by KELSEY BETH CARPENTER, RVT
As veterinary professionals, we walk a tricky tightrope: Caring for patients while still caring for our team. Sometimes, those things happen to be mutually exclusive. How do you choose sides when it comes down to that?
I’ve worked at many hospitals that have allowed clients to abuse and take advantage of their staff. Is this because they were terrible hospitals? Absolutely not! Quite the contrary, actually! When I see a clinic allow an abusive client to continue to return to their practice, I KNOW it’s because of the pet. We’ve all stood in that situation before – trying to decide how much abuse we’ll put up with in order to get the pet the help they need. But is what we’re sacrificing worth the good we’re doing? I argue it isn’t.
As a veterinary technician, I am right there with you in wanting to help each and every patient. The cases that hurt the most, that I carry home with me at night, are the ones where we couldn’t help an animal in need. Sometimes it’s for financial reasons, other times because owners just refuse to see the importance – regardless, it leaves us walking away with heavy, heavy hearts.
That being said, the devastation left behind by an abusive client can be just as – if not more – traumatic. Here are some of the things I see happen when we hold on to inappropriate pet owners:
1. You invest a lot for very little in return.
Think back to the last time you dealt with a difficult client. How many people – staff, leads, managers, owners – had to get involved? How many conversations and phone calls happened about or with said client? How much time was dedicated to dealing with the situation at hand? In my experience, the answer to all of those questions is A LOT. Additionally, these are generally the cases we are making the LEAST amount of revenue on. These are the clients who demand refunds, who decline diagnostics, and who take advantage of our generosity. And when all is said and done, are they going to at least jump on Yelp to write you a grand review and help you gain some new clients? I wouldn’t hold your breath.
2. Support staff takes a huge hit.
When dealing with these complicated cases, your support staff – technicians, client service representatives, pharmacy techs, etc. – are often the ones who spend the MOST face time with the client. Because of this, they also frequently experience the most abuse. It’s one thing to tolerate this kind of mistreatment knowing you will never have to again because your hospital has your back. But what about when the hospital management chooses NOT to fire said client? Our support staff are (more often than not) working for significantly less than they are worth. These are educated, trained, and many times licensed professionals experiencing disrespect and mistreatment that prevents them from doing (and loving!) the jobs they are so very good at. The feeling left behind after dealing with an abusive client is NOTHING compared to the devastation you feel when your hospital chooses the client’s needs over your own. How do you justify that to your support staff? In a not so subtle way, you are telling your team that the clients are simply more important than them. And that’s a hard pill to swallow, seeing as they are dedicating 40+ hours a week to you and your practice. Support staff are what keep your hospital’s world spinning. How long before they leave your clinic because they feel unimportant? How long before they leave the field entirely because they feel unappreciated?
3. You enable the abuse.
Personally, I have yet to encounter an abusive client who only commits one offense. The world would be a beautiful place if all it took was a conversation with your manager to magically give this pet parent perspective and cure their behavioral issues for the rest of time. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works (at least for most). The clients you have issues with are the ones the whole clinic knows by name, and for good reason: Because they are ALWAYS the ones you have issues with! Someone who will treat staff poorly (whether it be at a restaurant, a retail store, or a Veterinary Hospital) demonstrates a lack of respect, perspective, priorities, and situational awareness. These are usually traits that are deeply engrained in a person, and not ones that are going to be fixed because the owner of the hospital has a chat with them one afternoon. Truly abusive clients will always be just that: Abusive. When you refuse to fire a client like this, you are undoubtedly signing your hospital up for repeated episodes of abuse. Is that what you really want for your team?
4. You save fewer lives.
I started out talking about that tightrope we walk – we tend to put up with the abuse because we know it will ultimately get the pet the treatment they need, and that is the priority for us. However, think about this for a moment. All the time you spend dealing with a difficult client is time you could have spent caring for other patients. All of the energy exuded on interactions with this difficult client is energy that could have been put to use providing excellent customer service and personalized care to other pets and their parents. All of the money lost to disputed charges and refused services is money you could have been discounting from people truly in need – or better yet, spending on your support staff to improve your retention rate and team morale! What I’m saying is, I GET IT. I get the drive to want to help the pet, no matter what. But with some perspective, we will start to realize that sacrificing that one patient by firing that one client will make you available to help 3 or 4 other patients and their families instead.
We can’t win them all, guys. We are healers, and because of that, we often hope we can heal people as well. But sometimes, that’s just not the case. We cannot fix what is broken in people and the way they treat others, and that’s not our job. Firing your difficult clients is the only way they will ever learn that change is necessary. Instead, let’s focus our energies where they are most deserved: With the majority of clients who are thankfully wonderful and appreciative pet parents. THOSE are the people we want to cater to, and THOSE are the people who will allow us to continue to love the important work we do every day.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Unchartedvet.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelsey Beth Carpenter is a Registered Veterinary Technician, singer/songwriter, and creator of the Instagram series #ThingsHeardAtAnAnimalHospital. She holds a degree from UCLA and works as an ICU and Emergency Technician at a hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kelsey writes articles and original songs about veterinary medicine – to check out her other works, visit www.facebook.com/