There are plenty of resources out there that tell you how to land and retain veterinary clients (our blog included), but there is very little information on how to do the opposite: cut a toxic client loose. The truth is, not every pet owner will be a good fit. And while some clients may be more high maintenance than others, you may occasionally come across a person who is simply not worth the headache to yourself and your team. As (hopefully) rare as this situation may be, knowing how to approach it is important. Let’s take a look.
Do it privately, but have a witness.
It’s critical that you tread lightly when attempting to sever a client relationship, especially in the social media era. To make the experience as uneventful as possible, make sure that you discuss your concerns with the client in private, preferably in person. That being said, you should also make sure that you always have a witness present to document and verify the interaction. This will prevent any he said/she said scenarios and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Be kind and gentle, but firm.
Chances are, whatever has transpired to trigger your decision to fire a client has tension levels high. That being said, it’s essential that you put your personal feelings aside and approach the situation as calmly and professionally as you can. If possible, putting a spin on the situation to take the blame off the client can help keep emotions in check and prevent further escalation. For example, let the client know that you are requesting that they find another vet because you feel that they have lost trust in you, rather than the other way around. Make it clear that the wellbeing of the animal is ultimately your biggest concern.
Make it as easy and seamless as possible.
Despite your personal feelings about the client in question, it’s best to make the transition to a different provider as easy and straightforward for them as possible. Not only will this improve the odds of ending things on a more positive note, but it will also eliminate the need for the client to contact you or your team again in the future. Be sure to provide them with a copy of their pet’s medical records and, if necessary, make them available to their new veterinary provider whenever it’s requested. Making things difficult for a terminated client will only add fuel to the fire and increase your risks of bad reviews.
Monitor your online reputation closely.
Despite your best efforts to alleviate tension and sever ties amicably, there’s always a chance that the client you fired will take to the internet to voice his or her grievances publicly. While there’s no way to prevent this entirely, there are some things you can do to mitigate your damages and protect your reputation. Respond in a way that is positive and professional, and resist the urge to argue or become defensive. Instead, say something like, “We are sorry your experience wasn’t ideal. We wish you and Fluffy the best of luck with your new provider.”
Firing a client on the spot
What happens when a situation becomes so volatile that planning ahead for a civil separation simply isn’t feasible? Unfortunately, there may be rare occasions in which firing a client on the spot is necessary. Sticking with the suggestions above, make sure you have a witness present and make your message as clear and to the point as possible without allowing emotions to flare. Again, try to spin it in the client’s favor if possible.
“Mrs. Nixon, I can see you don’t feel comfortable with me examining and taking care of Fido. I’m sorry it doesn’t seem to be a good fit, but I think it would be best for both you and Fido if you sought care with another provider.”
If possible, offer a list of other clinics nearby to help them start their journey and avoid charging them for the visit. In situations like this, it’s usually best to simply cut your losses and preserve your peace and sanity. Chalk it up to the fact that, at the end of the day, you can’t win them all and it’s not personal – just part of doing business.