June 24th 2022

When the Approach to Complaining Can Be Damaging

It is natural for complaints to occur and, whilst in any industry or profession we always try our best to provide the best service, complaints can be a part of any job. Naturally, when dealing with the emotive subject of pets and animal care, emotions can run high and as a veterinary professional, one may have to deal with clients whose emotions have got the better of them. In today’s blog we look at the importance, as a client, of complaining the right way and the troubling impact aggression or high emotions can have.

Every story has two sides, and understanding the point of view of a client is an important aspect in building trust and empathy – thus assisting in dealing with a complaint. Reducing a vet to tears when complaining, however, can have such an impact that is damaging to the individual. We share the experiences of a senior vet and the impact such behaviour can have not only on the vet in question but the clinic itself.

The point of view of the client in this case is that they were booked to see a vet who was unaware of their dog’s complicated medical history and that the usual vet (the senior vet) was unable to see the dog. The junior vet in question did not fully understand the case which, in retrospect, the senior vet admits should have been handed to him.

The client, to see the practice, had a two hour round trip and thus had the expectation that by going out of his way a better service should have been offered. In addition to the journey the client had made, they had also sent an email the morning of the visit which went unanswered. Frustrated, the client had raised this with the practice.

Naturally, all stories have two sides and the practice in question (which opens at 8am) see the email later than the client wishes who calls the practice – however the usual vet, was unable to see the dog until 4pm due to being occupied in surgery.

Understanding the gravity of the situation, the practice agreed to see the dog as early as possible with another vet – a recent graduate – who had no idea of the dog’s years of medical issues. The decision was made to triage the dog to attend to the matter as immediately as possible.

Once the dog had been stabilised, the senior vet would later be able attend to the animal – however, due to the busy schedule of the senior vet they did not have time to fully brief and hand over the case due to being in surgery. The client then proceeded to verbally abuse the recently graduated junior vet who was reduced to tears and had to leave the clinic – and thus unable to attend to the dog for assessment and treatment. The senior vet was left with a traumatised vet, a dog to deal with and a furious client.

Once the senior vet had finished surgery they were able to assess the dog and telephone the client for them to return to the clinic and discuss the matter. Much like all professionals, the senior vet dislikes these difficult conversations when, much like us all, they want to offer the best service for each client.

Taking time to speak to the client, the vet sought to understand the client’s concerts (which the senior vet agreed with are valid but misplaced). The senior vet did raise concerns about the approach of the client which was inappropriate and had psychologically traumatised the vet.

The senior vet continued to explain the detrimental effect that such behaviour can have that can cause sleepless nights and worry and, knowing the junior vet, would be something that she would be upset about for quite a while

In the conversation, the senior vet was able to give context to the busy schedules of vets and that the practice was short staffed as well as that they had recognised the urgent nature of seeing the dog and didn’t want the dog to be seen later in the day – thus asking the junior to see the animal. The senior vet wanted to both help the client understand the situation as well as the impact that their behaviour had had.

The concern, when complaints are raised in an abusive manner, is that it can cause burn out to teams who are already stretched and working their hardest. It is estimated that the veterinary profession loses around 40% of all graduates within their first six years and bullying and harassment (coupled with long hours) accentuates this.

At the VCMS, we have received increasing report of aggression towards vets and urge both the public and the profession to work together to reduce tensions and improve communications. Naturally, in this particular case, the clinic could have communicated more clearly , one they accept – and the client could have approached the situation differently.

Should you wish to speak to a member of the VCMS contact our team via 0345 040 5834 or enquiries@vetmediation.co.uk

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