Communication 101: Digital etiquette for veterinary practices

February 16, 2019
Stacee Santi, DVM

Phone, email, textthese can be a minefield of possible faux pas for veterinary practices. Stacee Santi, DVM, shares some useful tips for communicating effectively (none of them inspired by her own digital missteps, obviously).

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Most of us rarely use the phone anymore for talking-texting and emailing have become the primary modes of communication in business. When you compound that with the generational differences in regard to proper etiquette and communication style, it's more important than ever that your veterinary team is up to speed on the basics of digital communication. Here are some best practices you and your team should use when reaching out to your busy clients:

On the phone? 3 ways to help you catch their name

If you're in the customer service business (and private practices are), one of the most important ways to create a good customer experience is to remember a client's name. Let's be clear, asking “What's your name again?” doesn't make anyone feel special. So do try these three things.

Listen. I mean, really listen. Pay attention when someone says their name. Have you ever been at a restaurant and the waiter didn't have a notepad? Their ability to remember your order almost seems magical, but they've simply mastered the art of really listening.

Associate. When someone tells you their name, it's much easier to recall if you can associate it with something from your memory, like your favorite aunt, an old friend from high school or a movie star.

Write it down. If you're in client service in any capacity, you should have a pen and paper on you at all times. A veterinarian doesn't go into a surgery without a scalpel, and a receptionist or other team members answering the phone shouldn't be without a pen and paper.

Emailing? 4 tips to get your tone right

Email etiquette is all about getting your tone across without the benefit of clients hearing your actual … well, tone. Remember: Being overly nice in email often comes across as the perfect amount of friendly, so go the extra mile.

Never write in ALL CAPS. Typing in all caps is generally interpreted by the reader as shouting. So, unless you're TRYING REALLY HARD to get your point across, typing in normal case size is best.

Read your emails in a Mary Poppins tone. When we read emails, our own filters get in the way of assigning a tone to the words we're reading. For instance, if you're tired and hangry because you skipped lunch, you may be inadvertently interpreting each email you read as angry. Read emails in a kind voice-you know, like the "Spoonful of sugar" nanny-to ensure you're giving the sender the benefit of the doubt.

Oreo it up. While it may seem trivial, each email should begin with a pleasantry, such as “Hope you're having a great day today,” and end with “Thanks so much” or a similar pleasantry. This sandwiching of information will help the reader see a positive tone in your writing voice.

Get the last word, if possible. If you're going back and forth emailing someone, try to get the last word. If they reply, “Thanks so much,” send back “You bet! Happy to help.” This low-hanging fruit will make you come across as friendly.

Sending texts? 3 ways to get your point across

Texting is by far the most dangerous form of communication to engage in, because messages are short and tone can be easily misinterpreted. Try doing these things:

Emphasize with emojis. Using emojis can quickly change the tone of a text message to help you communicate more effectively and avoid being misinterpreted. Consider these two examples:

Good time was had: I just went to the best seminar ever! :-)

Dripping with sarcasm: I just went to the best seminar ever! :-(

Same sentence; totally different meaning. But remember, if you're going to dabble in emoticons, be sure to get your emojis right. Mixing up the laughing and crying emoji can get you into trouble (trust me).

Overemphasize your message. It's important when texting to overdo your feelings. By being extra nice, you ensure you have a successful conversation. Texting “It was so nice to chat with you today” can make your client feel appreciated at the end of the conversation.

Know when to pick up the phone. Many times, things said in text messages would never be said if the person was standing in front of you, because it's easy to avoid accountability. If what you're reading in a text is giving you a funny feeling, pick up the phone and make a call.

Reminding with push notifications? 3 ways to do it well

If your practice uses a mobile app, you can probably send a push notification to clients any time with just a few clicks. You probably know what these look like, but if you don't: A push notification will show your app icon and name, followed by the title of your message. When a veterinary client clicks on the message, the app opens and gives more details. This is a great way to communicate about disease outbreaks, hospital promotions and reminders to give medication, to name a few. Here's what makes for a great push:

Good title. Your clients are busy, so use a title that they'll understand in a few seconds. Don't make your clients guess what your push means. Here are good and bad examples of a push notification to remind clients to give heartworm preventive:

Good: It's time to give your pet their heartworm medication!

Bad: It's that time of the month!

Right time of day. Depending on what you're trying to communicate, consider when your clients are available to read it. A general rule of thumb is after 9 a.m. or before 5 p.m.

Clear call to action. Most messages worth sending to clients will have an associated behavior you want them to take. Be clear about what that action is, whether it's just “Click here to learn more” or a more specific “Call now to schedule an appointment.”

Communicating digitally is one of the best ways to save your practice time and deliver better value to your clients. By communicating efficiently with your clients, your veterinary practice can strengthen veterinary-client relationships and improve compliance, which means better care for Fido!

Dr. Stacee Santi graduated CSU in 1996 and began her veterinary career in Portland Oregon at a 13-doctor ER hospital. In 2013, Dr. Santi founded Vet2Pet and began working on new contemporary strategies to connect with clients… the first being the custom veterinary app.