Disappointing a client is a huge source of anxiety for many veterinarians. Most of us in the veterinary field are natural people-pleasers. We want to make people happy and proud of us. We want to be liked. Therefore, we can feel devastated at the thought of letting someone down. However, the blunt truth is that disappointing a client is inevitable at some point (or many) in our profession—sometimes, on a daily basis! Accepting the fact that we are going to let people down at times is the first step to learn coping strategies to handle these occurrences. We simply can’t please everyone all the time. Each one of us has a different veterinary style and unique personality. Instead of trying (and failing) to be a chameleon for every client, embrace that we humans have innate differences and may not jive well with everyone. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good enough doctor; it just means it’s impossible to be everything to everyone. Over time, you will find your niche clientele who just “get” you. Remind yourself bad outcomes and heart-wrenching diagnoses are unavoidable in this line of work. Clients will be disappointed, but don’t automatically internalize their attitudes as dismay towards you; they’re likely disappointed with their pet’s situation rather than directly at you. And when something disappointing does arise (and it will), remember failures are simply good intentions that didn’t work out as hoped. As long as your intention was based in goodness and sound medicine, that’s what matters in the end. Recognizing this truth can grant you peace of mind.
You can, however, apply a few tangible actions to help minimize the frequency of client disappointment. Firstly, managing a client’s expectations at the very beginning of an interaction can save you in the long run. Have a thorough discussion about follow-up appointments and diagnostics, at-home patient care, financial and temporal overviews (How expensive will long-term care be? How long until test results will be back?), and potential surgical or medical risks and complications. Slightly overinflate your budget estimate and timeline so clients are pleased when things get done sooner or for less money than originally expected.
Secondly, set clear boundaries to avoid future upset or misunderstanding. Inform clients from the get-go that you will be responding to them within ‘X’ amount of time and not before; communication may not always be immediate. With this plain explanation, clients won’t be annoyed you haven’t called them with Fluffy’s lab results the moment your clinic opens in the morning.
Finally, admit when you don’t know something. You may be tempted to cover up when you don’t have an answer to avoid upsetting a client. However, a Fido’s owner will respect you more if you explain you don’t know what Fido has but you have a plan to find out, and that client will be more apt to trust your medical advice when you emphasize what you do know.
Focus on the clients who are happy with your services. Concentrating on the positives rather than the rare negatives is such a simple yet difficult task, so practice to remind yourself of the clients who are pleased with you. Learn to value yourself rather than allowing your self-worth to derive from others. It is SELF-worth, after all, and as long as you did your best as a veterinarian, you can take pride and solace in that fact without the need for external praise or acceptance. This, too, takes practice, but your contentment is worth it, for YOU are the most important person to focus on not disappointing.