When Respect For Clients Is Lacking: 9 Warning Signs

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Does your health and wellness staff treat your clients, customers or patients with respect and honor? I bet you said “Yes!” right away.

Well, let me rock your boat for a minute.

Radial led a public workshop on building client relationships. Most participants worked with overweight clients who also had health concerns…diabetes, joint problems, etc.

Some attendees turned out to have very judgmental views of their clients, even describing them as “lazy” and thought they should “just suck it up”. In fact, some participants – very fit, never overweight, no personal health struggles – were quite smug about their healthy lifestyles.

Now, almost everyone enters this profession because they want to make people’s lives better, healthier, and happier.

It’s possible some of your staff may lose sight of that purpose, much in the same way doctors are sometimes criticized for not seeing patients but instead seeing only diseases. Your team members may become jaded, impatient, or actually hostile towards clients. And if they’re experiencing extraordinary stress in their own lives, their patience can vanish overnight.

As managers and owners of wellness businesses, be alert for these warning signs. Coach the offending employee, and get them out of the business if they can’t renew their commitment to a positive and supportive approach.

1. Poor listening skills

Look for staffers who consistently use reflective listening techniques. Reflective listening emphasizes truly understanding client concerns, both what they say and what remains unspoken.

Useful reflective listening techniques include:

  • Echoing their comments to encourage more disclosure: “So it really felt bad when you couldn’t find an outfit you felt good about for your daughter’s wedding…”
  • Summarizing the client’s comments: “Let me see if I understand so far…” or “Here’s what I heard…”
  • Pay close attention to statements that suggest openness to behavior change, like “I’m going to do something but I’m not sure what” or “If I can’t lose weight this time, I’ll have to start medication.”
  • Invite them to share more information: “Tell me what I missed…” or “What other points should we think about?

Professionals with poor listening skills often achieve poor results. They immediately launch into action without enough information to choose the best approach.

Watch for these red flags: professionals who want to jump right into action with a client, who ask very few questions, tend to use yes/no questions rather than open-ended questions, or don’t consistently and effectively summarize what they’re hearing from the client.

These are skills that can definitely be learned, so focused training on client communication skills should be the first approach when you have staffers who fall short in this area.

2.  Jokes or sarcastic comments to coworkers at the client’s expense

You want staffers with genuine compassion and caring for your clients and customers. Look for consistency in how they talk about clients in public and in private.

Often professionals say the right things when they’re with a client, but make demeaning or critical comments behind the scenes. Take this inconsistency seriously. It’s giving you real insight into how they truly feel. Even if employees say the “right” things, clients are often amazingly good at detecting the underlying insincerity.

3. Poor client success rates compared to coworkers

The most effective health and wellness professionals are excellent at uncovering the anxieties, frustrations and fears of their clients through active listening and questioning.

The reason they’re so effective is that they use the information they gather with these techniques to adapt their approach for each client.

Compare the success rates across your team. Focus on the staffers with unusually poor client results. Factor out anything that might distort the comparison – for example, a staffer who always works with the most difficult clients.

Then, start discreetly observing client interactions for team members with low client success rates. Get input from their clients – what’s working, what’s not, and are they finding their experience with your business to be what they expected it to be.

4. Lower client retention and referral rates compared to coworkers

Clients who feel that their relationship with your business is rewarding and productive generally remain clients. If they’re extremely pleased, they’ll refer friends, family and coworkers to your business as well.

Compare client retention and referral rates for each of your staffers. Zero in on the individuals whose clients typically turn over fastest. Look for the employees whose clients rarely refer others.

Reach out to their former clients and ask for their feedback. Start with the key customer loyalty question we described in our feature on “The One Question Wellness Businesses Should Ask Customers“. Then explore what they liked about their experience with your business, what disappointed them, and what you could do better.

5.  Limited prior life experience, especially with health and wellness concerns

The most effective wellness professionals often have direct experience with their own health struggles. Perhaps they’ve battled to maintain a healthy weight. Perhaps they take medication for a chronic condition like diabetes, epilepsy, depression, or ADD/ADHD. They may themselves have lower back pain, or bad knees, or migraine headaches!

This experience often gives them real empathy for their clients. Their own lives have taught them that you can want good health very badly and yet find it difficult to achieve.

However, many health and wellness businesses feel that their labor budget forces them to hire relatively inexperienced staffers who often haven’t yet experienced the full array of lifestyle commitments – family, friends, community, work, school, self-care, eldercare, etc. – or serious health concerns.

Without focused training, it’s often very difficult for these employees to really appreciate the struggles of their clients. However, great listening and communication skills can overcome lack of first-hand experience, so make sure you invest in adequate training for these team members.

6. Judgmental or strongly opinionated beliefs about why people struggle

We constantly learn more about the causes of health concerns like obesity. For example, the New York Times reported this week that intestinal microbes may cause weight gain in some people.

Watch for staffers who resist or ignore new information when it becomes available, preferring to hold onto the beliefs they’ve always had.

A red flag is often the word “just”, since it frequently accompanies an oversimplified or judgmental view of the client’s situation.

Keep an eye on staffers who say things like:

  • “You just need to get up from your desk more.”
  • “People who are stressed just need to spend less time on work.”
  • “People who weigh too much just need to stop snacking”
  • “People who don’t workout are just lazy”
  • “You just need to stick to your diet”

Another red flag: professionals who complain about the “excuses” that clients use.

7. Pride that they “tell it like it is” even when it’s uncomfortable

Effective wellness professionals tailor their communication to the individual client and what they feel will be most helpful to that client.

Some staffers pride themselves on always “telling it like it is”. That approach may work with some clients, but it shouldn’t be the default.

Clients usually respond to this tactic in one of two ways. They may perceive arrogance – the professional’s underlying assumption that they know the ultimate answer. Or they may be intimidated, afraid to raise issues or disagree, because they expect the wellness professional to “slap them down”.

Either way, this behavior usually confirms their worst fear: no one’s really listening to them or paying attention to their issues.

Moreover, people who enjoy “telling it like it is” usually choose words that are at best blunt and at worst rude and discourteous.

For example, we heard a wellness coach say loudly to a client, in front of several other clients and a couple of potential customers:

“Listen, I’m just going to lay it on the line. If you don’t get serious about losing weight and getting in shape, I just don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You’ve got to get it together or you’re going to die early of a heart attack.”

No surprise that her client vanished after that session.

8. Impatient or aloof demeanor with clients

Effective team members stay “in the moment” with clients. They’re engaged in what’s going on and patient as they explain and discuss the client’s goals, actions, and behaviors and demonstrate techniques and approaches.

Watch for employees who rush through explanations to clients. We’ve observed nutritionists and dietitians who quickly dump enormous amounts of information on clients, say “OK?”, and quickly move on. And we’ve seen personal trainers staring off into the distance while their clients do rep after rep.

9. Conviction that they’ve seen it all before

The value of experience is that you start to recognize recurring patterns among clients. It helps you develop approaches that will work for many clients, not just one.

The risk of experience is that professionals sometimes operate on auto-pilot, falsely confident that they’ve seen it all. They mentally pigeonhole clients (“emotional eater”, “frazzled mom”, “frail senior”, etc.) and stop listening for new information.