After firing eight clients for crabby behavior in one month, a hospital manager hung a poster in the lobby: “We have zero tolerance for aggressive and abusive behavior.” Fed up with uncalled-for entitlement, more managers are initiating “kindness policies” and notifying clients through mass emails, social media, and new client registration forms. Managers do not want employees to fear for their safety or psychological well-being.
Defining which behaviors merit firing
Schedule a staff meeting to learn and practice conflict-resolution techniques so employees can react appropriately when situations arise. Professional in-the-moment responses may correct clients’ bad behavior and set expectations for future interactions.
Hospital leaders should define reasons to fire clients, such as:
- Threatening or aggressive behavior and/or language
- Physical violence
- Discriminatory behavior
- Failure to honor hospital policies
- Refusing to pay for services and/or having outstanding balances
- Three or more no-shows for appointments and/or procedures
Correcting bad behavior on first instance
Let’s say Mr. Friendly mutates into Mr. F-Bomb: Explain the expected behavior and how it will result in a solution. Isolate the client by taking him to a private area such as an exam room, doctor’s or manager’s office, or employee
Say this: “So you may have my complete attention and we can find a solution together, let’s step into an exam room.”
Reducing his contact with an audience of other clients will de-escalate the situation and communicate your desire for immediate resolution. Stand up so you and the angry client are on the same eye level. If you are seated and the client is standing, he is in the dominate position. Walk and talk as you guide the client to a private area for further discussion.
To correct foul language, state benefits of respectful behavior.
Say this: “If I hear that language again, I won’t be able to help you and your pet. We need to find a better way to communicate so we may find a solution together.”
The word “language” is neutral compared to “If you don’t quit cursing,” which may be perceived as confrontational and lead to more negative words. Use “we” to show collaboration rather than “you,” which blames the client. “Solution” communicates you want to resolve the issue. If bad language continues, ask the client to leave the building or explain you will hang up if it is a phone conversation.
Don’t be bullied by clients who shout expletives. If unruly behavior continues, follow these steps to eject a bully from your hospital:1,2
1) Assess the potential danger of the confrontation. Employees should seek support from a manager or veterinarian when a client becomes verbally abusive. The right words instruct the client to immediately correct
Say this: “I understand that you are frustrated. We both need to be calm and work together to resolve this situation.”
If a client appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, offer to call a taxi. If the client is with others, ask a sober person to drive the offender home. If the impaired client insists on driving, get a description and/or photo of the car and license plate and call police with that information. You also may have security cameras that record the incident.
2) Explain why you are asking the client to leave. Abusive behavior will not be tolerated.
- “While you have a right to voice your concerns, you do not have the right to be abusive to our staff.”
- “As a manager/veterinarian, it’s my responsibility to protect my team, other clients, and patients so I must ask you to leave the hospital now.”
- “If you don’t leave our hospital voluntarily, I will call the police to protect my staff, other clients, and patients.”
3) Escort the client out of the hospital. Use body language to reinforce your ejection of the client. Walk toward the exit and ask the client to follow you. Keep walking toward the door, even if the client doesn’t initially follow you. Remain at the door. This firm body language communicates your request to leave is final and non-negotiable. Watch the client drive out of your parking lot. If the client sees you immediately leave the door, he or she may return inside.
4) Don’t put your hands on the client. Touching an irritated person could get a violent reaction.
5) Call the police if necessary. Call the police if the client is threatening physical harm to you or others, breaking a law, or damaging hospital property.3 Do not be timid. Look the client in the eye and say this: “Please leave the hospital immediately, or I will call the police.” You are telling—not requesting— the client must leave now.
As clients will always challenge you, teach your team what to do before situations occur. Like any good relationship, open communication, and clear expectations will build trust and respect.
Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has taught communication and client service skills for more than two decades. As founder of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, Myers teaches practical skills through online courses, onsite coaching, and conferences. She was a partner in a specialty and emergency practice for five years. Visit YouTube.com/csvets and Csvets.com for more.
- Patrick M. How to Deal with a Client Who Is a Bully. Chron. Available at: https://smallbusiness.chron.com/deal-client-bully-25567.html. Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.
- Ejecting a Customer. WikiHow. Available at: https://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Aggressive-Customers. Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.
- At What Point Do You Need to Call the Police? Angry Retail Banker. Available at: http://www.angryretailbanker.com/2015/05/11/at-what-point-do-you-need-to-call-the-police. Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.