Dealing with Difficult Clients

Ben Spinks, MBA, CVPM, SPHR, Tipp City Veterinary Hospital, Tipp City, Ohio

ArticleLast Updated April 20233 min read
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Dear Second Opinion, 

Our clinic needs advice on dealing with challenging clients. We realize pet owners are often stressed and upset when bringing in a sick pet, but that doesn’t mean being rude to our support staff or clinicians or creating chaos in the waiting area is acceptable.  In the last month, we’ve had to deal with: 

  • A client repeatedly yelling at a staff member because they had to wait in an examination room while we were handling an emergency 

  • Clients making a scene about their bill despite signing an estimate 

  • Several no-shows 

  • Clients calling and demanding to speak to a clinician immediately about minor issues or calling repeatedly to find out why their call hasn’t been returned yet 

These negative interactions are affecting staff morale. We don’t have a good way to handle these problems in the moment because we are busy and want to move on to help the next patient. 

How can we encourage better behavior from our clients? 

Signed,  —Doing the Best We Can 

Dear Doing the Best We Can, 

I understand how tough dealing with challenging clients can be, and I'm sorry it's something your team is facing. The challenges you described are shared industry-wide, especially postpandemic. Setting expectations may help. 

Creating a client rights and responsibilities document could help tackle inappropriate client behavior and help clients and the clinic team understand expectations, leading to a smoother relationship. 

Include the behaviors you expect from clients. Some examples may include: 

  • Treat staff with respect and courtesy. 

  • Arrive on time for appointments, and provide advance notice if an appointment needs to be cancelled or rescheduled.  

  • Provide accurate and complete information about the pet's health and medical history. 

  • Ask questions and seek clarification in a respectful and patient manner. 

 Also include what clients can expect. Some examples may include: 

  • Professional, compassionate, and high-quality care for the pet 

  • Clear and timely communication about the pet's health, treatment options, and prognosis 

  • Transparent pricing and billing practices, including estimates for services when requested 

  • Reasonably prompt and courteous responses to questions, concerns, or complaints 

Being clear about expectations can allow clients to better understand the behavior and communication you're looking for, helping reduce frustration and conflict. There are many examples available online if you need help getting started. Search for "veterinary client rights and responsibilities" or "veterinary client code of conduct."  

Ask your staff for input when creating this document. They can share valuable insights from their own client experiences, helping make the guidelines more comprehensive and practical. Plus, working together can help everyone be on board. 

Make the finalized document easily accessible to clients by adding it to the clinic website, including it in new client welcome packets, linking it to client communications (eg, appointment confirmation messages), and posting it in waiting areas.  

Although addressing and managing challenging client behavior is crucial, maintaining empathy and understanding is also vital. Client stress or worry about their pets can manifest as difficult behavior. Setting clear expectations and encouraging open communication can help create a positive, supportive atmosphere that benefits the team, clients, and patients. 


Ben Spinks, MBA, CVPM, SPHR