to provide personalized service.

This will free up the doctor. It also will give the client more points of contact.

In this case, what the client is really saying is: “Who are you? And do you know my pet and have the right information for me?”

Why Is My Pet Filthy?

There is no excuse for sending a pet home dirty, whether it is blood on an incision or fecal matter on the behind. But it happens, particularly if a patient came in with symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting.

A weak, timid or aggressive patient can’t always withstand a complete bath. But every effort should be made to spot-clean the pet.

If a pet cannot receive a full cleansing bath, someone should address that with the client before the pet is brought out for a visitation or release.

Acknowledge that you are aware the pet is dirty, but for “X” reasons it is not in the pet’s best interest to give it a complete bath at this time.

The client will want what is best for the pet and will appreciate that you noticed and cared enough to explain. Otherwise, the client will go home, then notice the filth. The next call he makes will be to your doctor or manager.

It Costs HOW Much?

This is the complaint that makes us all cringe. There is often no good reply.

You can explain the care given, the lab charges incurred, the equipment cost, the medication fee increase, but none of it makes the client feel any better. By this point, it is too late.

Being proactive is the only way to avoid this complaint. Because what the client is not saying is, “I didn’t expect this total, and I have no idea how I’m going to pay for this.”

The only way to avoid fee complaints is to communicate. Post clear information about payment options and expectations, obtain permission in advance for all services, and provide an estimate for continued daily care for hospitalization.

What happens if there is a surprise discovered—missed charges that have been applied to the invoice or a procedure that was performed without permission? Tell the client as soon as the discrepancy is noticed.

If this occurs when the pet is being released, do not set up the receptionist for a battle by having her present an unexpected invoice to a client at the front desk. Instead, have someone who knows the family escort them into a room and discuss the invoice before the pet is brought up.

This eliminates the embarrassment at the front desk as the client tries to figure out how to pay the bill and allows the practice time to work with the client, if necessary, on explanations and payment options.

4-Letter Word: Policy

Regardless of the type of complaint, the one thing you want to avoid is the P-word. Clients do not care about your hospital’s policy. They care only about their pets.

Your practice cares about their pets, too.

So when you find yourself butting heads with a client over policy, step back mentally and think of why the policy is in the best interest of all the patients. That is what you tell the client.

An example is the client who wants to stay with her pet for a long time or overnight. The reason she cannot stay isn’t “policy.” Instead, it is that all patients need to be continually monitored by the staff. The patients need to rest, the staff needs to be able to provide medication and nursing care, and therefore the visits are limited in the best interest of all the patients.

You can apply this “pet-centered policy” logic to nearly every policy affecting clients. You may not make every client happy, but every client will know that you have the best interest of his pet at heart, even if he continues complaining.


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