5 Statements That Secretly Irritate Your Veterinary Clients

How rethinking these key phrases can make for better customer service.

Originally published in the December 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

Each employee at your veterinary hospital may interact with 30 or more clients daily. Certain word choices could secretly irritate clients. Here are five common phrases to avoid and positive alternatives that create five-star client experiences.

1. “I’m taking your pet in the back.”

A client brings her senior dog to your veterinary clinic for a preventive care checkup. The technician discusses the need to perform a senior preventive screen. When the client agrees, the technician explains that she will collect blood and urine samples so lab results can be discussed during today’s exam.

The phrase “in the back” may cause the client to worry about what will happen behind closed doors where she is not allowed.

To reassure clients, say, “I’m going to take your pet to the treatment area where a technician and I will collect the blood and urine samples. While I am with your pet for a few minutes, I’ll let you read the brochure about our preventive screen. You’ve made a great choice in doing early detection testing for [pet’s name].”

The phrase “treatment area” is more professional and accurately describes what occurs in the heart of your hospital. Offering that you’ll be working with another technician demonstrates teamwork. Share benefit statements such as, “We will have results during today’s exam,” and praise clients’ decisions to do early detection testing.

2. “Sorry for the wait.”

A midday emergency has exams running late. A waiting client keeps checking her watch because she arrived on time for her dog’s 4 p.m. appointment and it’s now 4:20 p.m.

Instead of “I’m sorry for the wait,” say, “Thank you for your patience.” This replaces the negative words “sorry” and “wait” with positive ones, “thanks” and “patience.” Say this proactive phrase even when the client hasn’t been patient because you want to reward the behavior you want.

Provide updates every 15 minutes. This communicates that you appreciate the client’s patience and are staying in touch with the medical team for the latest updates. Say, “[Client name], thank you for your patience. I know you have been waiting for 15 minutes. I checked with the technician and doctor, and we should be ready to see you in 10 minutes. Can I bring you water or coffee? We appreciate your patience while our team is caring for another patient. I will update you again in 10 minutes.”

When waiting for in-house lab results, have clients wait in the lobby, not in exam rooms. Sitting in a windowless 8-by-8-foot exam room might have pet owners feeling like they’re trapped in solitary confinement. Boredom could lead to impatience and anger.

Let’s say you’re performing in-house laboratory tests and results will take 15 minutes. Tell the client, “For your comfort, let’s have you wait for your pet’s test results in the lobby. You can help yourself to beverages and literature. We have free Wi-Fi if you’d like to visit us on Facebook.”

This also allows you to start another appointment so you’re efficient with exam room usage. For more strategies, watch my webinar on “How to Keep Doctors on Time,” which includes unlimited playback, a handout, one hour of CE credit and a CE certificate. Order here.

3. “Do you need any help?”

Between 4 and 6 p.m., your lobby is buzzing with evening exams, surgical and dental discharge appointments, and clients stopping in to refill medications and buy diets. Both receptionists are grabbing calls and helping clients as quickly as possible.

A receptionist is collecting payment from a client who has a toddler, diaper bag, stroller, puppy tugging at the leash and a bag of food. Don’t ask, “Do you need any help out to the car?” Say, “Let me help you out to the car” and take the dog’s leash and bag of food. Start walking toward the front door. The client will follow you and be grateful for the help. If you can’t leave the front desk, say, “Let me get someone to help you out to the car.”

4. “Please hold, click.”

It’s 8 a.m. and four phone lines are ringing at your veterinary hospital. Two receptionists with octopus arms quickly answer calls. A frazzled receptionist answers the next call, saying, “[Your veterinary hospital]. Please hold.” Because the anxious caller has a sick pet, she hangs up after being thrown into hold hell and redials.

Always ask permission before placing callers on hold. On average, 70 percent of business calls are placed on hold, so your clients will inevitably experience hold time.1 The average hold time for small businesses such as veterinary hospitals is 1 minute, 47 seconds.2

When you’re the caller who is holding, the wait time feels three times longer. Holding for nearly two minutes feels like six minutes! How you place callers on hold shapes their perception of your business.

Say, “Thank you for calling [Your veterinary hospital]. This is [your name]. Is this a medical emergency, or are you able to hold?” Use the phrase “medical emergency” rather than “emergency” because some high-maintenance clients may assume that requesting prescription refills are emergencies. A caller with a medical emergency will need immediate assistance.

5. “No problem.”

After finishing home-care instructions for a surgical patient, you provide exam door to car door service. You take the dog’s leash and escort the client to his car to show him how to property lift the dog into the car following orthopedic surgery. When the pet owner expresses appreciation, the technician responds, “No problem.” This ends a five-star experience with negative words.

Instead of responding, “No problem,” say, “You’re welcome” or “I’m glad that I could help. We appreciate the opportunity to care for [pet’s name].”

When you use positive phrases, you’ll show appreciation while building trusting relationships with clients.


1. The Business Startup Guide to Custom On-Hold Messages, posted October 16, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2013 at https://easyonhold.com/blog/the-business-startup-guide-to-custom-on-hold-messages/.

2. Cole, O. The 56 Second Hold Time Bogey—Average Customer Wait Times: An Ifbyphone Benchmarking Analysis (Part 2), August 5, 2103. Accessed December 17, 2013 at http://public.ifbyphone.com/blog/the-56-second-hold-time-bogey-average-customer-wait-times-an-ifbyphone-benchmarking-analysis-part-2/

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One thought on “5 Statements That Secretly Irritate Your Veterinary Clients

  1. Fabulous article, but I cringed on the order to wait in the lobby. It should be a choice. I will always wait in the exam room. I’m sure the WiFi will reach.


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