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5 Clients You Might Encounter in a Veterinary Practice

by Cathy Barnette - Apr 27, 2020 7:01:18 PM
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As you work in veterinary practices, day in and day out, you may begin to notice some trends. There are certain types of clients that seem to crop up on a regular basis… and those clients can either make or break your day!

Understanding common clients that you may see in practice, and developing strategies to work with these clients, can go a long way towards helping your career off to a successful start.

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The High Maintenance Client

 The High Maintenance Client expects nothing but the best. Every single time that his pet sneezes, misses a meal, or has a single episode of soft stool, this client expects to be seen by the veterinarian for a thorough diagnostic workup and a definitive explanation for the pet’s clinical signs. 

This client calls the clinic on a regular basis and is on a first-name basis with the entire staff. Obtaining a medical history is a time-consuming process, because this client watches his pet closely and relays their observations in excruciating detail. Recommendations made by the veterinary team must be thoroughly explained, and all follow-up questions answered, before the client will consider going ahead with a treatment plan.

While this client can be emotionally exhausting (because many of us in the veterinary field are introverts), they are actually great clients! These clients are typically willing to follow most veterinary recommendations, resulting in their pets receiving optimal care and the client helping to keep the veterinary clinic afloat financially. 

Tips for working with The High Maintenance Client:

  • Schedule extra time for his veterinary visits… and charge appropriately for that time.
  • Set boundaries. If he tends to call multiple times a day, have the receptionist take messages. Call him back once, at the end of the day, to answer all of their questions.
  • Be proactive about providing information and updates. Doing so at a time that is convenient for you can limit interruptions. 
  • Recognize that he has good intentions, even in the moments when you’re feeling rushed and frustrated. 

The Skeptic

The Skeptic walks in the door of the veterinary clinic having firmly-seated opinions and expectations, after having done her research using Dr. Google. When you and/or the veterinarian begin making recommendations, you will be met with an air of skepticism and asked to defend every single one of your statements. In some cases, she may completely refuse to take action until she has had a chance to conduct her own research. 

These clients can be frustrating, because they take up room on the schedule that could be used for other, more cooperative clients. But, there is a bright side! These clients care enough to invest time and energy in conducting research to keep their pets healthy. Your goal, then, should be to channel their time and energy into something productive.

Tips for working with The Skeptic:

  • Direct her to accurate information sources that she can use for research. Recommend the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, American Heartworm Society, Companion Animal Parasite Council, and other reputable organizations. 
  • Don’t take her skepticism personally. It isn’t a reflection upon you; she likely acts this way with most people, in most aspects of her life. 
  • Make your recommendations, even if you feel like she will decline. Sometimes, she may surprise you. If not, at least you have offered what’s best for the pet. 
  • Don’t argue with her. Document that declined recommendations, offer additional information (if she’s receptive), and move on. Arguing is a waste of time. 

The Cheapskate

While many clients have legitimate financial constraints, The Cheapskate is different. This client expects free veterinary care and will try to bully you into providing it. If you refuse, The Cheapskate may commit emotional blackmail by threatening to euthanize the pet, kill the pet at home, or allow the pet to die.

Your biggest challenge lies in distinguishing The Cheapskate from a client with true financial concerns. A client with financial constraints will typically make you aware of their limitations and partner with you to determine a mutually-agreeable treatment plan. While that treatment plan may not be Plan A, and instead may be Plan B or even Plan C, the client makes you aware of their concerns at the outset and is willing to partner with you. The Cheapskate, in contrast, is hostile and confrontational, blaming you for the cost of care. These individuals will repeatedly attempt to negotiate prices or obtain free services, sometimes even walking out without paying their bill.

Tips for working with The Cheapskate: 

  • Don’t take it personally. His refusal to pay says more about him than it does about you or the price of the services. 
  • Don’t negotiate. Have you ever heard the phrase “if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile?” This phrase could have been created to describe The Cheapskate! Removing a disputed charge from the treatment plan won’t typically make this client happy; instead, he’ll launch a renewed campaign for an even larger discount, once he sees that you’re willing to work with him. 
  • Always obtain (and document) financial consent. If your clinic typically requires signed treatment plans, ensure that you have a signature from this client. Even if your practice doesn’t typically require a signed treatment plan, ask your practice manager if you can/should make an exception for him. 

The Poker Face

The Poker Face will let you go through your entire presentation of her pet’s treatment plan, without giving any indication of whether or not she’s on board. You’ll pause, waiting for her feedback, and be met with awkward silence. You’ll raise your eyebrows, inviting her to share her opinion, and again be met with a blank stare. 

When you encounter a client like this, it can be difficult to determine whether she’s indecisive or whether there’s just a communication issue. In general, it’s best to assume the latter, stop talking, and ask a direct question. If she’s undecided, this gives her the opportunity to say so and explain any questions or concerns that she might have.

Tips for dealing with The Poker Face: 

  • Present your information and stop talking. It’s human nature to continue speaking until you get some sort of response, but that strategy won’t work with this client. 
  • Ask clear questions, such as “Would you like to go ahead with this treatment plan?” Even the most silent client will often commit to an answer when put on the spot.
  • If the client is unwilling to commit, ask open-ended questions to discover her concerns and help her arrive at a decision.

The Unicorn Client  

In the veterinary field, the word ‘unicorn’ is often used to refer to a legendary or mythical creature that isn’t thought to exist in real life. The good news, however, is that Unicorn Clients are real! They aren’t very common, but that makes them all the more special when you do find one.

These are the perfect clients, the ones that you’re excited to see on the schedule. They’re pleasant to interact with, they follow the majority of your recommendations, they’re relatively low-maintenance, they’re understanding if something unexpected crops up, and they sometimes even bring cupcakes and snacks!

The only necessary tip for dealing with Unicorn Clients: 


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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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