4 Pillars of Effective Client Engagement


“At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.”— Maya Angelou

No doubt you recall the long hours you spent mastering medical procedures, understanding modern technical equipment, and studying the indications and adverse effects of various medications. But while we think of veterinary medicine as a service, we must admit that it is a business, too, and what drives your business are your clients—not your patients. A client who leaves your clinic feeling good will return to your practice in the future.

Client satisfaction begins and ends with effective engagement. Consider the following 4 pillars of effectively engaging with your veterinary clients.

Be Silent.

Listening requires that we be silent. Silence is sometimes awkward, and most of us tend to fill it with questions or statements. But truly engaging with clients requires the veterinary staff to perfect the art of silence, letting the client fill the void. Say nothing. Maintain silence until the client begins to talk. You may be amazed what you will learn!

Speak With Your Body

Being silent need not mean that you are not communicating. There are many ways to communicate nonverbally. Maintain eye contact. Lean toward your client. Nod as he or she speaks. Position yourself at the same level as your client. If your client is sitting, you should sit; if your client is standing, you should stand. Indicate with your physical position that you want to work in partnership with your client. Don’t let a desk or exam table stand between you and the client. Instead, position yourself at the end of the exam table so that you and the client are next to each other, symbolizing how you will work together to maintain the pet’s health.

Listen for Both Feelings and Content

If your client shares feelings by saying, “I’m really concerned because Fluffy isn’t eating as much as normal,” be sure you hear “I’m worried” in addition to the fact that Fluffy isn’t eating. More often, however, clients share facts or experiences but don’t identify their feelings. Describing feelings is often difficult. Some people are either unaware of how they feel or are uncomfortable putting their feelings into words. Your challenge is to “hear” the feelings being conveyed by the words. You might discover it in your client’s tone of voice or maybe in his or her facial expression. Based on working with this client and others, you might just be able to make a good assumption.

Respond to Both Feelings and Content

Engagement begins when you have recognized both the words and the feelings behind the words and can let your client know that you have heard both. It’s a skill worth developing. “I see that Fluffy’s recent eating behavior is worrying you.” Then return to silence and let your client tell you more. Dialogue begins. Engagement is happening.


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Suggested Reading

  • Klingborg J. Exam Room Communication for Veterinarians: The Science and Art of Conversing With Clients. Lakewood, CO: AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Rogers CR, Farson RE. Active Listening. Eastford, CT: Martino Publishing; 2015.
  • Shadle C, Meyer JL. Communication Case Studies: Building Interpersonal Skills in the Veterinary Practice. Lakewood, CO. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Shadle C, Meyer JL. Positive People Experiences. La Jolla, CA: ICS Inc; 2014.

Dr. Shadle earned her doctorate in interpersonal and organizational communication at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Meyer earned his doctorate in communication studies and speech arts at the University of Minnesota. They write and train through Interpersonal Communication Service, Inc. (VeterinarianCommunication.com). They have trained veterinary professionals at numerous national and international conferences.

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