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The old man, his half clipped dog & his seriously ill wife

Posted in Client Service @ Jul 18th 2013 - By Judy Gillespie
The Old Man His Dog

Unreasonable clients may not always be what they seem in your veterinary practice.

I remember a story that a veterinary practice manager told me one day about an old man who dropped his dog off for his regular wash & clip. As usual he was given a time that he could pick up his dog, which on this occasion due to an unusually heavy number of grooming clients, was not until the end of the day

The old man turned up early, at 2pm to pick up his dog – which was literally half clipped.  When the receptionist explained that the dog wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be finished for some time, the client flew in to a rage, yelled at everyone and accused them of being totally incompetent for not having his dog ready on time.  He then demanded the dog be immediately brought out to him as he was taking it home no matter how it looked AND he wouldn’t be paying NOR returning ever again. EVER!

What a totally unreasonable client you might be thinking.  What a grumpy old man you might be thinking.  No one deserves to be spoken to like that you might be thinking.

And these would all be reasonable thoughts.  Except the Practice Manager happened to know this client quite well as he and his wife had been with the practice for years.  When she heard what had happened she rang the client to express her concern and apologise for any misunderstanding.  Before she could even finish he interrupted her with his own apology. And then he told her what had happened earlier on in the day.  

Very early in the morning his wife had been rushed to hospital seriously ill.  He had come home from the hospital to feed the dog and thought he may as well keep his regular grooming appointment, so he dropped off his pet on the way back into the hospital.  He admitted that he had been distracted and hadn’t really paid attention to the pickup time he had been given.  After spending some time with his wife and discovering she would need serious surgery, he left for home and thought he’d pick up his old mate from the groomer on the way, so at least he wouldn’t be home alone.

And then he found out his dog wasn’t ready & wouldn’t be for a few hours.  And he lost it.

His anger really had very little to do with his dog not being ready and everything to do with the fact that he was terrified his wife was going to die and he would be left alone.  And then his dog wasn’t ready to take home which would mean that he would have to go home – alone.

The practice manager immediately went around the clients house with some flowers for him to take to his wife and picked up the dog and brought him back to the practice so the grooming session could be completed immediately & the dog dropped back home as soon as possible.  (A week or so later after his wife had recovered, the client turned up at the practice with a big bunch of flowers to apologise again for his behaviour)

This story came to mind after reading another great blog post from Dr Chris Bern (A Vet’s Guide to Life) You Can’t Make Everyone Happy.  Chris is absolutely right – no matter how fantastic you are, no matter how hard you try, you will never please everyone, every time.  And to attempt to do so is to set yourself up to fail – miserably!

There are some people out there that no matter what you do, you will never be able to please.  There are also people out there with sick children, parents or spouses.  People with financial problems, car troubles or marriage concerns.  And when you try to explain to them why the vet can’t see their pet immediately, or why a particular treatment costs what it does and they totally fly off the handle it might help to remember the old man, his dog and his seriously ill wife in hospital.  The reaction from the client standing in front you may have absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with events that occurred before they even stepped into your veterinary practice.

Finding out the old man’s story certainly doesn’t excuse his behaviour (no one deserves to be yelled at or abused) but it does go some way to explaining it and putting it into some context.

There really are very few truly unreasonable people out there (although there is no denying there are some!) but there are many 'reasonable' people going through challenging (to them) situations.

So the next time a client behaves in a totally unreasonable way, try not to take it personally – think of the old man, his half clipped dog and seriously ill wife and maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try you're not there to please everyone - nor can you!  You are there to do the best job you can to the best of your abilities – not work miracles.

Do you have your own ‘Old man, his half clipped dog & seriously ill wife’ story?  Tell us in the comments section below.


Gillian Shippen @ Mar 21st 2016 9:25am
I had a wheelchair client recently that although I felt they were being unreasonable and I had "jumped through hoops" assisting them with their needs, which was difficult as it was an interstate sale, I also was able to see it from their side of things as well. I am often torn when I do my wheelchair sales because as the majority of my patients are older , I am painfully aware the patients may not get much use from the wheelchairs , which is a large outlay for the owners given they may only have a few months use. My wheelchair fittings/sales are charged with emotions, with owners holding on to hope to help their pets - I have to be able to balance hope with truth - it can be difficult
Judy @ Mar 21st 2016 12:18pm
I can only imagine how difficult many of those conversations must be, Gillian. It's wonderful though that you're able to be there and offer a product and service to give them some hope - even if it is only a few more months with their precious companion.

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