Dos and don’ts of communicating with Latinx veterinary clients

November 14, 2020
Erica Tricarico, Senior Editor
Erica Tricarico, Senior Editor

How to build rapport with Latinx pet owners, plus some basic Spanish vocabulary every team member should know.

The number of Latinx pet owners has skyrocketed over the past decade. According to a 2017 analysis, the number of Latinx pet owners grew from 11.4 to 20.4 million between 2007 and 2016, with 45% of Hispanic pet owners under age 35.

“We are estimated to account for half of the growth in pet ownership in the United States,” said Mariacamila Estrella Garcia, a Colombian-born second-year veterinary student at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, during a lecture yesterday at the Fetch dvm360® virtual conference.

With this significant increase in Latinx veterinary clients, Estrella Garcia said, veterinary teams must gain a better understanding of the culture so they can better serve these clients and provide the highest quality of care to their pets. “From a business perspective, we have to have a better understanding of [Latinx] culture, of who we’re serving, what services we should provide, how we should approach our interactions with these clients, and how can we make them feel more comfortable,” said Garcia Estrella.

Here are Garcia Estrella’s dos and don’ts for communicating with Latinx veterinary clients. (To learn more about Latinx culture, check out Garcia Estrella’s podcast here.)

Do

Be friendly. For some Latinx families, a trip to the veterinarian can be stressful, largely because of language and cultural barriers. That’s why being warm and friendly is so crucial. It’s also important to note that in the Latinx community, family life is often intertwined with work life. Latinx clients might ask questions about your personal life, but Garcia Estrella warned attendees not to be offended by this, as it’s simply part of the culture. “They just want to know that you are a real person,” she said. Try engaging in friendly conversations, smile, and show their pets lots of affection.

Speak Spanish. Maybe you only know a few words in Spanish. That’s OK. According to Garcia Estrella, it’s the effort that counts. When speaking with non–English speaking Latinx clients, try to use the words you do know. “The fact that you are trying to speak to them in their language shows that you care,” said Garcia Estrella. Here’s some basic vocabulary that you and your team can use to communicate with non-English speaking Latinx clients.

Speak slowly and use visuals. For Latinx clients who speak just a bit of English, take your time explaining what is wrong with their pet and don’t assume they understand everything. Keep in mind that they might be embarrassed to tell you when they don’t understand what you are saying.

Use a translator. Sometimes, non–English speaking Latinx clients who are also parents might ask their children to translate for them. It seems like a great idea except for the fact that the child might not conceptually understand what you are saying, something Garcia Estrella can personally relate to. She was 9 years old when she had to translate insurance policies for her then non–English-speaking parents. She remembers not fully grasping the information but trying her best to relay it to her family. So instead of relying on your clients’ children, hire a translator or ask someone in your clinic who speaks Spanish fluently enough to explain everything to them.

Be transparent. Garcia Estrella advises printing out an invoice that delineates all pet care charges for your Latinx clients. Be straightforward and honest with them to help build trust, she said, adding that distrust of doctors is common in the Latinx culture. It’s also important to consult the clients about your treatment plan and be upfront about costs. Include them in every aspect of their pet’s care, she said.

Go the extra mile. Other ways to show your Latinx clients that you value them is to hire Spanish-speaking staff, offer educational pamphlets in Spanish, and find out how to pronounce their Spanish names correctly, said Garcia Estrella.

Don’t

Assume they don’t speak English. This is a big no-no and an easy way to turn off Latinx clients. Before you start speaking Spanish, assess your client’s English speaking skills. Don’t assume that just because they are Latinx they don’t know English and won’t understand you.

Talk too fast. When speaking with Latinx clients who aren’t fluent English speakers, don’t talk too fast or use English slang. Speak slowly with a clear tone, and ask questions to make sure they fully understand you.

Undermine them. Don’t assume your Latinx clients won’t understand what’s wrong with their pet just because they don’t speak English. Not being able to speak English doesn’t equate to a lack of intelligence. Some of these clients have been to the best universities in their native countries. Also, don’t assume Latinx clients are all from a lower social economic status and won’t be able to afford treatment.

Be culturally insensitive. Don’t ask questions like, “Where are you from?” This can come off as invasive and offensive. The only time that type of question is acceptable is after you establish a relationship, but be very careful how you ask this question.