Manage veterinary clients' requests for special treatment

Manage veterinary clients' requests for special treatment

Clients aren't kings and queens. React reasonably when a client insists on special treatment
Nov 01, 2011

I drop into my office chair, flip open the puppy's chart and start frantically writing. I'm 15 minutes late for my next appointment and clenching my teeth. Even my eyelids are tensing with stress. When did I start carrying emotional tension in my face? Is it even possible to do stretches for these muscles?

With no time for a facial yoga session, I glance toward the appointment schedule for the rest of the morning. It's packed, and it's not looking like this day is going to end anywhere near our 1 p.m. Saturday closing time.

Before I can rush out the door to meet my next client, the phone lights up. "Dr. Roark, Ms. Nuñez is on the phone, and she says she'll speak only to you."

I know what this means. I have crossed paths with Ms. Nuñez before. She's a loving cat owner but a demanding client and master negotiator. (Takes one to know one: I once talked a limo driver into loaning me his snakeskin boots when a nightclub bouncer took exception to my tennis shoes.) Our conversations feel like they should take place at Camp David.

As I press the flashing button to take the call, I run through the negotiation tactics I know she'll use against me. Any of these sound familiar?

Get to the decision maker

If a client wants baseless discounts, waived emergency fees or complete circumvention of scheduling protocols, the doctor is whom they ask for. No one else has the authority, or lack of common sense, to make these things happen. So Ms. Nuñez insists on speaking to me directly. She's off to a solid start.

Create a looming deadline

As soon as I pick up the phone, Ms. Nuñez jumps into the details of her visit to the emergency clinic the previous evening and the impending doom that looms over her cat, Petie.

Petie, it turns out, has had a urethral obstruction and, while he has been catheterized, Ms. Nuñez knows deep in her bones that the cat needs a perineal urethrostomy...right now. She is adamant that re-blockage is imminent and that leaving the patient at the emergency clinic until Monday is simply not an option. She feels surgery must be done immediately—but not at the emergency clinic (or at emergency prices).

Go heavy on flattery

Once she lays out the urgency of the situation, Ms. Nuñez targets my ego. She is certain, she says, that I can help her and do a better job than anyone else. I am, after all, the best veterinarian she's ever met. (Fortunately, the stress tension in my face prevents my head from expanding noticeably.)

Understand the other party's priorities

We, as veterinarians, deeply want to help animals. Ms. Nuñez knows that her cat's health and quality of life are more important to me than money. She is also willing to bet that they're more important to me than my Saturday afternoon. She uses this knowledge and ends her impressive pitch with, "Doctor, please don't let my kitty suffer! You'll save his life, won't you?"

My mind races as I try to form a response.

She's made her case so masterfully, I'm almost ready to book the after-hours appointment and risk mutiny by my technicians. But no. Today, I'll do what makes the most sense for everyone involved, including Petie. I've got some negotiating strategies of my own. Here they are:

Recognize the pitch

As soon as a client demands to speak to me and me alone, I go on high alert. This is someone who's looking to bypass the regular guidelines of the practice.

Control your heart

As her frantic story unfurls, I force my analytic brain to prevail over my warm and fuzzy side. I care about Ms. Nuñez's cat, but I can't let that emotion blind me to the consequences of my decision. I must also care about all the other pets who are scheduled to come in, my staff and their time, and my own family.