Understanding your Worth and Using it to Earn More Salary

Experts today often discuss the importance of being empowered, and feeling that way can be a key part of living a full and healthy life. But, take a second look at that phrase—being empowered—and you’ll see that it actually refers to a passive process, of other people empowering you. We’d like to suggest that, instead, you should empower yourself by understanding what you’re truly worth, embracing a philosophy of lifelong learning, and then using that combination to earn more money in the workplace. The following steps can help you achieve those goals.

#1 Conduct a Realistic Self-Assessment

There are self-assessment tests online, and there are consultants who can help you with this process. If you can be honest with yourself, you can do your own assessment. At its core, self-assessment is a process whereby you determine your strengths and weaknesses, and their value. Strengths can include:

  • work experience
  • educational degrees and certifications
  • volunteer and other non-paid experience
  • leadership skills
  • communication skills
  • organization skills
  • strong work ethic
  • problem-solving skills
  • good judgment
  • flexibility
  • self-discipline and initiative
  • analytical ability
  • empathy

This is just a partial list of what you could consider your strengths during your self-assessment process. To brainstorm an even more complete list, it could help to use Google to find additional traits and experiences to include; sites that focus on resume writing, for example, often have an excellent list to browse through and consider.

You can use the same list to determine which of these are your weaknesses—meaning any educational, personal and work-related areas where you could use more bolstering of skills. When you create an actual list of weaknesses, note where you are already working on improving that skill gap, and then brainstorm ways you can further your worth even more.

As noted in the subheading of this step, it’s important to create a realistic list. If you’re too modest, then you’re likely undervaluing yourself in the workplace, which means you may be earning less than you deserve. If this resonates with you, why are you doing this? How can you build your self-esteem? Were you taught growing up that bragging was inappropriate, and that humbleness was a virtue? If so, then the task in front of you is to work on being honest about your accomplishments in a professional way.

Conversely, if your self-perception is higher than the reality, you may ultimately suffer negative consequences. It may enable you to convince a supervisor that you deserve a promotion and a raise, but if you can’t perform appropriately then you may get negative reviews and eventually lose that job. Take a step back and realistically self-assess. Then boost your skills, both hard skill sets and soft ones.

#2 Create an Ongoing Improvement Plan

Few of us can rest on our laurels. For example, if you’d like to continue to advance in your career and continue to raise your salary, then it makes sense to use your self-assessment list to create an ongoing plan for further advancements.

It can be beneficial to have a trusted mentor to serve as your sounding board. This can help if you tend to be overly critical of yourself, as well as if you internally overstate your levels of job performance. When choosing a mentor, select one who can offer direct, constructive feedback; you may discover that you could use more than one mentor. Perhaps one is excellent in giving feedback about your actual job skills and performance, while another can guide you towards your goal of being more empathetic towards clients.

If you have mentors, focus on being open to hearing what they have to say, putting aside any feelings of defensiveness. If you have the right mentors, those who have your best interests at heart, then actively listening can provide you with excellent gifts of insight. (If you don’t think you have the right mentors, then that’s another situation entirely, and one that needs to be addressed.)

Take notes as your mentors offer feedback so you can refer to them and reflect. This can help you to gauge progress and it also shows your mentors that you’re committed to the process and the time they’re dedicating to help you.

#3 Formulate Your Personal Branding Statement

Once upon a time, branding was for products. In today’s times, personal branding is key, and when properly articulated, it can serve as a beacon for understanding your true worth at work. When you create a personal branding statement, you are stating what makes you unique and valuable, and this helps you to proclaim your worth in the workplace in a professional way.

Remember when, at the start of this article, we differentiated between being empowered and empowering yourself? The reality is that if you don’t present a certain brand, others will decide your brand for you. Which would you prefer?

Questions to ask yourself as you create this statement include what you stand for and what you advocate for. What do you aspire to do now? In five years? Ten? In what areas of work would you make a good participant? A great leader? Where are you continuing to advance?

Here is a starter statement: I am focused on developing profitable new lines of service at work, while cultivating authentic relationships based on trust and respect. My ability to stay calm in crises is a central tenet of my leadership skills.

After you’re clear about your personal branding, think about how to most effectively articulate it—not only in words, but also in how you act and interact each day, as well as doing what you say. If you don’t do exactly what you say, make sure it’s because you over-deliver, not under-perform. Your appearance is also important. This doesn’t mean wearing the fanciest attire, but it does mean the most appropriate. Being well groomed always matters.

The way you treat someone when it doesn’t necessarily benefit you may be the litmus test that determines whether you truly believe in and live out your branding. Your personal branding statement isn’t an overblown marketing slogan, written just to pull out of your pocket when you want to get ahead of the next person. It should always accurately reflect the authentic, genuine you.

#4 Asking for More Money

By living life as an ongoing learner, always filling in gaps and improving yourself personally and professionally, you are creating a scenario where you deserve more money. Sometimes you also need to ask for that extra cash.

Entire books have been written on how to ask for a raise. Overall, it involves research and preparation. Be prepared to discuss your accomplishments and how, specifically, they have added value and will continue to add value to your workplace. Quantify benefits whenever you can while also discussing how they add to the quality of the company and customer service provided.

Be aware of what the industry standards are for your position, and if you’re asking to be paid on the high end, be ready to share why you’re worth it and how you can continue to move the company forward, including financially. Be courteous and clear in your request and consider how much more responsibility you’d be willing to take on if that’s a counteroffer given.

Practice giving your pitch in front of a mirror. Watch your body language. Is that the image you want to portray? Practice your pitch in front of your mentor and/or other trusted colleagues. What feedback did you receive? What did you think of any comments made and how does that change your pitch? You don’t need to use all feedback that’s given, but thoughtful consideration of advice provided by intelligent professionals is wise.

Anticipate questions you may be asked and consider how you might answer them. Conversely, don’t create prepared answers that may sound stiff in the meeting with your supervisor, and may not precisely fit the actual conversation that’s taking place

Prepare your response in case the answer is “no”. Could you counteroffer by asking to meet again in six months to discuss the requested raise? If not, what does make sense as a next step?

At a minimum, this conversation demonstrates that you value yourself and gives you a chance to discuss your contributions with your supervisor. It may ultimately lead to a raise at your current workplace or it may give you confidence to job seek elsewhere, in a place where your skills can be put to even better use with better compensation given.

Bonus: Pay It Forward

As you continue to move forward in your career, any advancements that you make will likely have occurred—at least in part—because of mentors and other supportive professionals. So, it makes sense to consider how you can pay them back by paying it forward. Ways you can do that include the following:

  • serving as a mentor/role model to others
  • helping others in less formal ways
  • encouraging co-workers who are feeling down
  • introducing people in your industry who could likely help one another
  • complimenting people who are going the extra mile
  • keeping calm in an office crisis

The various ways to pay it forward are as unique as you are. Once you have figured out how to empower yourself and increase your net worth, take the time to help others do the same.

Issues to Negotiate in Contracts Seen in Practice

When you’re offered a job at a veterinary practice, it’s important to get as much information as possible about the specifics. You’ll typically be offered a certain wage, often along with benefits such as health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation time and the like. But the offer may not mention workplace flexibility and other perks that can have a significant impact on your job – and so it’s crucial to negotiate all of the key elements of the offer.

Many people feel uncomfortable when negotiating a work package, but gaining the ability to negotiate well help you to be more successful at work long after you’ve begun a particular job. As a part of a veterinary practice team, you may need to negotiate with vendors, and with challenging clients – and almost certainly there will be times that you need to negotiate with your employer about a raise, a revised benefits package, and evolving workplace perks and policies.

When you negotiate fair compensation for yourself, you will become more committed to the practice, which translates into better care for the practice’s clients and their pets. As an employer, when you negotiate fairly with employees, you will help to build loyalty that will stabilize and strengthen your practice.

What Negotiations Are & Why They’re Needed

A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. An employer, for example, may want to offer someone higher wages, but needs to consider the overall profitability of a practice. Meanwhile, an employee may understand and support the need for a thriving practice, but also needs to earn a certain wage to support his or her family.

Employers and employees negotiate because they each have what the other one needs, and they believe they can obtain a better outcome through the process than if they simply accept what the other party is offering. Sometimes, negotiations occur because the status quo is no longer acceptable for one or both parties.

Negotiations take finesse because, besides dealing with specific tangible points (wages, insurance benefits and workplace perks, as just three examples), emotions play a part and ongoing relationships are involved. The parties are choosing to try to resolve their different positions through discussions, rather than arguing, ending the relationship, having one person dominate the relationship or taking the dispute to another party with more authority.

Negotiation Terminology

Using the example of wages, employers and employee alike have a target point, which are the wages they would like the other party to agree to. The difference between what an employee wants to be paid and the employer wants to pay is the bargaining range. Meanwhile, the resistance point is where a party would walk away from negotiations; if too low of a wage or raise is proposed, an employee may begin job searching or a job candidate may decline an offer; the employer also has a point at which he or she will reject a wage request and end negotiations.

When the buyer (employer) has a resistance point that’s above the seller’s (employee), this situation has a positive bargaining range. The employer, in this case, is willing to pay more than the employee’s minimum requirements, so this situation has a good chance of being satisfactorily resolved. With a negative bargaining range, though, one or both of the parties must change their resistance point(s) for there to be a possibility of resolution.

In a wage negotiation scenario, either the employer will offer a starting wage or raise, or an employee or job candidate will request a certain dollar amount; the first person to name a dollar amount is making the opening offer. If at least one of the parties has a BATNA – best alternative to negotiation agreements – then he or she will probably approach the discussions with more confidence, having another alternative. So, if an employer offers someone a job, but has another excellent candidate waiting in the wings, the employer has another alternative and can set a higher and/or firmer resistance point. Conversely, if an employee or job candidate has a unique set of skills that are needed in today’s practices, that person probably has more options in the job market – perhaps even other pending offers. The quality of a negotiator’s alternatives drives his or her value by providing the power to walk away and/or set a higher and/or firmer resistance point.

Bargaining Styles

There is more than one type of bargaining style. One way to differentiate them is to divide them into distributive bargaining and integrative bargaining.

In distributive bargaining, parties’ needs and desires are in direct conflict with one another’s, with each party wanting a bigger piece of a fixed tangible such as money or time, so these negotiations are typically competitive. Parties are not concerned with a future relationship with the other person. A slang term for this type of negotiation is “playing hardball” or “one upping” someone. Strategies often include making extreme offers, such as an employer offering a very low wage or a job candidate asking for an exceptionally high one. Tactics include trying to persuade the other party to reconsider his or her resistance point because of the value being offered – in this example, the job candidate might say that a high salary was required because of his or her abilities or an employer could say that lower wages would be compensated by a great work environment.

With integrative bargaining, though, the goal is win-win collaborations that will provide a good opportunity for both parties. The employer would acknowledge the employee’s value and need for a decent wage, and negotiate accordingly, while the employee or job candidate would recognize the value of working at a particular practice as well as the fact that the employer has numerous other financial commitments to fulfill.  They recognize that they need one another to maximize their respective opportunities and negotiate from a place of trust and integrity, with a positive outlook that recognizes and validates the other party’s interest in the transaction.

Here’s an interesting psychological truth. Negotiators are more satisfied with final outcomes if there is a series of concessions rather than if their first offer is accepted, because they feel they could have done better.

Negotiation Styles

To successfully negotiate, it’s crucial to clearly define the issues involved, and to prepare for the negotiations. Each party should be clear about his or her target point, opening offer, resistance point and BATNAs.

Multiple negotiation styles exist, each on the spectrum of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here are summaries of common styles:

Competing (high in assertiveness, low in cooperativeness): these negotiators are self-confident and assertive, focusing on results and the bottom line; they tend to impose their views on others

Avoiding (low in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators are passive and avoid conflict whenever possible; they try to remove themselves from negotiations or pass the responsibility to someone else without an honest attempt to resolve the situation

Collaborating (high in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators use open and honest communication, searching for creative solutions that work well for both parties, even if the solution is new; this negotiator often offers multiple recommendations for the other party to consider.

Accommodating (low in assertiveness, high in cooperativeness): these negotiators focus on downplaying conflicts and smoothing over differences to maintain relationships; they are most concerned with satisfying the other party

Compromising (moderate in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators search for common ground and are willing to meet the other party in the middle; they are usually willing to give and take and find moderate satisfaction acceptable.

As long as both parties are committed to the business relationship and believe there is value in coming to an agreement, negotiations can typically proceed.  If one or both parties, though, are unreasonable, uninformed or stubborn – or listening to advisors with those characteristics – negotiations can fall through. Other challenges exist when one party doesn’t necessarily need the deal, isn’t in a hurry or knows that the other party is without other options and/or in a time crunch.

Negotiation Fears

You may dread negotiation. If so, you’re not alone. There are many reasons for not wanting to negotiate, but some common reasons include the following:

You have not yet solidified your position: in this case, more preparation is clearly needed.

Fear of looking stupid: nobody likes looking foolish, so some people will avoid negotiations altogether rather than taking the risk of not negotiating well.

Liking people and wanting to make them happy (but perhaps not being able to give them what they want)/not wanting to affect someone else in a negative way: if you are interviewing for a promotion at a practice, and you really like the practice manager, you may worry that negotiations will upset the manager or put her in a difficult position.

Fear of failure: some people would prefer to not negotiate at all, rather than making an unsuccessful attempt.

Feeling uncomfortable with money: some people were taught that it wasn’t polite to talk about money.

Other people have an aversion to conflict, overall, and so they miss out on the potential of it by not negotiating, in order to avoid feeling vulnerable.

Women in particular are reluctant to negotiate, with only 7 percent doing so. They suffer the costs associated with not negotiating because they tend to have lower expectations, fear being considered a “bitch” and can be penalized for negotiating. As a solution, women can consider framing their wants into the value that they will bring to the other party, and share how they can solve the underlying problem of the other party.

Areas where negotiating may not feel as intimidating include:

  • Negotiations for resources, whether it’s asking for more equipment or for a practice to hire more people
  • Negotiations about how to use resources; with a common purpose, solutions can be reverse engineered fairly easily
  • Negotiations where you have expertise
  • Negotiations with big companies where nothing is personal
  • Negotiations where you have evidence to support your position, including facts, data and logical reasoning

Salary and Benefits Negotiation Tips

Even though the examples given so far have focused on monetary compensation, when negotiating, don’t focus solely on wage or salary. Also discuss benefits offered and workplace perks – meaning the entire package. This can include, but is not limited to, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. If you’re job hunting, investigate what companies are offering. Where do you think the place you’re interviewing falls on that spectrum? What is the minimum pay level that you’re willing to accept? What is your preferred wage? What benefits are important to you?

If you want to work at a particular practice, but the pay rate isn’t quite what you want, ask if you can have a salary review in, say, six months. This doesn’t mean accepting a salary that is clearly sub-par, nor does it mean that you should try to put more pressure on a potential employer who is already offering you a good deal. It is simply something to consider in relevant circumstances.

What workplace perks might be desired? Would a company cell phone help you? Better equipment or software? If so, you could consider accepting somewhat lower pay if you get more tools to do your job.

Although telecommuting is seldom an option for veterinary staff, outside of perhaps financial or other purely admin functions, you could negotiate coming in half an hour later so that you can take your children to school or schedule a lunch break that coincides with when you need to pick them up. If you bring crucial skills to the negotiating table, you’re more likely to get these concessions than if you are entry-level.

If relevant, ask about practice policy if you become pregnant. How acceptable is the policy to you? How important of a negotiating point is this for you? What about if you are injured in the workplace? Educate yourself on your workplace rights before negotiations occur, as well as company policy. If you are valuable to the practice, perhaps you can negotiate some additional flexibility.

Who should be the first to make an offer? Some experts believe that, if you allow the other party to provide a starting dollar figure, he or she has shown his or her hand. But, research indicates that final figures tend to be closer to the original number stated than what the other party had originally hoped.

What NOT to Do

Beware of “between”! It probably feels reasonable to ask for a certain salary range – or range for a raise. But if you do that with a current or prospective employer, you have basically tipped your hand as far as how low you would go. Using the word “between” is actually a concession!

Another risky term: “I think we’re close.” A savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and perhaps stall in the hopes that you’ll concede, just to complete the deal.

Negotiating with Brokers

If you’re buying or selling a veterinary practice, then your negotiating skills will likely come in handy. For example, let’s say you’re selling a practice. In your listing agreement contract, you’ll typically need to agree to a period of time wherein the broker has exclusive rights to sell, perhaps six months or a year. If you’re not satisfied, can you terminate the agreement? It depends! It depends upon how well you negotiated the original contract with the agent. You may, for example, negotiate a clause stating that you can terminate the listing immediately for good cause or with a short period of prior notification if the termination is without cause. In exchange for that clause being included, perhaps you’ll agree to reimburse expenses incurred by the agent during the listing period and/or pay commission if the buyer is one that the agent initially identified.

Negotiating Lab Contracts

You’ll probably also need to negotiate contracts with labs that provide diagnostic services for your practice. You can work on a pay-as-you-go arrangement, sending work to different labs, as needed. The flaw is that you won’t get the financial incentives offered to practices who sign contracts. By signing a contract, you can negotiate lower fees or better rate schedules. When you pay less in lab fees, you could decide to offer lower rates to your customers, which will probably make more of them agree to pay for diagnostic testing in the first place. If you sign a multi-year contract with a lab, you may also be able to lease in-house lab equipment as part of the deal.

For Best Results

People tend to feel more confident during negotiations when it focuses on an area of their expertise and/or where solid evidence exists to back up the negotiations. Overall, success is achieved when you first:

  • Determine the interests of the other party
  • Embrace compromise
  • Observe the Golden Rule, treating others as you would like to be treated: fairly and reasonably, without defensiveness
  • Be prepared, both in factual information and in strategy

Know what’s most important to you, run the figures, and negotiate for what you want!

 

Delivering Great During-Visit Service

Here’s a simple, straightforward and universally true statement that will set the context for this entire article: You’ll retain more clients if you treat them well. This includes treating them well while they’re at your practice for an appointment. One of the most effective ways to boost your level of service is to put yourself in the shoes of a client as he or she walks in your front door.

  • How is the client greeted? How personalized is that greeting?
  • How welcoming is the waiting area? How comfortable?
  • How neat and clean is that area? How fresh does it smell?
  • How professional does the reception team look and act?
  • How long do clients need to wait to be taken to a room?
  • How long do they have to wait to talk to a veterinarian?
  • If there is a delay in service, how is that situation handled?

Take a look at your answers to these questions. If you are proud of your responses, then you’re already ahead of much of the competition. However, if the questions point out areas of service that can be improved, that’s not unusual. If that is the case, what action plan will you create?

To help create an improvement plan, you can ask a trusted friend to walk into the practice and then offer you his or her impression of what the area looks like; what is heard during their time in the waiting area; and what overall impression this experience gives about the veterinary practice.

As part of your hiring practices, remember the importance of soft skills as you interview people for a position. Your during-visit services will automatically be more appealing if clients are greeted by receptionists who enjoy engaging with other people, versus those who see client interactions as a necessary—but not necessarily enjoyable—part of their jobs.

Little things can make a big difference throughout the visit, and when you remember to focus on the client, this will likely boost his or her loyalty to you and your practice.

 

Greeting Clients

What happens when a client first walks into your lobby sets the tone for the entire visit. Quick ways to help clients feel valued include standing when he or she enters the lobby area, and slightly leaning towards the client and pet to show interest in them. Greet people with a friendly smile and make eye contact. Some receptionists like to shake hands with clients, while others prefer to offer a friendly greeting without the handshake involved. And, if you normally do like to shake hands, consider skipping this step during cold and flu season.

Providing coffee or other refreshments for clients while they wait can make them feel cared for. The receptionists can offer it during check-in, especially if someone is new to your practice. Even if the client declines, it can make a good first impression. Also, check to make sure you have the correct contact information for each client, doing so in a way that feels conversational, not rushed or rote.

Managers should train the front desk staff on how to enforce hospital policies that are intended to protect clients and pets.  The staff needs to be able to explain their importance to the clients and why these policies were created in the first place. If a dog is off leash, for example, the receptionist would ask to have him put on leash, gently sharing how that helps protect others in the waiting room.

If possible, have separate waiting areas for cats and dogs to reduce the stress on both the animals and their owners. Another option is to use a room divider. Hooks for coats and umbrella stands are little things that can make the room feel more welcoming, too.

During the Wait

Let’s say that appointments at your practice are running 15-minutes behind schedule. There are ways to help make this wait seem shorter for your clients. This includes providing fresh reading material in the waiting room. Your practice can also give out pictures of cats and dogs for restless children to color while they wait. Hanging interesting artwork on the wall can also help.

Update the clients about their current wait time when you can, adding in bits of friendly conversation, whenever possible, to make the time feel less tedious. It may be helpful if you share with them why the practice is running late. It’s also courteous to tell the client how much you appreciate his or her patience.

Avoid sitting and chatting with your coworker while the client waits, unless you make it clear that the client is free to join in. Also, never “talk shop” or gossip whatsoever.

Soft music playing in the background can be soothing, while offering free Wi-Fi can help clients to check in at work or connect with family while waiting. Posting pictures of happy clients and their pets, along with thank you notes from them, can create an upbeat atmosphere. The use of air purifiers can make the waiting experience more pleasant for your clients.

It can also help to have disposable bowls available for cats and dogs so they can have a drink of fresh water. Even if they aren’t interested, their owners will likely appreciate the gesture.

During the Consultation

The most important aspect of a consultation is to provide personalized service to the client standing in front of you. Although it can be hard to put aside what may have just happened with a previous client, the person and pet who are currently there for an appointment want and deserve your full attention.

Smiling as you meet a client’s new kitten can go a long way in cementing your relationship; so can empathy if euthanasia needs to be discussed. Use the client’s name and the pet’s name during your conversation and explain what you’re doing and why. At the end, ask if the client has any questions and use clear language in explaining what wasn’t understood. Help clients to understand why you’re recommending things such as bloodwork or a change in their pet’s diet. The “why” can improve the odds that the client will agree to those recommendations.

Try to appropriately balance the time that a client spends with a technician versus the time spent with the veterinarian. Situations vary, but it often makes sense for veterinarians to spend more time with a new pet, while still giving ongoing clients enough time and attention.

After the Consultation

When the consultation ends, your team gets another chance to explain instructions to the client and answer their questions regarding the treatment of their pet, the invoice or something else entirely.

Provide each client with a written summary of what took place during the visit, including any key findings. Highlight when the next visit is scheduled, if relevant, and make sure the client has any food, medications or preventatives that were purchased during this visit. If you know that your client typically buys certain items, such as a medicated shampoo, you can ask if refills are needed.

If the client needs help getting an animal back to the car, provide that service. Better yet, offer it to everyone. Keep umbrellas on hand for when it’s raining and use them as you escort the client and pet to the appropriate vehicle. When a client needs to carry out something such as a heavy bag of dog food, or is juggling a cat carrier with two small children, jump up to assist them. They will appreciate your kindness.

What to Consider as Next Steps

Which of these ideas has your practice already implemented? What are the next steps you’ll be adding to boost your during-visit service to the next level? What’s on your wish list for someday? Consider the steps that you can take today to begin transforming your wish list into a reality.

Legal Risk Management in Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Most people today have social media accounts that they use to keep in touch with friends, to read the news, to scroll through pages of cute animal pictures and more. We also use online resources to make everyday decisions, including choosing doctors, restaurants and movies. Today, virtually every service, from hair dressers to plumbers and beyond, is chosen in part based upon their online ratings and reviews. In fact, 72% of customers say they rely heavily upon online reviews when choosing services.

As a consumer, this can seem like a great way to weed out poor choices and find the best service. In fact, 87% of consumers say that a business needs a rating of at least three stars for them to even consider using them.

From the business owner’s point of view, though, these reviews can cause frustration, especially the negative ones which even have the potential to impact self-esteem. As veterinarians, for example, most of us feel that we have provided reasonable levels of service to our clients. Therefore, we can be shocked to see how our service has been construed by a client in a negative review.

For example:

Mrs. Smith calls Corner Veterinary Hospital, asking for a refill of Fluffy’s metronidazole. The receptionist informs Mrs. Smith that Fluffy hasn’t been seen by a veterinarian for two years and, if Fluffy is not feeling well, she should be examined by a veterinarian. Mrs. Smith becomes angry and refuses the appointment. Later that day, Mrs. Smith posts a Yelp review that Corner Veterinary Hospital refused to give Fluffy her medications and is run by money-grubbing veterinarians who just want an excuse to get more money from her.

Or:

Susie works for Dr. Johnson at Corner Veterinary Hospital. Susie is eventually terminated for excessive absenteeism. A few days later, Suzie posts a Facebook review that Corner Veterinary Hospital is filthy, Dr. Johnson doesn’t actually know what he’s doing, and he orders unnecessary treatments to make more money.

Naturally, Dr. Johnson and Corner Veterinary Hospital become indignant with such representations of their character and services. What options does the practice have for combatting such reviews?

In general, online reviews can either be ignored, responded to, or alternatively, the client can be sued for defamation. When deciding how to respond, it’s important to consider that the practice’s current clients have already formed their own opinions from their own personal experiences, and are less likely to be significantly swayed by a single negative review. Any recourse should therefore be taken with the potential client’s viewpoint in mind.

Choosing Among Options

The first option is to not respond at all. In general, if a practice has numerous positive reviews and only a few negative ones, potential clients who are deciding whether or not to use the practice will be less likely to be swayed by the negative reviews. In that case, most potential clients will accept the fact that some people will never be satisfied. A few politely-worded negative reviews can actually make the reviews of the business seem more authentic overall and, fortunately, potential clients can typically recognize highly unreasonable people.

It can be tempting to want to remove negative online reviews from a website, especially those that are more extreme. In many situations, this attempt may be unsuccessful, but there are some steps that can be taken. If the review appears on the veterinary practice’s Facebook page, for example, then the offending party can be blocked from the page so that any comments will not be viewable. Also, the Facebook review feature can be turned off entirely, although this will also remove all positive reviews, too. If the review appears on websites outside the control of the practice, and it is grossly inaccurate, some websites can be contacted to have the post removed, but this is often not successful.

Some practices ask acquaintances to post positive reviews to skew their ratings. Sites such as Yelp have mechanisms in place to identify and filter out reviews from friends and family and, on general principle, this should be avoided altogether. A better method is to encourage current clients to leave online reviews; although it is not ethical to ask them to write positive ones, it is acceptable to request reviews from clients who had quality experiences at the practice.

Under certain circumstances, veterinarians who feel they have been wronged will want to defend their names and reputations. After all, it’s hard to sit back and watch yourself be misrepresented online. Many people therefore feel the urge to respond to these reviews and clarify facts of the situation. Veterinarians, however, need to be aware that responding to such posts with the specifics of the situation may violate patient privacy laws. So, what can you do? Some practices try to proactively protect themselves by having new clients sign a statement saying that they waive the right to patient privacy in the case that the client posts a negative review.

Unfortunately, such a waiver would not be protective in court. Since the waiver is signed before any incident would occur, that client would not have had all the facts needed to waive his or her rights to privacy.

According to the AVMA, “veterinarians and their associates must protect the personal privacy of clients, and veterinarians must not reveal confidences unless required to by law or unless it becomes necessary to protect the health and welfare of other individuals or animals”. In other words, providing information in response to a negative review that could identify the client or patient could be a breach of privacy. At best, the practice could use the occasion to clarify their standard policies.

In addition to legal concerns, any reply to such a review could be perceived as inflammatory and defensive in tone by potential clients. Again, it’s important to remember that the Google-search audience is comprised of potential clients who are trying to decide which veterinarian would be best for Spot. A negative review may be considered more interesting, and is more likely to be read by a potential client when it has a reply from the practice.

If read, then the tone and impact of the reply is the potential client’s first insight into the personality of the clinic. If the practice seems defensive and unwilling to take responsibility, then the potential client may perceive the clinic as being hard to work with and one that’s not looking out for the client’s best interest. Any attempt to set the story straight can sound like arguing and create an unpleasant impression to the client.

That doesn’t mean that the review must be ignored entirely. Perhaps the practice doesn’t have many reviews and this one long and negative review thereby seems glaringly obvious. If the practice feels the need to respond, a generic but specific reply can be posted, such as the following:

Hi Mrs. Smith. We’re sorry to hear about your experience at Corner Veterinary Hospital. Please call Barb, our office manager, at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx so we can address your concerns.

This style of reply doesn’t break any patient confidentiality, can make the client feel as though he or she has been heard and, perhaps more importantly, provides an empathetic tone for potential clients to see. A good reply includes some expression of empathy, the specific name and phone number of the contact person, and an invitation to a private conversation.

The possible outcomes of this are three-fold. The best-case situation would be that Mrs. Smith does call Barb, hears an explanation and is satisfied with the conversation. In that case, she might remove the review or edit it to a positive. The next best situation is where Mrs. Smith calls and is reasonably satisfied but makes no changes to the review. The worst situation is where Mrs. Smith calls, but is still unhappy with the outcome, and makes further negative posts.

To help prevent this last situation from occurring, make sure the contact person is reasonably available and has the knowledge and authority to address the concerns. If Barb is only available every other Tuesday from 10:00am-12:00pm, Mrs. Smith will likely become even more annoyed. If Barb doesn’t understand the policy enough to defend it or doesn’t have the authority to make any reasonable accommodations, Mrs. Smith will likely be just as frustrated in the end, or even more so.

Ultimately, you can do your best to resolve these types of situations, but keep in mind that there are some clients who will never accept that things cannot be done their way. Since, by law, Fluffy’s metronidazole cannot be refilled without an exam in the past year and Barb cannot change that regardless of how much she wants to help Mrs. Smith, this particular situation may never be satisfactorily resolved for all parties.

Reviews from Disgruntled People  

Let’s say you receive a negative review from a client whom you’ve banned from the practice. Can that client be sued for libel? For a statement to be considered libel, it must be presented as fact, or be reasonably construed as fact by the average person. As long as the general gist of the story is true, even if some of the pieces are false, it may not be enough to constitute libel. Most reviews have some basis of truth to them, even if not every single detail is true, and these circumstances can make it very difficult for any practice to successfully fight a court case against a client. Plus, since almost all reviews are expressions of opinion, the practice will rarely have a solid enough case to make in court.

Moreover, pursuing a libel case can be quite expensive with a likelihood of success typically being slim. Besides, at the first hint of legal recourse, the client could immediately post that information to social media and create a publicity nightmare. Hence, any attempt at suing for libel is, in most cases, not worthwhile.

Another possible scenario involves unhappy employees or ex-employees. What recourse does the practice have against a disgruntled employee who has a bone to pick? Some websites, such as Yelp and Google, will block reviews from disgruntled employees if asked to do so. Plus, new hires could be asked to sign both a non-disclosure agreement as well as a non-disparagement agreement. Non-disclosure agreements prohibit employees from sharing information that is not publicly available, while non-disparagement agreements prohibit employees from making disparaging statements about their employer. Since most employers don’t (and shouldn’t) publicly disparage their employees, it is reasonable for them to request the same of their employees.

These need to be carefully worded documents, though, because the National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to discuss wages, benefits, and other terms and work conditions with other employees.

As far as the non-disparagement agreement in connection with negative postings, this document can create leverage for an employer in court, but the employer will likely incur significant legal fees and probably receive negative publicity while pursuing charges. Unfortunately, the other fallout of such a clause is that, in the case of a harassment suit, an employer who has a non-disparagement agreement in place will likely have to pay higher settlement fees. In general, non-disparagement agreements are best avoided.

What If the Negative Client Review is True?

Sometimes, unfortunately, the hospital’s staff does perform poorly. For example, let’s say that Mr. Jones dropped Buddy off at Corner Veterinary Hospital for a routine castration. During the course of Buddy’s stay, a veterinary assistant walked Buddy outside. Buddy slipped his collar and disappeared into the woods. Mr. Jones is contacted, and the assistants make every effort to find Buddy, but to no avail. Mr. Jones is irate and posts an angry Google Review saying that Corner Veterinary Hospital is clearly not responsible and shouldn’t be trusted with anyone’s pet.

In this situation, Corner Veterinary Hospital stands to lose a lot, as this is clearly an egregious offense and is entirely true. The review can be ignored, and perhaps the practice will make that decision if there are sufficient positive reviews to outweigh it. A polite response asking the client to call the office is also a valid option, but the practice may want to make the response more apologetic. The response can also include an acknowledgment of what went wrong, with a description of what has been done to fix the problem, such as the following:

We’re very sorry that you’ve had this experience at Corner Veterinary Hospital. All our staff is very upset about this situation and continues to search for Buddy. Since we never want an incident like this to happen again, we are having all of our hospitalized patients walked with two leashes, including a slip lead that is more secure. We are also working on fencing in a section of our property for even more security. If you would like to discuss this further with us, please call Barb, our office manager, at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx.

While this is not an ideal situation by any means, showing concern, an acknowledgement of what went wrong, and a plan to prevent future issues may be the best method of preserving the practice’s reputation.

What’s Best

Ideally, practices should focus on performing in a way that will help to prevent negative reviews from being posted. While there are some clients who will never be satisfied, most reasonable clients will be happy when you have a friendly staff that provides them with good service, and the practice enforces transparent, reasonable policies. It is important to have a plan in place, though, so that you know how to respond, in general, when you do get a negative review.

You can use negative reviews to discover where your practice has the opportunity to improve its client service. Was Mrs. Smith unhappy, for example, because the receptionist offered her an appointment three days out when Mrs. Smith was already sick of cleaning up her cat’s diarrhea? Or was the receptionist unempathetic and hard to work with? While neither of these may be the case, every negative review is an opportunity to evaluate and potentially improve the practice’s policies.

Six Elements of Successful Telephone Etiquette in Veterinary Practices

People like to feel as though they’re worth your time and attention. It’s only human nature, right? When clients or potential clients call your veterinary office, they want to hang up feeling as though their cats and dogs are important to you.

Here are six strategies to help you secure and retain clients through how your practice handles those telephone conversations.

Personalize Calls and Establish Relationships

If you’re a manager, your role in this can be to help ensure that people who answer the practice’s telephones have enough time to focus on the calls they take. You don’t want them to get overwhelmed by having to put too many callers on hold, or become distracted by having to do other tasks.

How many phone calls does your practice get on an average Monday? An average Saturday? At what times throughout the day does your call volume tend to increase? Have you adequately staffed for these times? If someone on your team points out that he or she can’t give adequate attention to callers, how do you respond? Is that response effective?

If you are someone who answers the phones for your practice, quickly find out who is on the other end of each call. Get the name of the caller and their pet(s) and use those names throughout the conversation. Let’s say, for example, that someone calls and wants to know how much you charge for a first-time visit for a kitten, including shots. You could respond by saying that it can be so exciting to get a new kitten, and then ask them for their name and their kitten’s name. In that one simple response, you’ve already set a friendly tone and obtained the information that you need to start to personalize the call.

If you ever feel as though you don’t have enough time to spend with each caller, let your manager know. Ideally, you can brainstorm effective solutions together.

Clarify Client Needs and Provide Appointment Information

During a phone call, find out information such as the pet’s age, how long the person has had the pet and the breed. Use language that’s clear and easy to understand, avoiding industry and medical jargon.

If the caller starts out by asking about the price of a service, let him or her know that you would be happy to provide them with that information, but you need to clarify a few details first. This gives you a chance to bond and build rapport, while ensuring that you’re providing the potential client with the information that he or she really needs. If you simply answer the question with a dollar figure, the caller may just end the call at that point.

Picture this scenario as an example. Let’s say that someone wants to know how much it will cost to neuter a male kitten. Through your conversation, you discover that the caller intends to adopt at a shelter tomorrow where that service is provided in adoption fees. You could then walk your caller through what a typical appointment is like for a kitten just adopted from a shelter and help to book an appointment.

Every situation is different but, in each case, clarifying the client’s needs is a crucial step in providing the best service possible to the callers.

Ask About Other Pets

Let’s say a client calls to make an appointment for his or her dog. While updating the records, you notice that the client’s cat is overdue for a checkup. Kindly remind the client of this information and offer to make appointments for all the animals during the same phone call. Ask what days of the week are best, whether morning or afternoon works better, and so forth, and the client will likely recognize how much effort you put into making the situation as stress-free as possible.

Then, offer two choices. “OK, so Thursday afternoons are good for you. Would you prefer 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.?”

Side note: Although the two-choice rule can be highly effective in this situation, it is best to avoid many of the types of questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you want to make an appointment?” makes it far too easy for a caller to say, “No.”

Be Aware of the Language You Use

Compare and contrast these sets of examples:

  • “Georgie needs a rabies booster shot” versus “I recommend that Georgie get his rabies booster shot”
  • “I’ve fixed your bill” versus “Your bill should be okay now”
  • “The doctor plans to call you today to answer that question” versus “The doctor is really busy but will call sometime today when she can”

In each case, the first response is more confident and helpful, while the second one is more wishy-washy. And, in the second two examples, the latter responses can be insulting to clients, perhaps making them feel that they aren’t important to your practice.

Be Knowledgeable, But Not Scripted

Clients and potential clients alike appreciate when the person answering the phone is knowledgeable about schedules, services offered at the practice, and so forth. Having said that, authenticity is what connects people and makes people want to engage with you, so an overly scripted presentation can turn people off.

Here’s another caution: as receptionists gain experience and knowledge, it can be tempting for them to guess what their veterinarians would say, and provide information to callers. Even though experienced team members may be correct with their advice, it’s not wise to provide answers to medical questions without getting the information from the doctor.

For example, a client might call and say his dog is lethargic and doesn’t want to go outside. A receptionist might respond with, “Well, it is pretty cold outside. Maybe you could wait to see how Brutus does tomorrow. I know my dog doesn’t like really cold weather, either.” That receptionist may be exactly right, or Brutus could be having a significant medical problem. If the latter is true, this opens up the practice to legal liability.

Be Friendly but Also Efficient

Friendliness and kindness can play significant roles in obtaining and keeping clients. For example, if you realize that there is no way for you to avoid putting a caller on hold, doing so in an empathetic way will make it much more likely that the caller will understand and be willing to wait, rather than if you sound frazzled or even irritable. This concept will hold true in virtually everything you do at the practice.

Having said that, efficiency is also important for many reasons. First, the person calling in may be busy; second, efficiently handling calls opens up more receptionist time for the next caller.

Conclusion

To help ensure that your practice provides quality telephone service and etiquette, here are four tips:

  • When hiring, consider soft “people” skills alongside the more resume-driven ones.
  • Thoroughly train people who will answers phones, providing them with solutions to deal with typical challenges that arise.
  • Provide enough resources so that receptionists are not forced to hurry. Efficiency is good; hurrying often leads to frazzled employees and dissatisfied clients, as well as potential clients who go to the practice across town.
  • Managers and receptionists should communicate whenever a problem arises and work together to brainstorm solutions that work well for everyone involved.