Louise S. Dunn

Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting

1955 Indian Wells Trails

Pfafftown, NC  27404





You dash down to the local fast food establishment to go through the drive through to grab a quick meal and hurry back to the practice.  You get back only to find out that what is in your bag is not what you ordered.  How do you feel about this poor service?  If you want to prevent this same feeling in your clients after a visit to your practice, attend this session to learn about all the psychological risks you need to be aware of so as to prevent that horrible feeling from happening to your clients.


  • Identify what clients are thinking and feeling.
  • Find out how to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

Have It Your Way

You are at work; you have exactly 45 minutes to eat lunch so you quickly dash off to hit the drive-thru window at your favorite burger joint.  Within 20 minutes, you are back at work and sitting down to eat your lunch.  What’s in the bag?  Is it what you ordered?  Did they forget something?  Was the service fast enough?  Was the employee friendly toward you?  Is the order you received accurate (aka – Did you get it ‘your way’)?  Sometimes you don’t get what you ordered, or what you expected – if this is the case you have just experienced bad customer service.

How do you feel?  Why do you feel that way?  There really is a certain psychology involved with customer service – what you want, why you want it and how you feel about it.  Taking some time to understand the psychological side of delivering a service can help you and your team deliver better services to your clients.  Better service delivery means delivering more medical care to pets in need, happier clients, and a more successful and profitable business –  a complete Circle of Care!

Just What Do Clients Want

At times, it certainly seems as if you just cannot figure out what clients want.  One customer service miss-step and not only have you lost a client, you may have also lost your reputation with other clients and potential clients.  Of those clients who experience a negative customer service experience, 35% will stop being your client (Morris).  However, perhaps even more far-reaching in its effect is the 68% who will post online and tell others about the negative experience (Morris).  If you think this is small potatoes in today’s global market, consider that 60% of all consumers today are influenced by the comments of other customers.  That single customer service miss-step has created a ripple effect influencing people who have yet to walk through your front door!

In order to prevent these customer service miss-steps, you must dig down to the needs of your clients.  You must dig deep down into their primary psychological needs.  Of course, any of your clients want your expert medical expertise.  However, dig a little deeper and you will find it really comes down to this – R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Clients want respect (Winch).  When a client claims to have suffered from a customer service miss-step it is usually due to the feeling of being disrespected.  They feel that your team disrespected their time, their dignity or their intelligence.

To appreciate the ‘respect’ issue of customer service psychology, read these five tipping points for customers presented by Morris and then decide if your practice is guilty of disrespecting your clients:

  • Having to speak with multiple people
  • On hold a long time
  • Having to deal with rude or inexperienced service representatives
  • Unable to resolve an issue after 1 attempt/contact/call
  • Not being understood

Most of us will find we are guilty on at least one of the tipping points.  A common guilty verdict can easily be issued when a team member responds to a client with, “Our policy is….”  This is usually followed by a standard operating procedure (SOP) or business protocol telling the client they cannot have it their way.  It is also most likely followed by repeat phone calls, office visits, and other encounters, which seem to escalate to exchanges that are more negative.  Any of these situations, not followed up with alternatives or options, will most likely make a client feel that your team is not listening to their needs or respecting their feelings.

Usually, a customer who has had a negative customer service experience will become confrontational with your customer service representative (CSR).  CSRs are viewed as a direct extension of the practice and of the service delivery.  When a client feels they were disrespected, and have reached their tipping point, personal filters for civility and empathy are turned off, especially when they communicate their frustration over the phone (Morris).

In order to grasp the psychology behind customer service, you will want to go back to that initial encounter and review what SOP or Policy was being used in this situation.  A thorough examination of the encounter may turn up some surprising information regarding the level of your customer service.

Customer service is not just about the services you are offering to clients.  It is also about the people you employ to deliver those services.  Rude or inexperienced team members do play a part in customer service miss-steps.  In fact, rude team members may be having more of an effect on your clients than the medical services your particular practice offers.  Of the customers who saw or heard a rude exchange between a team member and fellow team members, 20% said they would not return to do business with the company (Porath).  Of the 80% who decide to stay and continue doing business, ¾ of them said they felt anxious dealing with the employees.  As you can see, it is not only medical service; it is about the atmosphere and culture of your service delivery.  A rude team member does not even have to be rude to the client to make a client walk.

Turning That Frown Upside Down

Fixing the situation requires two steps:  how to apologize properly, and how to educate your team on customer service miss-steps and corrections.

The April edition of Psychology Today presented some common, mundane, social interactions we experience every day (Loftus, p. 68).  One of them, “The Act of Apologizing,” gives us 5 easy steps to follow to make certain we touch all of the important psychological aspects of an effective apology:

  1. Express regret – “I’m sorry” “I apologize”
  2. Explain the cause – “I forgot to call you”
  3. Take responsibility – “What I did was wrong”
  4. Promise forbearance – “I promise not to make that mistake again”
  5. Offer to repair or fix – “What can I do to make it up to you”

What you are really doing is acknowledging and validating the client’s feelings (Celmer).  You are assessing the situation and offering alternatives to fix the relationship (Gallagher).  The relationship with the client has been damaged and you are now the person who must fix it.  The fifth step is one that tends to make us nervous.  We really hate to open up the floodgates and get a list of unreasonable requests – however, how do you know what your client is thinking or feeling unless you ask?

Your team needs to receive training on civility and professionalism, and the mechanics of conflict communication.  It is surprising how much incivility occurs in the workplace (Customer Service Psychology).  Examples of incivility and unprofessionalism range from berating and criticizing, to reprimanding someone in public and displaying disrespectful behavior (Porath).  Step back for a moment and view your team as if you were a fly on the wall.  How many instances can you find of a team member criticizing that client who just checked out?  Of a tech telling a CSR (while standing out front in the waiting room), they were wrong to put that client in that exam room?  Of a doctor, throwing an instrument because they were handed the wrong instrument?  In addition, we really do not have the space to mention all the lunchroom gossip that is laid out about other team members.  Incivility and unprofessionalism are there, be it in small doses or an all-out epidemic.

Your clients experience this incivility and unprofessionalism in two ways – either directly witnessing it, or being on the receiving end of the after-effects.  25% of employees admit to taking out their frustrations on clients when they themselves experience rudeness and incivility from co-workers (Porath).  That means that the CSR, who was just publically reprimanded, has a high potential of being rude to the next client they encounter – and this means that your client will register a negative customer service experience that may very well be posted online in the form of comments about the rude receptionists at your practice.

Your team can brainstorm ways to avoid those disrespectful scenarios.  For instance, take the respect issue of time.  Involve you team in discussing what clients are saying about the time issue and what could be done to remedy repeating bad customer service in regards to time.  Maybe there are some ideas about being more hassle free or being more efficient – any of which would reduce the amount of time wasted.  What ideas does your team have about respecting client dignity or intelligence?  Go through the 5 tipping points and map out the steps the client goes through and where there are gaps or snags the team can correct so the next client will not experience bad customer service.  Once you understand the fine points of the psychology behind customer service your team has some easy starting points to examine, discuss and correct.

Burgers and Bulldogs

As you ‘inhale’ your wrong order from the burger joint you are probably not thinking about your clients.  (Well, maybe you are because your stomach is upset after that confrontation with the ‘bulldog’ client).  You can take your bad customer experience and use it to educate your team about potential bad customer experiences in your own practice.  Perhaps you can take a few examples from your team about their personal experiences – some you can use to praise your team (that would never happen here because we…).  Or use those experiences to bring to life the emotions and feelings so your team can understand and empathize with your clients.

Involve your team in identifying what clients are thinking and feeling by listening to client complaints and developing a response protocol that will turn negative experiences into positive ones.  In the end, your Circle of Care will remain unbroken and client relationships will be intact.


Celmer, Lynn.  The Psychology of Customer Service.  America’s Best.  Sept/Oct 2008.  http://www.americasbestcompanies.com/magazine/articles/psychology-customer-service.aspx

Customer Service Psychology.  February 5, 2013.  Be Kind.  The Simple Answer to the Costly Epidemic of Workplace Rudeness.  http://customerservicepsychology.wordpress.com

Gallagher, R.  What to Say to a Porcupine – Part 4 Defusing Angry Customers.  Parature blog June 1, 2009.  http://www.parature.com/what-to-say-to-a-porcupine-part-4-defusing-angry-customers/

Loftus, M.  Smooth Encounters.  Psychology Today.  March/April 2013.  Pg. 62-69.

Morris, T.  When Customers Attack:  The Psychology Behind the Upset Customer.  Parature Blog July 5, 2012.  http://www.parature.com/customers-attack-psychology-upset-customer/

Porath, C. and Pearson, C.  The Price of Incivility.  Harvard Business Review “The Magazine.”  January/February 2013.  http://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility/ar/2

Winch, G.  The Squeaky Wheel.  Psychology Today.  June 6, 2012.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201206/why-we-get-angry-about-customer-service

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