Ah, the dreaded task. We do everything possible to provide excellent customer service to our clients and the best medical care to our patients. Although rare, the need to fire a veterinary client from the practice may arise at some point during your career.
I have seen thousands of clients, and as I mentioned in my recent blog post (5 types of Clients and How to Handle them), have only had to fire a few in the past (almost 14 years). The circumstances were beyond repair, and I was faced with having to actually carry out this process myself. So, what happens?
Is there a right way to do this?
The answer is yes. And with social media being the way it is now, we have to be careful to tread lightly but effectively when carrying out such measures.
Here are a few tips on how to accomplish this difficult task:
1) Make sure that IF the client is fired in-person (or via phone), you have a witness present to verify what is said by both parties and that the witness documents their account of the interaction. We don’t want any he said/she said. You may even record the conversation, but let the client know that you are doing so if required by law in your state. Always do it privately in the exam room or away from other clients. If you are firing via mail, make sure to require a signature to ensure you have documentation that your letter was received. Also, provide medical records if possible if firing via mail, or in the letter ask the client to have the new practice contact you so you may forward records to them. Firing a client should always be done by the veterinarian. Try to keep your staff out of this process as much as possible, other than being a witness when needed.
2) Be firm and gentle- but kind. At this point in time if you are actually firing the client, your blood is probably boiling from whatever has transpired up to this point. You must put that anger aside for this moment. Even though surely you do not see both sides, there are always 2 sides to a story.
I find it best to let them know that you are asking them go elsewhere because they have lost trust in you, and not the other way around. The conversation should include something like this, “Mrs. Jones, you have made it very clear that you no longer entrust us to the care of Max (be prepared to list several very brief examples without causing blame if the client asks). Max’s health is the most important thing to me. This is why I must ask that you seek his care elsewhere, where you will be more comfortable and can find a provider that you trust.” Don’t give in.
Once you have made it to this point, you cannot backtrack and allow them to stay if they apologize and promise to stop whatever behavior got them to this point. Tell them you truly wish the very best for them and their pet but this will be the best thing for you and for them in the long run. Do what you can to end on good terms as much as you are able.
3) Provide a copy of medical records at that time if possible, so that they will not need to contact you again in the future.
4) Monitor your social media and reviews very closely. Depending on the circumstances, it may be best to remove them from your social media pages if possible. Never get into an argument or conversation on social media regarding the circumstances. If you must respond to a comment or review, keep it very brief and professional, and resist the urge to let the world know what this client has done in your practice. “We are sorry to hear this was your experience. Please reach out to us so we may discuss the circumstances further.” Your clients (and those that are not clients) are more likely to pay attention to your positive reviews, and not the one bogus negative review.
Firing on the spot:
While the above recommendations are more for established clients, you may encounter a new client that you need to ask to leave during their first visit. This is very rare. Keeping to the points above, make sure you have a witness present, and simply say, “Mr. Smith, I can see that you do not trust me to examine and take care of Benji. I’m sorry it has gone this way since I have not met you before. But because of how this visit has progressed, I am not comfortable treating him at this point, and it is best for you to seek care from another facility.
I have a list of other local hospitals I can provide.” In this instance, don't charge an exam fee; just cut your losses and realize you saved yourself a lot of stress in the long run. I once had a client say to me, "So, you're not even a real veterinarian?" because my name tag said "associate veterinarian." You can imagine how this visit went.
You can't win them all...