10 tips to tune into clients


Clients are waiting, dogs are barking, and phones are ringing. Sometimes you've got to tune out the static to offer clients the attention they crave and send them away happy.

You could be checking in an appointment, escorting a client to the exam room, or taking a pet to the lobby for discharge, and then it happens: the ambush discussion. So how do you make the client standing in front of you feel like she's the only one in the world, when five other clients are waiting for you? You know your moments are precious, and you must spread them around thinly at times. But right now, this client wants your undivided attention.

It's true that clients who feel you're offering them your full attention—even for only a few minutes—will often finish what they need to say quickly. And those who feel you're distracted by the buzz of all of the tasks you could be doing will take longer to explain their questions or concerns. After all, they're wondering whether you're even hearing them at all. Learn these 10 tips to give your undivided attention to each client, and they will feel completely heard and satisfied. Then you'll have more moments to share with the next waiting client.

1: Introduce yourself.

Unless you're approaching a client you know well, start by introducing yourself. Or remind the client of who you are and when you met. For example, "I'm Sally, the receptionist at XYZ Animal Hospital. We met last month when you brought Tigger in for his wellness exam." If it feels natural, shake hands to show respect during an introduction or reintroduction.

2: Smile.

This is possibly the most important gesture in your arsenal to show your attention and concern. Even a small, sympathetic smile demonstrates empathy and compassion during an emotional time. It shows you welcome the conversation that's about to take place.

3: Come around.

Don't talk over counters or exam room tables. Although it may seem symbolic, putting a physical barrier between you and the client can impede communication and fail to express your undivided attention. So always come around to the client. Just remember to observe the client's natural personal space—usually between 2 and 4 feet.

4: Come down (or up).

Position yourself at the client's level when you're talking. For example, if the client is sitting in a chair in the exam room, join her by sitting in the opposite chair. If there's not an open seat, it's better to sit on the floor, especially with the pet. It's more respectful for the client to look down on you than for you to look down on the client. Alternatively, if you're facing a client across the reception desk, stand while you talk. This demonstrates respect and a meeting of the minds.

5: Maintain eye contact.

This connection also demonstrates your attention and concern. If you must involve a computer, chart, or pet in a conversation, move your eyes away from the client briefly, then meet her gaze again.

6: Repeat, repeat, repeat.

When clients broach their concerns, make sure you repeat or paraphrase their questions or comments to clarify and demonstrate you understand. This confirms you're paying attention and heads off the client's urge to repeat herself.

7: Open up.

Most of your communication with clients is nonverbal. They take their cues from your body language and gestures. So open up by uncrossing your arms and legs and avoid leaning back or away from the client during the conversation. A great way to subconsciously tell clients you're responding to their words is to mirror their body language in a subtle way. This occurs naturally in an easy-going conversation. But if you notice this isn't happening with a client, try to alter your stance to mirror hers.

8: Ask for more questions.

OK, I know you're trying to get through this conversation quickly, but this really works. If you solicit clients' questions at the beginning, they'll be less likely to remember more questions when you thought you were putting the finishing touches on the discussion. Asking for more questions also shows you're interested in making sure they walk away satisfied—and increases the chances they will.

9: Deny being too busy.

Oftentimes, clients will continue a conversation by saying, "I know you're busy." Resist the temptation to agree. What they're really saying is, "I know other clients need you, but I need you, too." They want to feel special, and those few moments need to belong to them. So affirm that you aren't too busy for them and their pets, no matter how busy you really are.

10: Finish with sincerity.

At the end of a conversation, offer a sincere smile, a heartfelt thank you, and warm wishes as clients leave. Let them know you enjoyed the talk with a short comment that demonstrates you'll remember them, their pet, and the discussion. Strive to make every conversation short but sweet.

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, is the hospital manager at Fox Valley Animal Referral Center in Appleton, Wis. Please send your questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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