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5 Fishy phrases that isolate clients
What you say--and what clients hear--may be worlds apart. When you're fishing for the right words to satisfy clients' questions, avoid these most misunderstood answers.
You think you and your clients are happily swimming down the same stream until Mrs. Huff storms off without her usual friendly goodbye or Mr. Answers calls—again—to ask how many pills he's supposed to give Lulu. Words matter, and simply learning a few tactful phrases and strategies can clear up some garbled messages. Here's a quick look at some common questions you hear every day and how clients interpret your well-meant responses.
THE QUESTION: "Can you fax Pippin's prescription to an Internet pharmacy?"
More and more clients are turning to online discount pharmacies for their pets' medicine. While some are legitimate, others aren't. As a result, many veterinary practices choose not to fax prescriptions to online pharmacies.
WHAT YOU SAY: "Sorry, we can't fax your prescription to an online pharmacy."
WHAT CLIENTS HEAR: "I'm too busy (or lazy) to help you out. Besides, if I fax Pippin's prescription my practice won't be able to charge you a premium fee and make lots of money on Pippin's heartworm preventive."
SAY THIS INSTEAD: "Because there are many fraudulent pharmacies online, we don't fax prescriptions. However, you can fill Pippin's prescription at our office or we can provide you with a written prescription you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice." Or, an even better option: Don't wait until an online pharmacy calls clients and tells them you won't fax the prescription. This makes you look uncooperative. If your practice has a policy about online pharmacies, tell clients up front when the doctor prescribes the medication and explain why the policy exists. Then give them some alternatives, such as picking up the prescription from a local pharmacy.
A bad choice of words
THE QUESTION: "Fido is vomiting, and I want Dr. Care to look at him. You'll still be there in 15 minutes, right?"
Your clients often feel attached to your practice. And that's a reason to celebrate. It also means that when an emergency arises, they want to see your team, and not some unfamiliar faces at an emergency hospital. But your practice may not be equipped for the emergency. Or the pet may need extensive testing or overnight care that the emergency hospital is more prepared to provide.
WHAT YOU SAY: "I'm sorry, we can't see Fido. You'll have to take him to the emergency hospital for immediate care."
WHAT CLIENTS HEAR: "We can't see Fido because it's after 5 p.m. and we're already halfway out the door. We don't care enough about you or your pet to stay longer."
SAY THIS INSTEAD: "We'd like to see Fido, but since this is an emergency and some of our team members have already left for the day, we might not be able to offer some of the tests he needs. The emergency hospital at (insert address) is prepared to take care of Fido immediately."
THE QUESTION: "Why don't you talk to Bernie the way the Dog Whisperer does on television?"
With so many TV shows devoted to pets and their care, many clients develop their notions about what's best for their pets from television. But sometimes they don't always understand how the situation they saw on television is different from their own pet's case. So when you ask why they use collar corrections they might proudly answer, "I saw it on television."
"Everyone wants to talk about what they saw on 'The Dog Whisperer,'" says Jessica Janowski, a canine obedience and puppy preschool trainer and receptionist at Merrimack Veterinary Hospital in Merrimack, N.H. "I use a different method than the one he uses on the TV show, and so when clients try to mix what I taught them with what the Dog Whisperer did, they don't get very good results, and then they want to know why."
WHAT YOU SAY: "You can't believe everything you see on television. That's wrong, and what I'm telling you is better."
WHAT CLIENTS HEAR: "Are you nuts? The trainer on television is a quack. You must not care about your dog if you're following his advice." Clients are doing what they think is right, and scolding them or criticizing their source of information won't encourage them to follow your advice. Instead, it may cause hurt feelings and resentment.
SAY THIS INSTEAD: "The Dog Whisperer really has a way with pets, doesn't he? I've had a lot of success with my method, though, and here's what I think it can do for Bernie."
"I always try to find something about what they saw that I liked, and then I try to explain why I've suggested a certain approach based on their pet's unique personality." Janowski says. "I don't put down what they saw on television. I just help them understand why I'm doing things the way I'm doing them."
THE QUESTION: "Can I pick up Samson on Sunday afternoon?"
There are always clients who will want something you simply can't give them. But saying "no" is a big no-no.
WHAT YOU SAY: "Sorry, we're closed then."
WHAT CLIENTS HEAR: "This practice is rigid and inflexible, and our rules are more important to us than taking care of our clients."
SAY THIS INSTEAD: "We're closed on Sunday afternoon so there won't be anyone here to help you, but you could pick Samson up on Saturday afternoon or Monday morning."
"Try to never say 'no' even if the answer is no," says Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "It just doesn't give a good impression of customer service. Instead, try to find a way to always tell clients what they can do."
THE QUESTION: "How do I best take care of Lulu at home?"
The instructions you give seem clear to you, but you don't know how clients process the information you give them. For example, perhaps they're worried about their pets and only listening to what you're saying with half their attention. Or maybe they're mentally switching numbers in their head by mistake as they frantically try to commit your directions to memory and cope with the news of Lulu's condition. You just can't know unless you ask.
WHAT YOU SAY: "Give Lulu one of these pills three times a day."
WHAT CLIENTS HEAR: "Blah, blah, blah, Lulu, blah, blah, pills, blah, blah, three, blah. Got it? Of course you do. Now let's get you out of here before you start collecting dust."
SAY THIS INSTEAD: "Here's Lulu's prescription. She should take one pill three times a day. We've written it all out here for you. Could you read it back for me so I'm sure you can read my handwriting?" Provide directions verbally and in writing. Some people understand directions better if they can read them. If the directions are handwritten, ask the client to read them back to you.
You may talk to hundreds of clients each week, so your opportunities for misunderstandings are nearly limitless. But when you change your vocabulary to eliminate the words and phrases that push clients away, you'll reduce client frustration and enrich their bond with your team.
Heather Kirkwood is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan. Please send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.