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Managing the Angry Client

No one told us there would be so many people involved. We went into the veterinary industry because we wanted to work with animals. We wanted to get away from people. Why are there so many people?! Not just people, but angry clients where nothing is good enough.

Angry clients are some of the scariest and worst clients. These clients are quick to anger and even faster become aggressive and threatening. They are impatient, arrogant, verbally and sometimes physically abusive. Depending on the degree of their anger it may require you to call the police.

These clients put their needs above everyone else’s’. They are the only person that matters and they want everyone to stop what they are doing and fix their issue. The secret is, no matter what you do it won’t be good enough. You know this client because they raise their voice, get tense and start their demands. Any client, if not handled correctly, could become the scary angry client.

How to Handle the Angry Client

Once a client starts yelling you can stop trying to make them happy. Your role is now to de-escalate the situation to prevent it from worsening. While it’s hard to do so remain calm and polite. If possible move them to a private area so they can blow off steam without upsetting others. Some angry clients plant their feet and refuse to move. If that’s the case let them be where they are. No sense in escalating the situation even further.

  • Don’t be intimidated. Admittedly, I almost always am, but do you best to portray confidence. The angry client wants to intimidate you and if they see it is working they will usually get worse.

  • It does not matter if you are right or wrong in this situation. You have an individual acting out of control. Save your energy and focus on reducing the threat.

Apologize they are upset. You are sorry they are upset. It sure would be easier if they were not! Explain how you want to help them by saying, “I am sorry you are so upset. I want to help you and your pet, but I cannot right now until you calm down.”

  • Don’t not take physical threats lightly. If there is any threat of violence, end the conversation immediately. “I am sorry you are upset, but I am not going to continue this conversation with you when you are threatening physical violence on the hospital/team/myself.” Immediately remove yourself and get to a secure location. Call the police. Physical threats are never to be taken lightly.

  • Try to get to what the client wants by repeating back the issue. “I understand you are unhappy with your bill and you want to pay less.” “I understand you are unhappy with the surgery and you want it fixed.” Repeat back what you are hearing for them to (most likely) scream it back to you. “YES! I’VE SAID FIVE TIMES I AM NOT GOING TO PAY!”

  • Confirm you want to help, but cannot do so at this time. “You are screaming at me. While I do want to help you I cannot at this time because my focus is on your screaming at me.”

Stop the conversation. “At this point I’ve confirmed why you are upset and have said I’d like to help, but you just keep screaming. This is not productive for either one of us so I’m going to end the conversation so we can both cool down. I’d like to think about what you’ve said and get back to you tomorrow/in a few days/via email once I’ve had time to process this conversation.”

When communicating with an individual who is escalating stay away from the following phrases as they will only cause the situation to get worse:

  • Don’t take it personally

  • Don’t be sad/mad/angry

  • No offense but

  • Don’t get emotional

  • Always or Never (You always/never)

  • That’s Stupid/Ridiculous

  • Everyone thinks

  • I (You) don’t care

  • Last week/month/year you said or did

  • Stay away from the word you including, but not limited to:

You are a, You are making this, Here you go again...

You need to calm down...

You are exaggerating...

Remember, no one has the right to berate, belittle, antagonize or threaten you or your hospital team. When dealing with an angry client you must be polite, but firm. Don’t try to prove your point. It doesn’t matter. Focus on de-escalating and keeping yourself and the hospital safe.

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