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Feelings, not facts, drive client relationships


Whether you are about to graduate and join a practice as a new associate or if you are still in school, it is important to understand the new findings concerning the role emotions play in building healthy, successful client relationships.

Whether you are about to graduate and join a practice as a new associate or if you are still in school, it is important to understand the new findings concerning the role emotions play in building healthy, successful client relationships.

The latest research from the American Veterinary Medical Association and BNResearch shows that pet owners are more compliant, more loyal and more accepting of fees when they have a good relationship with you. Such a relationship is built on feelings of trust and understanding. Information published by Gallup Press and other sources confirm the important role feelings play in human interactions. In other words, feelings often count more than facts in determining how clients act. The new data suggest that how clients feel about you might have as much to do with your success in practice as your medical skills.

Emotions play role

It has only been in the last 15 years that the emerging field of neuroeconomics — a hybrid of neuroscience, economics and psychology — has begun to unlock the secret of how emotions work as a function of biology. Scientists now have the technological ability to see how the brain responds to feelings and correlate that with observable behavior. This has provided new insights on how the brain is wired, which helps explain why people make irrational decisions and do things that make no logical sense. This new research shows that the basic connection between feelings and actions is so primary and deeply wired, that it easily overrides more rational thoughts.

Feelings or strong emotions, researchers say, drive human interactions, sometimes in spite of our better judgments and often without our knowledge. Consider the common folk wisdom that cautions, "Count to 10 before you lose your temper." That turns out to be scientifically sound advice: Counting to 10 gives the weaker, slower rational thought process a chance to catch up with swifter, more powerful emotions. In other words, it gives our logical thoughts a chance to counterbalance what our emotions want us to do.

Create a connection

While we like to think that we are rational, it appears that we are first and foremost emotional creatures and so are our clients. Emotions exert such a strong influence on clients' perceptions that you must attend to them if you want to build strong, trusting relationships with them. At minimum, you need to show clients that you truly care about their pets and that your recommendations are in their pets' best interests, even if they are expensive. Clients also must understand what your recommendations are and why they are important to their pets' health before they can feel comfortable saying yes.

To create a positive emotional connection with clients, your actions and words must work together. A firm handshake and smile when you introduce yourself in the exam room is a good start. Even more important is to demonstrate your care and consideration for someone's pet. This means, at a minimum, that you know the animal's name, sex and reason for the visit. In addition, taking a moment to interact with the animal before starting the examination shows the client, in a way words cannot, that you truly care about the pets.

Send a positive message

Verbal language is one way to communicate, but it's far from the most effective form. Less than 20 percent of your message is delivered in words. Body language, pitch, tone, energy and facial expressions communicate the rest.

And when the verbal message and body language don't match, body language wins.

Clients take their emotional clues from your actions. In other words, what you do counts for more than what you say. You can avoid the following common client turnoffs by making sure your actions and words combine to send a positive message:


SOLUTION: Make sure your tone of voice does not convey impatience or anxiety. Your body language should communicate that you are ready to listen, not leave, when you ask, "What questions do you have about Max's care?"

COMPLAINT: Not listening

SOLUTION: Make sure to have eye contact with the client when he or she is talking, and nod your head to show that you are listening. Do not interrupt clients. Let them finish.

COMPLAINT: Lack of empathy

SOLUTION: Respond to what you see as well as to what the client is saying. If the client says that she has no questions but appears lost or confused, stop and reflect. You might say, "This must seem like a lot of information to absorb all at once," and continue from there.

Personalize your message

Other emotional messages that help build strong relationships with clients involve making sure the things you say and do are personalized to the pet. An example: "We want to help this little guy feel better. When we see older dogs like Rusty with various health issues, it is important to coordinate all their medications to avoid complications."

This lets the client know that you want the same outcome they do; that you are thinking about Rusty and what is best for him, rather than sounding like you are giving standardized, off-the-shelf advice.

Your recommendations also need to be personalized to the client. An example: "From what you said, it sounds like it would be difficult for you to give Jake his injections at home. There is an oral medication we can use instead, or you can bring him back and the nurse can give him his injections. Which would be easier for you? "

These statements demonstrate that you listened to the client and are willing to customize a solution that will work for her and the pet. Your action here likely will evoke good feelings, which are the foundation of good client relationships.

Your results will demonstrate that a client's willingness to take your advice and follow your recommendations depends more on their feelings about you than on your medical expertise.

Ms. Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, is a veterinary business consultant and nationally known writer and speaker. She is an adjunct instructor for the American Animal Hospital Association and a founding member of the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors. She may be contacted at KGavzer@aol.com

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