How to Engage Effectively With Close-Mouthed Clients


Pets can’t speak for themselves, so engaging clients in conversation is a must for optimal pet health. Learn how to coax details from even the most reserved pet owners.

Among the clients who frequent your veterinary practice it’s easy to recall the extremely talkative ones, those who can describe in great detail their dog’s most recent bowel movement or try repeatedly to mimic their cat’s cough as if vying for an Oscar. On the flipside are the clients who shy away from engaging in conversation at all. Obtaining even basic knowledge about their pets requires detective-like maneuvers.

Although quiet clients sometimes can seem like a much-needed reprieve from the chatterboxes, engaging all clients in conversation is necessary to obtain an accurate patient history. What a pet owner forgets to say or is too shy to bring up could have a negative affect on his or her pet’s health.

Here are some tips for engaging your more bashful clients in productive conversation.

Be as personable as possible. If you know your next client is a bit introverted, don’t buzz into the exam room like you’ve just downed your third shot of espresso. Even if your day has been incredibly busy, make an effort to pause outside the exam room door, take a deep breath and enter with a smile.


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If this is your first time meeting the client or it has been a while since the last appointment, take a few minutes to talk about yourself — your background, how long you’ve been practicing, how many pets you have. It’s easier to be open with someone with whom you are somewhat acquainted than with a complete stranger.

Provide specific examples or figures when inquiring about a pet’s medical history, clinical signs or habits. A first-time pet owner might not know what qualifies as excessive thirst, but asking if the pet’s water bowl has to be refilled more than three times per day could be the start of an important conversation.

Another pet owner might not know that by asking about stomach issues you may also be looking to find out whether the pet has ever swallowed a foreign object. The more detail you’re able to provide in the phrasing of your question, the more detail you can expect in return.

Remind them that the exam room is a judgment-free zone. Your client may be too embarrassed to admit what events led to his or her pet’s illness or injury. Encourage these clients to be honest by reminding them that after years as a veterinarian you’ve likely seen and heard it all. And when a client finally does open up, make sure your response doesn’t include any scrutiny.

Relay a similar story that happened to you or another client — even if you need to make it up or fabricate some of the details. Hearing about a comparable situation might jog the pet owner’s memory or alleviate embarrassment. “Oh yes, Barkley did get into the bathroom garbage last week.”

Be complimentary. If your client has relayed information that you think will be helpful in your examination, make it known. If a client learns that one aspect of his or her pet’s daily routine is a potential sign of illness, it may spur additional, related details. It’s important for your clients to understand that the veterinarian-client relationship is a partnership, with the shared goal being a healthy pet.

Follow up with clients after appointments, or delegate this to a staff member. A simple email is a reminder that you’re invested in their pets’ health. Some clients may also feel more comfortable writing their questions to you after the fact as opposed to speaking up in the office.

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