Clients that are more effort than they are worth, both emotionally and financially, are clients that you should FIRE!
When your employees feel undervalued, unsupported, and like they can't trust their boss, they will be sad and disgruntled. This emotional cost to your staff is massive, and will affect your business 100-fold.
Feeling supported, feeling protected, and feeling valued, is such an important part of any job, but veterinary jobs in particular. In an industry that is so emotive, and where owner interaction is so integral, it is especially important for staff to feel that their business is ‘on their side.’
When staff feel that businesses don’t care about them, and only care about the financial bottom line, they start to not only feel unvalued, but also unsafe. This leads to disgruntled employees that then begin to complain to other employees, spreading the feeling of being disgruntled.
Staff also start to make decisions based on protecting themselves, instead of what is right for patients or the business. They start to cut corners to just ‘get the job done’ because they have no loyalty to the business and just want to get out of the building where they feel unsafe and unwanted. They don’t care to ‘wear the shirt’ of the business, and don’t care to display to clients that the business cares, or that the business is fair, or anything else you would want clients to know and feel about your business. Their disgruntled feelings spread to other staff, and to clients.
These feelings spread like a cancer! They lead to burn-out, compassion fatigue, staff calling in sick last minute because they can’t stand the thought of showing up to work. This leads to work days being short-staffed, and the disgruntled feelings of the other employees magnify.
It’s a vicious cycle, and one that not just cycles, but grows and grows. Eventually staff quit, your clinic gets a reputation of being a bad clinic to work for, and then you can’t hire staff. Your clients get frustrated that every time they come to the clinic there is a different vet on duty, a different receptionist behind the desk, a different nurse explaining the medications. They start to feel frustrated and disgruntled with your clinic, and in turn treat the staff worse… and the cycle gets bigger and bigger. If you think this sounds like an over-dramatization, I assure you it is not. Many clinics are in this very scenario , and the managers usually have such an ego that they refuse to acknowledge that their clinic even has a problem, despite having a revolving door of staff. So take note- if you manage/own a clinic and it has a constant staffing issue, this might be your problem!
The whole feeling of your clinic, the environment, the air, all depends on whether your staff feel safe, secure, supported and valued. A huge part of creating these feelings include standing up for, and protecting your staff against toxic clients. Firing toxic clients is a great way to show staff that they are more important to you than the ‘bottom line.’
Not firing toxic clients is as wasteful to your time, energy and MONEY as just setting it on fire!
For the sake of argument let us take away any concept or idea about a boss/manager actually caring about staff for the sake of being a good boss or manager. Let’s look at this from a strictly financial aspect. Despite any desire to create a good work environment, firing toxic clients is GOOD FOR BUSINESS!
1. HAPPY STAFF = HAPPY CLIENTS: You will have less disgruntled staff, and have more clients that are super happy with your services, and less likely to complain in the first place, if your staff are happy. Clients can feel if your staff are happy or not, and clients don’t like to go to workplaces where the staff are unhappy. If you have unhappy staff, clients will leave, and it won’t just be the toxic clients that leave. You will loose good clients!
2. STAFF TURNOVER = CLIENT LOSS: Clients love having a vet that is there for the life-time of their pet. They love that their vet KNOWS their pet. They don’t want to have to explain their story, and justify themselves, and express their feelings and wishes, over and over again each time they come to your clinic. This is extended to your receptionist, your nurses, everyone. When clients see that staff is turning over week after week they become annoyed and frustrated, and end up leaving your clinic. Retaining staff is important, and a safe and supported work space is vital to staff retention. Remember, people quit managers, not jobs!
3. LEARNED BAD BEHAVIOUR: When you have those clients that complain about costs and the invoice, and refuse to pay and look for discounts over and over, especially when it repeatedly occurs after treatment, after they have signed a consent form for the costs, after they have their pet back and fixed… and when you give into them and give them discounts, they LEARN that complaining gets them a discount. When you give into threats, and give into abusive actions, you get clients that LEARN that this behaviour gets them what they want. It’s like giving candy to a toddler every time they throw a tantrum. Do you really expect less tantrums??? No, you will get more and more tantrums, and they will tell their friends, and their friends will come to your clinic and throw tantrums… because you have taught your clientele that you will give candy to bad behaviour! This not only leads to more and more discounted invoices, but leads to more and more emotional toll on your staff.
4. DISCOUNTS DEVALUE SERVICE: When do you usually get a discount when you go to a store… think about it. It’s when an article of clothing is damaged, or is a size they otherwise cannot sell. It is when that object/service is no longer as valuable, and the store recognized that the value has dropped, so they say to the customers “because we know that this is less valuable, we are going to give it to you for less money.” When you give discounts to your clients you are saying to them “my services are not as valuable as I previously displayed.” Most importantly, when you discount the service that your associate performed, you are saying “my associate is not as valuable.” This discredits anything your associate does for that client in the future, it devalues your clinics services to that client, and gives the perception that you are over-charging in general, or that your clinic isn’t “worth it.” Is that really the perception you want to display???
5. TIME & ENERGY ARE $$$: Those clients that constantly complain, constantly call and take all your time and energy… are wasting your money. You could be doing a surgery, seeing consults, learning a new skill for your clients, etc. Think about it. They are draining not only your energy to be a good boss/manager/vet, but also taking your time that could be going into generating income into your practice. And keeping those clients, if they are constantly getting discounts and constantly taking your time and energy with complaints, financially they aren’t bringing anything into your clinic. You will be lucky if you don’t LOSE money on them long-term.
6. LEARNED UNDERCHARGING: When you discount clients you teach associates that they aren’t ‘worth it’. They learn about the discount, and they feel angry, stressed, undervalued, and unsupported. They also learn that your clinic deals with these clients by discounting. So, what will they do in the future with their new-found knowledge? They will undercharge, underestimate, and when clients start complaining they will just discount. You will TEACH your associates to undervalue themselves, and the services, that your clinic provides. This future discounting will apply not just to that particular client, but to all future clients that associate sees! So when you give a discount unjustly, think about if you would want to take a cut of that % on ALL your services???
Let’s say you have a client that comes in for a vomiting dog. You do bloodwork, x-rays, IVF and some medications. It doesn’t need surgery, and in 24 hours it is better and goes home. Your associate saw this case, and gave them an estimate for $1000. In 24 hours, their animal is better, and the invoice comes to $1000. They complain because they ‘feel that the costs are outrageous,’ so to keep that customer ‘happy’ and ‘coming back to your clinic’ you discount them $300.
What did that client actually cost you??
$300- the discount that you unjustly gave the client
30% of future services - The devalued associate vet will learn and feel that they aren’t ‘worth it’ and will avoid the stress/pain of complaints by underquoting and undercharging their future services. And you just taught them it’s OK to do this!
$300-$1000- Did you spend time on the phone with this client, and will you again in the future, over and over again? Let’s say you even spent 3 hours dealing with this client’s unjust complaints. That’s 3 spays, or 9 consults, or 3 hours of CE where you could have improved your ultrasound skills to offer more services to your clients.
Let’s add it up: $600-$1300, and that DOESN’T include the 30% loss of future services to ALL clients by that associate, because you taught them they aren’t worth it.
And, if we want to be realistic, add in another $300 for the future discount that client will expect next time they come in for a service, and get the service as quoted…
It adds up!
Let's Get Personal
When I was a new graduate I saw a coughing dog. It had Kennel Cough. I hadn’t experienced Kennel Cough before so didn’t immediately recognize the characteristic cough. I was very worried about the dog so I performed x-rays. They were clear, which was great for the dog! At this point my boss came in, looked at the dog, and said, “that’s kennel cough” and prescribed doxycycline (despite the fact that I just documented no pneumonia, and the dog didn’t have a fever), and discounted the cost of the x-rays to the client.
What did my boss do in that moment? He taught me to not fully work up cases, and that negative results aren’t valuable. He taught me to not value my own brain and thought process for working up a case. He supported the idea in my head that I was an Imposter and shouldn’t be there, instead of supporting evidence based medicine. He taught me that anecdotal medicine is better than evidence based medicine. He taught the client that I was not to be trusted and not valuable. He taught me that I was not valuable. And, he taught me to just throw antibiotics at things inappropriately.
That stuck with me, and I probably undercharged thousands of dollars of appropriate, evidence based medicine approaches that should have been income to his clinic. I spent a year performing sub-par medicine, learned bad behaviours, and learned to not value myself or trust in my schooling.
And… my boss was actually a pretty good one! He was keen to learn for the most part, and tried to do very good medicine, he was just very very out-dated. Imagine how a new grad would feel in a clinic with a boss that was aggressively against progression.
Clients that are constantly complaining, constantly wanting discounts, wanting discounts despite the services being performed as described and at the rate described, are simply NOT WORTH IT. They are emotional cancers that infect your clinic, and they are financial drains that do not provide worth to your clinic.
See our next blog on how to tell which clients are these soul-sucking, money-sucking leeches that you should fire…