Breaking up is hard to do—When to part ways with a client
When I got to work the other day, I had a sticky note on my desk from one of my exceptional veterinary technicians asking me to see her about a client. When I read the client's name, I already knew it would not be a warm and fuzzy conversation, and I was likely going to have to fire this client before the day was over.
Like many veterinary clinics, one of the high-ranking goals at our hospital is to provide outstanding service to clients. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, the client–veterinary team relationship can become strained or even toxic. In such cases, it might be necessary to part ways. When do we decide it would be better for all parties to invite that client to go elsewhere?
When I consider firing a client
- Aggressive or disrespectful behavior: We all have bad days, including our clients. They are human. If a staff member just gave them some devastating news, it's normal for clients to act out of character. However, if a client's behavior becomes abusive, threatening, or unreasonably demanding, it's a sign that the relationship is unhealthy. If your team plays Rock/Paper/Scissors to decide which one will need to return that owner's call, a conversation between the management and that client is overdue. If that client is abusive or destructive, it's time to say goodbye right then and there. I recommend having a written policy explaining when a client's behavior warrants immediate termination and when it's acceptable for management to follow up later.
- Noncompliance with medical advice: Have you spent hours explaining the importance of treatments, medications, diets, and follow-up visits, yet a client won't follow through? If a client consistently disregards or argues with your recommendations, it may be time to evaluate the relationship, especially if they complain that their pet isn't improving.
- Financial disputes: Money matters can be a touchy subject. If a client repeatedly argues about fees, consider whether you can maintain a productive working relationship.
- Seeking unnecessary procedures: Some clients may push for unnecessary procedures or treatments due to personal beliefs or concerns. If you feel your ethical boundaries are compromised, it's worth evaluating the relationship.
The art of gentle dismissal
You've identified a client that might need to go, but how do you handle the breakup with professionalism and grace? Here are some tips:
- Don't break up over text: Schedule a face-to-face conversation (unless you are worried about the client's backlash) or a phone call. Express your concerns honestly and kindly. Use "I" statements to convey your feelings without sounding judgmental. For example, "I feel uncomfortable when I perceive disrespect during our interactions."
- Offer alternatives: If the client's noncompliance or financial situation is a significant issue, suggest alternative veterinarians who might better fit their needs or values. Be sure to explain how much you care about their pet's wellbeing and focus on the pet receiving the care it needs.
- Give notice: When ending the professional relationship, provide reasonable notice when transferring the pet's records to their new veterinarian to ensure continuity of care. I have happily provided refills or written prescriptions of a pet's medication to give an owner some time to become established elsewhere. Be firm on the window of time you'll provide this to the client!
- Stay professional: It's crucial to remain calm and composed during the conversation, no matter how challenging. Avoid getting defensive or confrontational. Remember, you're taking this step for the wellbeing of the pet, the owner, the veterinary team, and your peace of mind.
- Document everything: Maintain thorough records of the client's interactions, including all communication, their pet's medical records, and all financial transactions. Having a well-documented history can help protect you if the situation escalates.
Remember, it's about quality care
Firing a veterinary client is never a decision taken lightly. I have had face-to-face conversations with clients that completely turned their behavior around. Still, sometimes it just doesn't work out, and asking a client to move on is necessary to ensure the best care for the animals we love and the sanity of the veterinary team we work with.
Please remember that sometimes, it's okay to part ways with a client if the relationship isn't working. Approach it with kindness, professionalism, and the wellbeing of the animals in mind, and you'll be doing your part to ensure that your practice continues to thrive while providing the best care possible.
And always remember that plenty of wonderful clients out there genuinely appreciate your and your team's hard work. Focus on those positive relationships, and together, we'll continue to make the world a better place.
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: © ArchiViz 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.