ENOUGH! Helping a Veterinary Practice Take a Public Stand Against Rude and Irrational Pet ParentsReading Time: 4 minutes
By Linda Kaplan, MHA | President
Every veterinary practice has received the occasional 1-star review online or has had in-person confrontations with “that” pet parent – you know, the one who doesn’t follow through on routine care, then berates your staff for making them wait an hour and having the audacity to charge them for services.
Unfortunately, since the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, we have witnessed an incomprehensible growth of unacceptable behavior from pet parents, both online and in person.
We get it. Frustration is high on all sides. Staffing shortages. Long hours. Curbside service. Communication challenges. Other clinics or emergency rooms have closed, are booked solid, or have limited hours. The whole system went on tilt. And with that, the verbal and written attacks on team members from pet parents escalated. Veterinary professionals across the country – from the client service rep on the front end to the board-certified specialist in the back – and everyone in between, were often traumatized by severe harassment.
Where did human kindness go? Where’s the empathy, or at least the sympathy and understanding that veterinary teams were doing as much as they could, as quickly as they could?
In the spring of 2020, to help our client, Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Thousand Oaks, CA (VSEC-TO) (just north of Los Angeles), we developed and implemented a Kindness Campaign. You can read all of the details here, but essentially it was an educational effort to set expectations for pet parents upon arrival and lead by example. If the VSEC-TO team was kind from the start, perhaps, we thought, it would be returned to them. And it worked – for a little while.
Throughout the remainder of the year, including the holiday season, winter, and the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, reopening the lobby, masks coming off – and on, then off, then on again – we all “tolerated” the obnoxious pet parents. We comforted and celebrated the staff. We professionally and appropriately responded to factually inaccurate and often ridiculous online reviews. We consoled one another. We dried tears and tried to replace incredible team members who refused to come back. And then, something snapped.
Following our recommendation, VSEC-TO’s business manager wrote an “Open Letter to the Public.” At the very least, it was a cathartic experience for him to get his thoughts and feelings down on paper. At most, it was a public stand, in front of his team, the veterinary community, and the pet parent community and beyond, declaring that the disgraceful behavior was unacceptable. And it was an opportunity to educate readers about what was truly happening in the veterinary industry across the nation. This wasn’t a “VSEC-TO” thing – in fact, they were one of the few practices in the region that never closed their doors.
We all knew publishing this letter could backfire on the practice. What if pet parents got even angrier? What if the referring community turned away? How would competing veterinary specialty and emergency hospitals push back? It was a bold move to take such a public stand and say ENOUGH! – especially during a pandemic.
After much discussion and thought, we took a leap of faith and, on July 1, 2021, published the letter on VSEC-TO’s website, on their Facebook page, and two weeks later, as a full-color, full-page advertisement in the community newspaper. We also shared it on the blogging platform, Medium.
By month’s end, the metrics told us a part of the local reaction – and the world did not collapse. In fact, far from it:
- Facebook impressions: 9,252
- Facebook reach: 7,319
- Facebook engagements: 1,737 (likes, shares, and comments, including a few from current VSECTO employees who did not acknowledge their job, and employees from other practices.)
- Facebook clicks to the website landing page to read more: 180
- Total website views: 558 and counting
- Email responses directly to the business manager: 15 and counting (including a few non-clients, just community members showing support)
- Phone calls to the business manager: A few, including competitors who applauded him
- Hate posts on Facebook or Yelp: 0
- Hate emails: 0
- Hate phone calls: 0
It’s difficult to make a final determination about just how many people saw the ad in the newspaper, printed the letter from the website, or verbally shared it with friends and neighbors. The emails, phone calls, and lack of negative responses provide just small snapshots of what we believe to be a very positive reaction from the community. We will continue getting the word out by sharing it with the local primary care DVM community and other veterinary audiences.
Just like we teach our children, we can’t turn a blind eye to bullying in any form. Most of us are terrified to get involved because when it is all said and done, “We don’t want any trouble.” But our teams need strong leaders who are willing to push back when necessary and do so with dignity and professionalism. We are honored to have developed and managed such an important initiative for VSEC-TO. And even more proud to stand beside them as they continue to remain heroes in our eyes, helping the animals we love.