Podcast #56

puppet on strings
Manipulative clients use various tactics to try to get their way. Recognizing these actions as a manipulation tool and responding helps you manage these clients.
See Upset Clients for Full introduction.

Manipulation is a tool that some clients use to try to get their way. They feel they are clever, and they try to ‘trick’ you. They can become aggressive, but more often they are just annoying. They think you haven't seen it before, but you have! These clients are always looking for a discount, and are often not worth the time. Consider Firing Clients that are constantly looking for discounts, constantly refusing to pay, and constantly being more work than they are worth.

These manipulators can come across as chronic Bargainers, those that Flip-Flop between nice/apologetic and mean/aggressive, and those that constantly claim Ignorance to costs.
Bargaining Clients:
These clients are ones that are constantly trying to get discounts, trying to get money off either through jokes, saying that they don’t need information they just need x (meds, x-rays, etc.), or they just say “how about $3000” when you give a quote for $4000-$5000.

“I understand you are making jokes however our prices are set to ensure we can continue to function as a business.”

“We cannot sell medications or perform diagnostics without assessment of your pet, that is our legal and ethical responsibility. Therefore we cannot sell prescription medications without a consult.”

monkeys picking bugs off one another
Clients that Nit-Pick about every little detail, to try to belittle the job you did do, and get a discount, are not only annoying but often are using this as a manipulative tool... don’t get sucked in!
Another aspect of these bargaining clients are those that Nit-Pick. They focus on small aspects of their pets care, and try to use this as a bargaining point.

For Example: You have a dog that comes in with a GDV, you save the dog and it is going home. When the owner is picking up the dog they complain “You clipped the abdominal fur and it's uneven on right side, now it will grow in abnormally” or “I asked you to clip nails while he was sedated and you forgot.” They look for discounts because you ‘didn’t deliver’ on what you said you would do.

“I understand that you asked for Fluffy’s nails to be trimmed, however his condition that was life-threatening took precedence, and we never promised to trim nails or perform a perfect shaving symmetry. In medicine life-threatening conditions take priority, and the estimate and payment was for treatment for the GDV surgery.”
Flip-Flopper Clients:
Flip Flops in the sand
Owners the flip between being abusive, and then sweet as pie and apologetic, and back to being abusive, use this as a manipulation tool.
These are some of my most frustrating clients. These are clients that are mean or abusive, and then apologize profusely the next time you talk to them or to a manager, but then go right back to their abusive behaviour at the next conversation.

Every time you talk to these clients you don't know which one you will get. They are told to behave nicely, and they do for a couple hours, or a day or so, and the next time they are abusive again. They feel because they apologized that forgives both past and future behaviour.

These clients are an emotional roller-coaster for staff.

“Your behaviour has been intermittently positive, but with intermittent repeated periods of abuse. This abusive behaviour cannot continue, and if we do see this pattern continuing we will have to ask you to find a different clinic for Fluffy’s future care.”
Ignorance Clients:
dog with tilted head
Playing the “I didn't know” card is a tool that clients will use to justify not paying, or to claim that you promised a different outcome than occurred such as complications and the need for ongoing treatment.
Some clients try to play the “I wasn’t told” card anytime when it comes to paying the bill. Or they will claim they were only told the low end of the estimate, or that they weren't told there would be ongoing costs of care for multiple day of treatment, or that they weren't told they would have to pay at all. They sometimes also claim they were guaranteed that their animal would be fixed 100%, and since it isn’t they shouldn’t have to pay.

Clients also may play the “I wasn’t told” card regarding prognosis or condition, and imply that we bullied them into treatment or care.

Remember, clients will often hear what they want to hear, so when we are discussing prognosis and costs, we need to be very clear.

Getting written contracts of estimates, and ensuring that we have excellent client communication records are imperative.

For clients where they are obviously just trying to play the “I wasn’t told” card….

“As discussed before treatment, the estimate of costs was a range. Medicine is never 100% and according to our conversation/written agreement, you were informed of this range and agreed to the costs involved.”
Manipulators come in all forms, and addressing these manipulators head-on, not giving into their rabbit hole conversations, and referring to your client communications and estimates, will show you are direct and won’t be swayed by their tactics.

For more blogs on dealing with particular types of difficult clients, see blogs on Upset Clients, Dangerous Clients, Bully Clients, “I Know Better” Clients and General Tips on Difficult Clients along with Self Preservation When Dealing with Difficult Clients.
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published April 8th, 2021

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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