When the Customer is Stressed
Leadership & Organizational Development Manager
Learning & Development, Ethos Veterinary Health
Posted on 2020-02-26 in Client Care
In this post, we look at the Harvard Business Review article, “When the Customer Is Stressed.”
In any industry, customers assessments of quality, value for price paid and willingness to recommend to others are all influenced by emotion. This is especially true in the veterinary industry, which is considered a high-emotion service. As the article states, these services trigger strong feelings before the service even begins.
Let’s take a deeper dive to gain insight into what may lead to emotions and what we can do to help support our clients.
Outlined below are the key points, as well as reflection opportunities and team discussion questions.
“The foundation of excellent [cancer] care is and always will be the quality of the diagnosis, the treatment plan and the clinical services. But compassionate, sensitive delivery matters a great deal in shaping the reputation of a care organization and distinguishing it from competitors.”
High-emotion services may elicit intense feelings for the following reasons:
Lack of familiarity with the service being delivered.
Visiting the vet for any reason, let alone a highly emotionally charged reason such as a terminal illness or euthanasia, is unfamiliar to many people. Their closest comparison is what they’ve experienced in human medicine which, as we know, has some stark differences.
Lack of control over the performance of the service.
One difference between veterinary and human medicine is the role finances play prior to care that is provided. Bills aren’t something that are handled after the fact, once emotions have regulated and the success (whatever this looks like) of the treatment has been initiated and completed. Not only might our clients feel a lack of control over what they can afford, but many of them also do not have a frame of reference to know what recommended services are need to do vs nice to do, other than what we tell them. This is unfamiliar to them and we must first establish trust.
Major consequences if things go wrong.
Treatments and procedures come with risks, sometimes minimal and sometimes severe, which we review with our clients prior to approval of those services. That conversation frequently covers the primary educated-guesses for what is going on, various tests to determine which of those is most likely, potential anticipated treatments and the associated finances. It can be an overwhelming amount of information, particularly for those clients who are experiencing strong emotions. If a client approves a non-emergent surgery and, for whatever reason, the patient experiences an adverse event, this can lead to feelings of regret, guilt and anger.
Complexity that makes the service a black box and gives its provider the upper hand.
“My primary differentials are a spinal cord tumor or disc herniation. We’re going to need to run a CBC/Chem and get thoracic radiographs before the MRI. Sammy will be under anesthesia and we’ll inject contrast.” How much of what was communicated in this was understandable to you, someone who works in the industry? What do you think that means in terms of a non-medically trained client? Using technical or industry-specific language can elicit negative thoughts and feelings for our clients, which may inhibit their willingness to ask important questions at the risk of sounding uninformed or looking stupid.
Our line of work will always be one that elicits strong emotions. While we can’t change that, we can utilize strong communication skills and follow the guidelines below.
Identify emotional triggers
The article states that the initial emotional trigger is a need for the service. In other words, the first trigger is the referral to our hospitals or the realization that an ER is needed. We are likely not involved at that time. When the client arrives, our performance, promptness, appearance (calmness, competence and promptness) and communication can either heighten negative feelings (anger/fear) or exceed their expectations.
Respond early to intense emotions
In emotional times, the impressions left by service providers are long-lasting and can heighten the impact of a service experience, for better or worse. A failure to recognize and quickly respond to our client’s emotional states can leave them feeling scared, frustrated, powerless and ignored.
- Prepare client’s for what’s next. In other words, use the core communication skill signposting. Not knowing what lies ahead causes anxiety. The more clearly we can create the picture of what to expect, the better we support our clients. The beginning of every stage of a long-term care, say a transfer to a different specialty for example, is an opportunity to repaint that picture and recommunicate what to expect.
- Monitor for emotional spikes. While we can’t predict our client’s emotions, we can use the core communication skill of gaining client perspective to check on how they’re doing and how satisfied they are with our hospital and their medical team, as this is can reveal problems underlying the escalation of a client’s emotions.
- Communicate with care. Utilizing non-verbal communication and empathy, we can have a big impact on anxious clients who are looking for evidence of competence. They can’t easily assess our medical capabilities. What they can assess is our professionalism and our communication, which informs their evaluation of our competence.
Enhance customers’ control
Time can seem to stand still for clients who need service, but cannot access it. Provide a direct contact and avoid service gaps. They need to know who to contact and how at any given time.
If their pet is discharged post-surgery, do they know what number to call at 1:00 AM?
Oftentimes, even just having that information helps ease their anxiety and helps them feel a bit more in control.
Hire and rigorously train people who can communicate respectfully
Serving emotionally charged clients can be difficult, draining and downright miserable for the wrong employee. In this role, you’re expected to be able to effectively cope with stress, respectfully communicate with clients and help create trust and confidence.
If you haven’t already, please invest in yourself and your professional development by completing the following communication and self-awareness modules. You’re in the unique position to be our client’s first interaction with our hospital and, typically, our last. Your influence on their experiences cannot be understated. You’re a hero in everyday clothing. Thank you for what you do.