We all experience a complaint now and then. If you are in any sort of management position then you may experience them on a much more regular basis, albeit somewhat vicariously. I had my most heated exchange, and resulting complaint, with a client for many years last week. I was in the office, hiding as vets do, and could hear the general tone and volume of someone at the desk (let’s call him Mr W) getting louder and more agitated. He was facing one of our younger receptionists and initially seemed confused as to where he was. Suspecting that he might possibly have senile dementia I wandered over to try to help. He turned his focus of attention to me, and I quickly realised that he was totally rational, just a very unpleasant specimen of the human race.
In these situations the best approach is to maintain professionalism, be objective and try to steer the client somewhere private to vent. However, this was not what happened. In front of a busy waiting room, plus a smattering of staff spectators, he asked me if I was “the big cheese” round here. I said I was a partner if that is what he meant. There then followed a long rant in which he called me a disgrace and the entire practice a shambles – bear in mind this was before he had even seen the vet!
The rational part of my brain was not the least bit bothered by this complaint as he was clearly being unpleasant, and I have been in the business long enough to not worry over the comments of every client. However, I was surprised to look down and see my hands were visibly shaking. Some part of my lower brain had been activated and I knew I had to get out of there before the red mist came down. Luckily he had also run out of steam so we both parted ways. As is often the case with these people he was then perfectly reasonable with the next vet he saw and bearable at reception, but then dropped in an absolute corker of a complaint letter mainly aimed at me. Thankfully I am thick skinned enough to deal with it, but there would have been many vets who are not.
The rational part of my brain was not the least bit bothered by this complaint… However, I was surprised to look down and see my hands were visibly shaking
So far, so what: a ranty man and a middle-aged vet who shrugged it off. The problem here comes when these people realise they have a nuclear button at their fingertips – the RCVS complaint. I can shrug off ranting clients, I have dealt with owning a practice in the pandemic and I can deal with the ups and downs of employing people. However, what I have not coped so well with is my so-far only RCVS complaint. It was dispatched at the first hurdle and there were no grounds for any professional (or civil) complaint. You won’t believe this, but I do think it may have been triggered by a bill they didn’t want to pay. The real stinger, though, is that for the complaint to be dispatched at the first stage it took four months. This is too slow for a simple case. It also should not be reaching the RCVS until it has gone through every stage of the complaints process at practice level, and through the Veterinary Client Mediation Service. However, the current state of affairs is that if they know about it, clients have a button that they can press that will put you through hell and will get the bill wiped (at the advice of the VDS). Turns out my accusers had done this before to skip a bill at another practice.
It also should not be reaching the RCVS until it has gone through every stage of the complaints process at practice level, and through the Veterinary Client Mediation Service
It is not just us that gets it, though. My oldest daughter (18) has just started work as an RNLI lifeguard at our local set of beaches. She was stationed on a slipway which was under some “flat” water. That was, flat until every minute or so a set of waves came in and washed kids and adults off their feet, creating a vortex in the corner of the slipway and the sea defence wall. After rescuing several people and very scared kids, she and her colleagues tried to stop people going down the slipway. Most people took the advice, but one pair of women decided they knew best and went in. They were fine as it happens. However, the next day one of these characters spotted my daughter with her boss at the same place. The woman launched into a shouting complaint about how she had been sworn at, how she knew the area and was local, how rude the lifeguards were, and so on.
If the public cannot be pleasant to someone trying to keep them safe in a known danger zone, what hope do we have dealing with their sick pets and their strong emotions, and then asking for their money?! Swim between the red and yellow flags, people, and swim away from accelerated complaints to the RCVS. Just keep swimming…