How to Handle Challenging Veterinary Client Requests

veterinary client services
Veterinary clinics respond to hundreds of client requests each day. In this interview with Client Experience Training Specialist Breanna Gordon and Director of Client Care & Patient Access Erin Erck, we’ll share how DoveLewis handles client requests through effective and clear communication.

Birdie: Hi, my name is Birdie and I'm the Training Specialist for the Client Experience Team here at DoveLewis.

Erin: Hi, my name is Erin and I'm the Client Experience Manager at DoveLewis. And today, we wanted to talk about how to handle challenging client requests at the front desk.

Birdie: Client requests can come in all shapes and sizes, especially depending on what type of practice you’re in. The requests can range from, “Can I visit my pet now?”, or “Can the veterinarian do my pet’s procedure first?”, or “Can you refill my other dog’s medication?”. We do our best to accommodate all client requests because we want our clients to have the best experience at our hospital. But, there are situations where we have to deny a request for legal or safety reasons.

Erin: I think the most critical part is making sure that you understand the root of what the client is wanting. In an ER like DoveLewis, we get clients in emotionally escalated states that can have a hard time articulating what they need. They may have a question, request, or complaint that they can’t quite put into words just because they are experiencing shock or grief.

When I’m interacting with someone that I can tell is struggling to put their thoughts into words, I try asking leading questions. I’ll look through their pet’s file to try and better understand what their experience has been, so maybe I can help figure out what they need.

Birdie: I think that that's a great strategy. I do something similar where I repeat back to the client what I am hearing to make sure I’m understanding their question or concern. Hopefully, by repeating back, we can clear up any confusion or miscommunication between us.

Erin: I think a good question to talk about would be, what happens when you have to say no to a client? Or you can’t provide specifically what they are asking for?

Birdie: There are situations where you're not going to be able to meet the client’s requests. In that moment, I think it’s important to find some sort of middle ground or compromise. One important aspect in those situations is to help the client understand the reason why you can’t accommodate their particular request. For example, if a client is requesting a prescription refill but we haven’t seen their pet in five years, explain that we need to complete an exam first to ensure their pet is healthy to continue the medication. In that moment, we can provide some alternatives (doing an exam this week, contacting another vet they might have seen, etc.) to help them get what they need.

Erin: We work a lot with our own staff to ensure they have access to as much information, and know who to go to when handling client requests. A lot of the confidence just comes with experience and knowing that you have a supportive team around that can support you. Having managers and leads accessible is critical so that staff can have a point person.

Birdie: I think another aspect to consider with client requests is setting appropriate expectations. If we need to check with a co-worker about their request, we should tell the client that we will call them back. If we know the DVM won’t be able to follow up within the hour, we should give the client a best guess as to when they might hear back. Giving clients clear expectations as often as possible is important to hopefully prevent them from escalating.

Erin: What's an example of a request that we get a lot at the front desk?

Birdie: I think, “Can I be with my pet in the treatment area?” is the most common question or request we get. Often in other practices, such as General Practice, pets, and owners wait in exam rooms together. But at DoveLewis that isn’t always an option if their pet is in critical condition. In these moments, it’s important to clearly explain that we can’t allow the client into the treatment area, but that their pet is being cared for. Remembering to speak in a calm, clear voice is also important because the client is likely scared, or even in shock.

A nice gesture that we can occasionally offer to clients who are requesting to see their pet, is to take a photo or video of their pet in the treatment area. We often need to speak with the medical team before doing this, but for those clients that are exceptionally worried, it does provide a little relief.

Birdie: We know that denying a client request can be uncomfortable, but there are situations where it's unavoidable. We hope that learning about how we manage these at DoveLewis is helpful in your own clinic!


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