By: Rachel Teichberg, CVPM
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that communication is a fundamental skill for each role in the practice, allowing teams to operate cohesively and efficiently. Communication is also at the core of how we work with our clients, ideally creating an environment of trust and understanding. Working with hundreds of practices over the last four years has taught me that we don’t spend enough time focused on the communication training that creates that desired trust and understanding from our clients. I get it. We’re always short on time and people, and sometimes it’s a miracle we make it through the day. This, however, is mission critical. If your goal is to provide excellent patient care, we have to start with communication.
Clients come to our practices because we’re the experts. Unfortunately, with that comes a curse of knowledge on our part. We often take for granted all the information we know, which can create a barrier when we try to communicate value of care. We simply forget how much of the things we need to communicate are not common knowledge. When we improperly explain our services or products, clients struggle to see the benefit it would provide their pet (aka it’s value).
Clients want to feel like they’re getting what they pay for, but when their purchases are intangible it can be hard to feel that sense of balance. I personally went to the vet recently for my cat, Meatball (10 years old), and dog, Ruby (1 year old). They both received their exams, fecals, lab work and vaccines. My invoice was several hundred dollars, which I was happy to pay. However, when the appointment was over all I left with to show for my expenses were Meatball and Ruby. Not one tangible item to be had. Now, I’m probably the best kind of client because my years in the industry instilled the value of these services, but for many clients that could be a hard pill to swallow. Some may feel that they’re not getting enough for their money and will decline important services that could impact their pet.
Bridging the gap can be easier than we think. As a first step, I recommend putting yourself in your client’s shoes and imagining what it may be like to review an estimate for something that seems like a foreign language. For me, I can best do that by thinking about my last experience at the mechanic. I know nothing about cars which means I have to put a lot of trust in my mechanic. Sound familiar? The last time I took my car in the estimate for services was about $800. First thought in my head: WHAT?! And look at that, perspective achieved. What did I need from my mechanic in that moment? An explanation of each service that explains:
1. The benefits
2. The differentiators
3. The efficacy
Describing the benefits of a service or product is a way to allow your clients to understand the advantages that come with it. A primary goal in this step is removing all veterinary jargon. This can actually be harder than you think! The differentiators describe the ways that this service or product works differently than others in a way that makes it the most desirable choice. And finally, the efficacy explains how well this will solve the problem presented or need I have. The goal here is to send a consistent, clear and simple message that explains the why behind the what. Touching on all three of these items doesn’t need to take a long time, but the goal is to get your client to have an “ah ha” moment where they connect the dots between their needs and your recommendations.
It’s critical that each team member is on the same page as to what the benefits, differentiators, and efficacy are for each service or product you provide so you can send that consistent message. When clients say “no”, take a moment and try to truly understand why. Relationship-centered care comes from empathy and understanding of one another, and a key skill of empathy is perspective-taking. It’s possible that they don’t see the benefits, don’t have the money, haven’t developed a trust in the relationship yet, or don’t fully understand. It’s important to take your time and listen. Embrace the silence as an owner takes in a treatment plan and allow them to process the information.
The words you choose can also be an influencing factor on your clients. We send subtle ques that can make services sound unnecessary or undermine their true value. Most commonly we present recommendations as choices to the owner, which means that saying “no, thank you” is an absolutely appropriate response. However, we often don’t mean or want to present services and products this way, which leads to decreased compliance. Here are some common phrases that lead to “no, thank you”:
• “Would you like to…”
• “Could we maybe…”
• “Is it possible for us to…”
• “Is that OK?”
• “Do you mind if we…”
• “If you’d like to…”
• “It’s up to you…”
• “If you want…”
The first thing you’ll need to do in order to remove these phrases from your communications is to bring awareness to them. In my opinion a great way to accomplish this is through role playing. I know this can be a barrier for some teams but practicing with your peers without consequence (in this case without having a non-compliance outcome) is a huge opportunity. It’s as simple as printing out a treatment plan and having each team member review it with a teammate just as they would with a client. Have the teammate playing the “client” listen out for any of the above phrases and work together to reword them in a way that sends a strong message. Some examples of strong messages include:
• “Today we will…”
• “It’s important that we…”
• “I think it’s best to…”
• “Meatball will need…”
Remember, your clients came to your door because they want care for their pet. They have a need and you’re there to fill it. We need to create an environment where clients’ perspectives are taken into account so we can deliver exceptional value communication ensuring our opportunity to deliver the best care. We need to slow down and give ourselves the time to deliver a consistent, clear, and simple message, with phrasing that creates a strong recommendation. The great news is when our clients come back to the practice for future visits, they will continue to get that same messaging. This level of consistency will reinforce the practice’s standards of care, further promoting the overall health of their pet.
Rachel Teichberg, CVPM is the Manager of Coaching Operations at Veterinary Growth Partners. With hands-on experience at all levels of veterinary practice, as well as management in both small animal/exotic and specialty practices, Rachel brings over a decade of industry experience to her current position as the Manager of Coaching Operations with Veterinary Growth Partners. In her current role, Rachel works one on one with Practice Owners and Managers within a wide variety of practices from large to small corporate structures and newer ventures to help create and execute their strategic plan. Through conflict competence and emotional intelligence training, she works with teams to improve practice culture, promote team engagement, and improve overall communication. Her passion for training veterinary teams has brought her to both the national and international stage, sharing her knowledge in all areas of veterinary management.