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I'm a relatively intelligent pet owner & so are (most) of your veterinary clients.

Posted in Client Service @ Feb 6th 2014 - By Judy Gillespie
Successful Communication

Communicating successfully with your veterinary clients is not always easy but there are some things you can do...

I’m a relatively intelligent person. I can understand most issues that relate to my two dogs.  And when you’re explaining my dog’s condition and then outlining your recommendations, I’ll nod my head, look intelligent and probably agree with you.

“Do you have any questions?” you may ask. “No, I think I’ve got it all” I might say.

And then by the time I’ve arrived home (a massive 5 minute drive away) it’s quite likely I will have forgotten at least 60% of what you’ve told me.  Don’t take it personally; I do the same thing with information from the physio, plumber, dentist ..anyone really who verbally gives me information or instructions.

I'm relatively intelligent..but...

As I’ve already mentioned – I’m a relatively intelligent person AND I’m also a mum with 2 very busy kids and a husband. I manage our household and my own business – I have so many balls in the air that I should be the star of the next Cirque du Soleil show.  So while you were talking to me I may or may not have also been thinking about whether my kids have a fork in their lunchbox to eat their pasta salad with, reminding myself to stop in at the butcher’s to get something for dinner and remembering that I haven’t paid my Telstra bill. Or I may have been listening to you with 100% of my attention.  The problem is that you won’t know either way.  After being involved in literally hundreds of hours of interviews in my previous life as an HR Manager I’ve perfected the art of appearing to give you 100% of my attention when I’m not – tricky hey! (Don’t get me started on the implications of not listening with 100% attention during an interview)

Learning by watching & doing

I should mention that I’m also a highly visual & kinaesthetic learner.  This means I learn by reading and doing. My auditory learning skills?  Not so good.  However I’m not alone, as a large percentage of the population are also visual learners (at least 65%, probably more).

So if you really want to help me provide the best care for my two dogs it’s pretty simple.  Don’t just ‘tell’ me, you need to also ‘show’ me:

  • Client Handout from dvm360Show me a diagram while you’re explaining the condition – the more colour and detail the better
  • Give me a handout to take home with step by step instructions on what I have to do, and  trust me, NOTHING is too simple to warrant step-by-step instructions! (Make sure the handout looks professional though – a dodgy looking one has me questioning if the information you’ve given me is also dodgy)
  • Send me an email reinforcing the information and preferably providing me with more details so I can read up more about it later.
  • Send me an eBook – they’re awesome as you can really cover a topic in detail and they look professional as well (I love information, but for those clients who don’t, they can choose to pass on the extra bits)

If you haven’t already, check out the iConsult – the Australian designed app for the veterinary consult room, it ticks all the boxes! (Yes they have a page in the Vetanswers Business Directory but their App is awesome!)

You can also click here to visit dvm360 and check out their free client handouts.

Getting the words right

So now you’ve worked out you need to SHOW me what you’re talking about AND follow it up with a handout and preferably an eBook, you also need to consider those clients that are not only visual learners but who also may have little experience in the veterinary world.  These are the clients who may not understand your explanations.  I know it can be tricky – if you explain something too simplistically the more knowledgeable client may feel you’re being condescending. Explain something using too much technical jargon and your client may feel you’re talking over their head. 

Again, you can explain something to me and I’ll appear to be understanding every single word (I may even be giving you 100% of my attention!) but I also don’t want to feel like an idiot by admitting I don’t understand a word you’ve just said.

The 'Teach-back technique'

This is where a helpful blog post from dvm360 can help you out ‘Veterinary clients’ biggest doctor complaints revealed’.  The author Bob Levoy, suggests that one way to deal with this type of communication gap is to use the ‘Teach-Back Technique’.  Check out the blog post for more details but basically the aim is to get the client to repeat back to you in their own words what you have just explained. Ah hah!  There’s no hiding behind me wisely nodding my head as you talk now!

I can see this technique will require a little bit of practice so that you don’t come across as condescending and you’ll need to find the right language but I think the suggested scripts offer a great place to start.

So in summary if you want to be sure that your clients have understood what you’ve explained AND also understand exactly what they have to do when they get home, you need to do a few things:

  • Show them: use diagrams, give out handouts and email them eBooks
  • Listen to them: get them to repeat back to you in their own words what you have just explained.

So from your understanding, what’s the most important thing you need to do when communicating with clients? ;-)  You can tell me in the comments section below.

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