Why Do Clients Complain?
A client needed a refill for thyroid supplements for his Golden retriever. When he arrived at his practice, he was asked to patiently wait in the parking lot, which he didn’t appreciate.
The medication wasn’t ready. After a 30 minute delay, an apologetic nurse brought the prescription to him. Despite his request for a 6 month refill, he only received 3 months worth.
Worse: the label had the wrong spelling for his dog’s name: it said Gandalph instead of Gandalf. An outrage!
Once home, the fuming owner immediately posted a scathing review on Yelp, accusing the practice of everything you would expect: ridiculously long waits, unacceptable miscommunication, utter disrespect to his Golden retriever…
Ron Arellano, President of Search Business Group, a California agency that helps veterinarians “get more clients through the door,” recently put together a report that outlines the top 10 reasons vet practices get bad reviews (“We looked at over 1000 veterinarian reviews. Here’s what we found.”).
The report studied 1,000 Yelp reviews across 34 cities in Orange County, CA, to categorize the most frequent causes of client complaints.
1. Money (41%)
As expected, the number 1 complaint is related to financial limitations. Like it or not, vet med is a business, with practices staffed by people who usually enjoy receiving a paycheck as much as anyone in any other field. Most clients understand it. However many clients lose their sense of fairness when they are surprised by an invoice that is higher than they expected.
Solution: provide a detailed estimate, and carefully explain it to the client before any service is provided.
2. Veterinarian (35%)
More than 1/3 of negative reviews are related to a bad experience with a veterinarian. Common complaints include a lack of communication, seemingly not caring about the patient, rushing appointments and making incorrect diagnoses. The report reminds us of this classic quote: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Solution: Arellano noted, “Clients want to make sure their animals are being well cared for by a vet who understands not only the animal, but also the family. Therefore, for the reputation of the business, it’s important to give the animal the best care and to foster the best relationship with the client.”
To make clients feel welcome, the entire client-facing team must have good verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
3. Service Quality (30%)
Vet med is a service industry, so customer service should be top of mind. Yet almost 1/3 of poor reviews complain about poor service, including boarding, grooming, physical exams, surgery and other treatments.
Complaints after boarding mentioned a pet’s shaggy appearance, weight loss, a urine smell or a terrified look.
Arellano points out, however, that “one-star reviews for grooming are not because of bad haircuts.” They are most commonly because the groomer didn’t listen to the client’s wishes, or an injury occurred during grooming.
Solution: whichever service is provided, send patients home looking as good as, if not better, than when they arrived. Be upfront about problems during a pet’s stay. If the pet urinated on itself, be sure to provide a bath.
Always write down special requests when admitting patients. If, during the pet’s drop-off, the owner requests that a microchip be placed or a mass removed, make sure it gets done.
4. Staff (27%)
Over 1/4 of poor reviews relate to a team member being rude or having a negative attitude, either in person or over the phone. For example, some employees were accused of taking personal calls instead of taking care of clients. Remember, it takes only one bad apple to ruin someone’s experience.
Solution: identify team members who have a toxic behavior, and either retrain them, or invite them to explore other career opportunities. Make sure all employees understand the mission and core values of the practice. Choose team members who are excited and happy to come to work, which will translate into happier clients.
5. Misdiagnosis (19%)
Medicine is not an exact science. Occasionally, we make mistakes. Almost 1/5 of bad reviews are related to an erroneous diagnosis. Clients feel angry because they may have spent a lot of money to reach the wrong diagnosis.
Solution: swallow your pride, empathize, be honest and listen to concerns or frustrations. When in doubt, encourage clients to seek a second opinion.
6. Communication (17%)
“Miscommunication can often lead to clients misunderstanding treatments and payments,” Arellano explained. 17% of bad reviews are due to poor communication.
Solution: make sure a team member provides a detailed estimate before care is provided. Explain what you are doing to a patient as you perform a physical exam. Use layman’s words to make sure clients clearly understand what you are saying.
Detail your recommendations and the financial consequences. There is no such thing as overcommunication in our field.
7. Phone Etiquette (10%)
The “ability to communicate on the phone is a lost art,” Arellano observed. So, it may be no surprise that 10% of bad reviews are written following a negative experience on the phone. People hate being placed on hold. A 5-minute hold time sometimes feels like 15, and is unacceptable.
Solution: respect basic phone etiquette. Be polite, cheerful, focused and respectful. Always ask for permission before putting someone on hold. If you anticipate a long wait, ask for a phone number to call back.
8. Wait Time (10%)
“People hate waiting, especially when they have an appointment,” said Arellano. Interestingly, he explained, “usually wait time isn’t the main factor that leads to a one-star review. Typically, a prolonged wait time starts the avalanche of other complaints.” For example, a long wait time may lead to a rushed appointment and mis-counted medications, which only compound the client’s anger. 10% of negative reviews are triggered by such an experience.
Solution: do everything in your power to stay on schedule. One veterinary study showed that 70% of pet owners become irritated after less than 15 minutes of waiting.
9. Death (7%)
Death is an inevitable reality in veterinary medicine and can be due to a pet’s old age, end-stage disease or monetary limitations. In any case, said Arellano, 7% of “the reviewers are writing based off their emotions.” Pet owners are upset about their pet dying, but they’re sometimes even more upset about how the veterinary staff handles the situation.
Solution: show empathy, and remember the power of the human-animal bond. Grieving is a process, and part of our job is to help clients survive it. We can ask how a client will cope with the loss or honor the pet’s passing. We can provide suggestions, if needed, so that the grieving process is as healthy as possible.
10. Facility (6%)
The final complaint in the report relates to facilities. Cleanliness and organization are very important for preventing infection. Unlike human health care facilities, however, veterinary practices are not held to cleanliness standards.
Few practices hire a janitor. Instead, they rely on technicians and receptionists to clean and organize the hospital. Poor reviews are posted after visits to a practice that smells like urine or feces, or that looks disorganized or cluttered.
Solution: cleanliness and organization need to be top of mind for all practice employees. Paperwork should be tidy and “accidents” cleaned up promptly. A daily checklist is a good way to make sure everything gets cleaned regularly.
As much as we hate them, negative reviews are often an opportunity to self-examine and challenge the status quo. We can resent them, or we can try to learn from them, no matter how much they hurt our feelings. Even better, now that we know what triggers them, we can do everything in our power to try to avoid them and nurture happy, glowing, loving 5 star reviews.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS
Meredith Jones, DVM
Co-Founders of Veterinary Financial Summit