Dog News

A Dissatisfied Client Tells Ten People

by Shawn Finch, DVM

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In veterinary medicine, much of our business is based on word of mouth. I love that. I love my clients and their pets. So many of them are family and friends and friends of family and family of friends. And the “strangers” are people who love pets, and so I love them too.

I do not think everything we have been taught about word of mouth business is true. See if you agree from the client perspective. See if this applies to your unique industry or business as well.

A satisfied client tells four people. A dissatisfied client tells ten people. Or so they say.

So don’t torque them off. Or so they say.

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Let’s think through this.

I believe that this model falls apart a bit if your veterinary team is doing a consistently excellent job, if pets are well cared for as are their people, if medicine is being practiced honestly and well.

Consider these possible situations:

1) A patient receives routine (albeit awesome and amazing) wellness care. Is your client really going to call four friends and say “You would not believe the care Max received today! He had his wellness exam and…well, that’s my whole story”? Probably not. But if a friend or family member asks if they know a good vet hospital in town, they will probably say how much they trust their vet.

2) A patient receives excellent non-routine care. Now they are calling friends. They have an exciting story of life-saving and compassion in which you are the hero.

3) A client leaves less than satisfied. Being a great team, you follow up and discover and fix the issue. If they tell others, you are still the good guy.

In my mind, if you are truly an excellent veterinary team providing consistently excellent care and discovering and fixing issues as they arise, that is the end of the story.

That may be shocking to hear after hearing for years and years that you should be scared to screw up because ten people will tell ten people and soon the whole world will hate you. So, no, don’t screw up, and if you do, own up and fix it, but do it because you are awesome, not because you are scared someone may say you are unawesome.

Which brings us to our final situation:

4) A dissatisfied client tells ten people.

Who do we have left? You have provided excellent routine and non-routine care. When you have not or the client has perceived that you have not, you have followed up and fixed the issue and restored a good relationship. What we have left are the clients you do not want.

In my professional life, I have personally only “fired” two clients, both for extreme, unrepentant rudeness to my teammates. I like and can work with almost anyone. When I call clients out on poor behavior (also very rare – maybe five times in my career), we can almost always come back around to a healthy working relationship.

One of the two clients I fired used a racial slur to address the person at the front desk. The other was very mean (not crabby – I love crabby, not rude – I can do rude, but MEAN) to another person at the front desk. I gave both a chance to apologize, and when they would not, asked them to find another veterinary team with which to work. Both situations were resolved well, I thought, as did they, I assume, as I did not hear from either of them again.

But what if these dissatisfied clients HAD decided to tell ten friends? What if Ms. Racial Slur or Mr. Meany Pants told ten friends with equally inappropriate habits not to come to our veterinary hospital and their friends told ten friends? Do you know what I think would happen? Eventually, everyone who enjoyed yelling racial slurs or other mean things at people who were trying to help them would know that they were NOT a good match for our hospital, nor us for them.

And then, everyone wins. Even Mr. Meany Pants.

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