Communicating with clients – effectively – is one thing many new veterinarians struggle with. Yet, it is also one of the most vital skills to master. If you can’t communicate with clients effectively – this means in a way that will encourage clients to follow your treatment recommendations – then you risk never becoming a successful vet.
This shouldn’t scare you. All it takes is a few simple changes to your attitude and approach, and you can begin to build trusting and genuine relationships with your clients.
Oh, and one more thing before we delve into our four tips: clients are not the enemy. Too often, veterinarians complain that clients only focus on cost and end up agreeing to the cheapest option (not usually the best treatment option). As a result, veterinarians become anxious when recommending a costly, but preferential, treatment.
It is easy to forget that clients love their pets too! Largely, clients do want the best for their animal but they might side with a cheaper option because they don’t understand the dearer (and probably more complex) option. Ultimately, success comes in helping clients to understand what is the best option.
These four tips will help you to deliver a confident consultation whilst promoting understanding, a key facet of effective vet-client communication.
This is easier said than done, but your confidence will develop in time. If you don’t feel like you know all the answers straight away, don’t worry. You don’t have to! Part of giving an effective consultation is being methodical, not flustered. If it helps, you can take a deep breath before speaking.
The key is to present yourself with an aura of confidence, but know your boundaries. Remember, you have been to vet school and deserve to be here. But, as a new veterinarian you can’t know everything straight off the bat (and no-one really expects you to). You can still have confidence in what you don’t know, but just remember to keep communicating with the client and letting them know your thought process.
If you can confidently get to a problem list, or a close approximation of one, then you will have done the job required of you in the exam room. The next steps will either buy you time (lab work or treatment) or can be completed in the sanctuary of the treatment area, where you can be mentored through a case by a senior colleague. Then you can take some of their confident magic fairy dust and sprinkle it on yourself!
Whilst you should be confident and gently assertive in your communications with clients, you should also be honest, reflective, and flexible in your approach depending on the client. Again, this will come with experience.
You should be sure to manage clients’ expectations by going through all potential outcomes for different treatment options. The good news is, the more experience you gain, the more knowledge you will have of outcomes and client expectations.
A technique that will really help you is keeping a journal of clinical cases you come across. Write down the key facts of the case, the clients’ expectations (keep these anonymous), the outcome and any additional notes and/or information. Gradually, you can begin to build your very own record of clinical experience, what clients usually come to expect and whether the outcomes typically match. You can then alter your delivery accordingly.
Be on ‘Receiver Mode’
Listen to your clients intently, especially if they have any concerns. One reason clients do not follow recommendations is because they have a deep seated fear. For example, they may be fearful that their beloved Scruffy will not wake up after anesthesia. Therefore, after a recommendation, ask them ‘how does that sound?’. If they have any concerns, acknowledge them but explain that modern anesthesia presents far less of a risk than it used to and why that is the case. Assure them that Scruffy is in good hands.
When you are taking a history, it is far more productive to ask open questions than closed ones. ‘What is Scruffy’s diet like?’ rather than ‘Do you feed Scruffy treats?’, ‘What does a typical day look like for Scruffy?’ rather than ‘Do you take Scruffy on regular walks?’.
Even if the client focuses on something that isn’t too important, listen, acknowledge and respond.
Use Your Weekend Words
Think like a vet. Speak like a human.
We said earlier that clients often don’t follow recommendations because they don’t understand them. It’s no good using technical terms and veterinary jargon to convey your ideas to clients. Yes, this may make you sound clever, but it will completely alienate your clients. This is not ideal.
Instead of ‘periodontal disease’ say ‘tooth decay.’ Instead of ‘miliary dermatitis’ say ‘skin rashes and lesions.’ If your clients understand the problem, they will see more of a need for treatment.
We hope you found these tips on client communication useful. Remember, understanding is key. The moment your client loses grasp on the situation is the moment they have ‘checked out’ on following your recommendations. In sum, you should project confidence, be honest, be an attentive listener and be more human!
If you found this article useful, you should check out Dr Dave Nicol’s best-selling book for new vet graduates: So You’re a Vet…Now What?! Available to download digitally for instant access, this book takes an in depth, but wide ranging, look at the lessons all new vets should learn – but were never taught at vet school!