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Some veterinary clients you love...and...some you don't

Posted in Client Service @ Apr 30th 2015 - By Judy Gillespie, Vetanswers
Some veterinary clients you like and some you don't

If you understand the words, why does it seem like some of your veterinary clients are speaking a totally different language?

A version of this post appeared in the AVNJ magazine Vol 20, No 4

Many years ago I was a District Human Resource Manager for a large retail organisation and had eleven stores that I provided HR advice and support to.  This meant I had to deal with eleven different store managers and every day as I prepared to visit one of them I would either be thinking “Yippee” or “Oh no” based on which store I was scheduled to visit.  I really enjoyed spending time with some of my managers – they were welcoming, interested in what I had to say and easy to work with.  Others were the opposite (one was downright hostile!) and everything seemed to be difficult no matter how hard I tried.

However all this changed after we attended a training course on Team Management.   Part of the course involved personality, work preferences and communication style testing and that was when I had my light bulb moment. It’s always interesting to find out what type of personality and communication style you have but it’s fascinating to find out that of your team mates. 

It all depends which side you're on

This particular style of testing illustrated results using a wheel – and surprise, surprise – the Managers that I most liked to work with all had personality and communication styles on the same side of the wheel as me and those I least liked working with were all on the other side.  The manager who was downright hostile?  Well he was diametrically opposed to me and this explained a lot!

That’s when it all became clear.  The reason I was having so much trouble working with some of the managers was because we were communicating using totally different styles and in a way that’s like talking a different language.  So I spent some time learning their ‘language’ and even though I was obviously most fluent using my own style of communication (or language) I tried to incorporate their communication preferences as much as I possibly could – and it worked!

So.... you know how there are those clients that you see coming through the door or hear on the phone and you think “Great” and then there are those other clients that you inwardly (hopefully!) groan when you see or hear from?  Well maybe that’s because you both have different communication styles and are therefore effectively speaking a different language.

To discuss the range of communication styles in detail is obviously not possible here but this quick, simplified version is a good place to start.

Your client may be a ‘Controller’ 

Those with this style of communication are just interested in the facts.  They’re not keen on chatting and will often show signs of annoyance at your attempts to ‘be nice’.  Instead of thinking “How rude” next time you see them, be prepared by anticipating the information they may need and start by giving them a broad outline of the situation rather than launching into a detailed explanation.   

Your client may be an ‘Innovator

These clients are naturally sociable.  They like to talk (about anything!) are naturally expressive but can be distracted easily.  They like to focus on the big picture and can get impatient if they have to deal with details. So when communicating with an ‘Innovator’ allow time to talk and explain the situation using your own experiences and anecdotes. Don’t be scared to offer ‘out there’ suggestions as these clients are often happy to try different things.

Your client may be a ‘Thinker’

Clients who are Thinkers like to know all of the details – not just the big picture.  They are logical and appreciate charts and diagrams but can often take time to make a decision, probably due to all the facts they like to collect! They like information in hard form and would appreciate follow up emails with all relevant information attached.

Your client may be a ‘Supporter’

These clients really don’t like change, or conflict for that matter.   Although they are generally patient and fairly happy people it’s important to establish a good rapport as they need to feel they can trust you.  Be prepared for the times when their veterinarian or even dog food isn’t available as you’ll need to (gently) explain the benefits of the alternative.  They really don’t like to feel pushed and you may need to be prepared to offer some reassurance and ‘hand-holding’ during difficult decisions.

To make it even more confusing some people (like me!) are a mix of these styles but most people have one dominant style.

So the question is - which of the four categories of clients above are the ones that make you say “Great” and which make you groan? 

Well that depends on your own ‘language’.  If you’re naturally a ‘Controller’ then a client who is a ‘Thinker’ is going to drive you crazy (“Why can’t they just make a decision!!?”).  If you’re naturally a ‘Supporter’ then the seemingly aggressive nature of the ‘Controller’ may seem confronting and rude.

Life would be much easier if we all spoke the same language. 

But just as there are dog lovers, cat lovers, snake lovers and rat lovers we all communicate using different styles.  No communication style is wrong, just different – so sometimes you just need to learn a few phrases in another ‘language’ and you’ll find communicating with clients can be a whole lot easier.  

And one last thing...

Just as your clients have a variety of communication styles, so do the members of your veterinary team and if sometimes you feel like you're talking a different language, maybe you are! 

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