It's all about trust with veterinary clients
Good clinical skills count, but establishing a bond with clients is the best way to keep them coming back.
Attend a practice management session and you’ll hear the common refrain: “Always greet the pet first.” I agree, but I also think that drill is greatly overstated. My pets don’t pay the bill—I do. My pets also don’t make the next appointment.
Of course, I want to know that the veterinarian cares about my pets. And no doubt, pets probably feel more at ease when a veterinarian reaches out to pet them before starting the exam. And when my pets feel more at ease, so do I.
Still, with all the talk about veterinary visits on the decline and concerns about menacing Dr. Google, at least one solution is a simple: Establish a trusting relationship with clients.
Build a foundation
It may sound too simple to matter, but trust is the foundation of what owner-operated veterinary practices have been built on for decades. It’s that trust which once held—and to a degree still does hold—veterinarians in such high esteem.
But trust isn’t built overnight. It begins by having conversations and demonstrating that you care. So, yes, ask about my pets. But if you happen to know a close family member just passed away, express condolences. If you see my arm is in a sling, ask what happened. If I look suntanned, ask about where I’ve been. It’s very cool for veterinarians to send birthday cards to pets (hopefully via email to most clients in order to save money), but how about also sending an email card to two-legged clients?
To build on that, how about sharing a little about who you are? You don’t need to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets, but sharing little details is how people get to know one each other and feel like they’re friends. In other words, sharing is how to build trust. Or at least that’s the goal.
I realize your practice manager’s voice is now pounding in your ear: “But you’re spending 10 minutes talking about nothing.” I disagree; these conversations forge trust. Therefore the seemingly wasteful chitchat about a client’s vacation in the sun, sick relative, or child’s gymnastics win is an investment in the future. And it’s the best investment you can make.
What matters most?
If you care about me, I’m more likely to care about you—call that human nature. Relationships matter and of course, practicing good medicine still matters, too. In fact, establishing that trusting relationship with clients may allow you practice the kind of elite medicine you really want to.
Here’s an example that’s very personal to me. Lucy, my 15-year-old miniature Australian shepherd, was declining in health and suffered from an episode of bloating as I was leaving for a veterinary conference. Luckily, there was no torsion, though, and Lucy was alive.
When I returned home, I picked Lucy up from Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Special Center and took her to Dr. Natalie Marks, my regular veterinarian. Although she hadn’t seen Lucy in two or three months, as we walked into her exam room at Blum Animal Hospital, her eyes welled up with tears. We hugged and still, hadn’t said a word. I knew at that instant what needed to be done to spare our beloved friend any further suffering.
Later, Dr. Marks told me that when a small dog suffers bloat at an old age, it probably means there’s an underlying disease. We even knew she was a different dog just a few months earlier. But none of that mattered in that moment—I trusted Dr. Marks’ judgment.
Trusting my veterinarian’s judgment doesn’t mean that I don’t use Google or refer to my very long list of veterinary friends when I have questions. But when push comes to shove, it’s Dr. Marks’s opinion that matters most.