Don't "estimate" your clients out of complying


No, it's not the fees you're charging. The words you're using are doing the damage.

Words are powerful tools. They can generate action or inaction, good feelings or ill will—and sometimes client compliance or refusal. I particularly dislike the word estimate because of its effect on client compliance. Here's why.

Jan Miller

Estimate has historically had a negative association in service professions such as construction, auto repair, insurance, and so on. Exceeded estimates, or the customer's selective recall of estimates, can quickly lead to confrontations and distrust.

An estimate is all about money and can be unreliable. An estimate is a guess, and guessing means uncertainty—and uncertainty leads to hesitancy and indecision on the part of a client. Nothing about the word estimate encourages medical compliance or builds trust between the doctor and client.

Don't leave them guessing

When you give a client an estimate, you're trying to anticipate the cost associated with the best treatment. An estimate does not imply that you're guessing at the medicine involved. But remember that your treatment plan and estimate of the costs are often bundled together in one document. Because of this, your estimate is your treatment plan for the patient.

I think it would be better to eliminate estimate and instead use words that reflect your need to have clients evaluate treatment recommendations based on the care required and not solely on the cost. Take the focus off money and the uncertainty of the "estimate" and put it where it belongs: on the health and well-being of the patient. It's a nuance, but a powerful one.

Better words for better results

What about using the word care? When people hear that word, they think concern, diligence, effort, interest, protection, and trust. What about treatment? People relate this term to analysis, cure, doctoring, healing, procedure, and strategy. If you have a "plan," you have a course of action with a purpose that considers the pet's needs today and in the future.

Isn't a care plan or a treatment plan really what you want to communicate to a client when you hand him or her an estimate? Of course, a care plan will still include projected costs. However, by changing the terminology and presentation, you will focus exam room conversations on your carefully thought-out course of treatment for a pet—not on the projected price.

Jan Miller is senior consultant at Veterinary Best Practice in Hillsboro, Ore. Send questions or comments

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