Some like it hot: Handling heated client conversations

Dealing with difficult clients is part of the veterinary world. But navigating these choppy waters can also be a chance to shine, personally and as a practice.

By Jenn Galvin

Let’s face it, working in a vet practice can sometimes feel like you’re moonlighting as a diplomat in a war zone. From online rants to in-person grumbles, challenging situations with clients come with the territory.

Growing a thicker skin doesn’t mean you have to lose your human touch. It’s all about learning to bob and weave through the emotional uppercuts, keeping calm, and sometimes being the bigger person.

Get to the heart of the matter

Before you brace for impact with a problematic client, remember there’s usually more beneath the surface. Fear, anxiety, or just a really bad day can turn Mr. Nice Guy into Mr. I’m-Going-To-Let-You-Have-It.

Understanding that their snappiness might be coming from a place of worry for their pet can help us meet them with a bit more patience and a lot less defensiveness. Remember that clients are human, too, and immediately placing blame and being defensive won’t help the situation.

Set the stage

One of the best ways to dodge a curveball before it’s thrown is by setting clear expectations right from the get-go. Think of it as laying down the roadmap for your clients so no surprises are waiting to jump out from the next turn.

This means being upfront about everything from treatment options and their costs to how long they might have to wait in the lobby with their anxious Chihuahua. It’s all about communication—making sure clients know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what it means for their pet. Not only does this keep everyone on the same page, but it also builds trust and understanding. Plus, when clients feel clued in, they’re way more likely to navigate the bumps along the pet care journey with a bit more grace and a lot less grump.

Tackling the trolls online

Unwarranted digital gripes are a whole other beast. The anonymity of the internet can embolden clients to unleash their inner keyboard warrior.

When negative comments pop up, take a breath, then respond with your best “customer service” hat on, suggesting to move the convo offline. And if things get out of hand, don’t be shy about getting legal advice.

Remember, your response is in the spotlight, and it’s usually for the public, not the client you’re engaging with, so keep it classy. It is also completely okay to walk away from these reviews and comments, knowing that the general public will be able to recognize the unreasonableness of the situation.

Be a smooth operator

When the temperature rises, cool heads prevail. Active listening and a calm, empathetic vibe can work wonders. Sometimes, clients just need to feel heard. Setting boundaries with a smile and keeping things professional also reminds everyone that while emotions are valid, you and your team will not tolerate abusive behaviors. Should a client cross the line, have clear procedures in place that you and your team can follow.

Stand up for your squad

Your team is your frontline, and they can sometimes take the hardest hits. Creating a safe space where they feel backed up is key. Whether it’s training on how to deal with customer curveballs or knowing when to say, “We’re not the right fit,” empowering your team is a game-changer.

Plus, a little team love goes a long way—this can be ensuring everyone gets lunch or rewarding everyone with a night out together.

Flex your resilience muscles

Thickening your skin is about upping your resilience game. And like any muscle, it takes time and a bit of sweat to build. Access to counseling or workshops on bouncing back from tough situations can arm you and your team with some solid strategies.

After a challenging interaction, take a moment with the team to ponder what went down and how you can handle things smoother next time.

Setting clear expectations with clients, keeping things professional, showing empathy, and upping your resilience game will help you manage even the most challenging situations.


Jenn Galvin owns and manages Advanced Animal Care, a companion animal hospital located in Arizona. She has been in the veterinary industry for over 25 years, and she is a true nerd at heart, with a passion for staff development, inventory, and veterinary financials.

Photo credit: © Alona Horkova E+ via Getty Images Plus

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.



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