Kiss the dog and 4 more ways to improve client compliance (without saying a word)


What kind of veterinarian do you appear to be? Start being the kind of doctor you would want working on your pets.

I've read many an article describing what I need to say to clients to improve compliance. I changed the name of the estimate to "treatment plan." I increased the time I spend teaching clients about their pet's symptoms and tests needed to establish diagnosis. I even laid a foundation of verbal dialogue within my discharge instructions to improve rechecks and follow-up treatments. These strategies take time and I haven't seen the results I was promised. So, because I'm a scientist and life is just one big experiment, I decided to stop doing things to improve client compliance and start being the kind of doctor I would want for myself.

I work in a high-volume, fast-paced, emergency and critical care referral center on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the clients will only see me once. Their pet is often in a critical situation and they're distraught. I have very little time to talk. My job is to build a client-patient-doctor relationship full of trust in a matter of seconds. Over the years, I've become so good at this my colleagues now send me their toughest clients—the ones who yell, the ones who don't want to pay, or the ones who are hot because they waited more than 60 seconds in the reception area. My secret? Talk less.

You may read some of these tips and think, "There's no way this will work." Trust me: These tiny tweaks have resulted in tremendously improved compliance and some great client relationships. If you promise to at least give them a try, I'll share them with you.


Shake your client's hand—and shake hands firmly. As soon as I step into an exam room or approach pet owners, I always greet them with a good, strong handshake. Think about what a firm handshake says about you: confidence, guts, professionalism, support, care, respect, and trust.

See for yourself: Shake hands with 10 people. Are you more likely to trust the flimsy handshake or the firm one? This gesture alone speeds up the bonding process. We can connect on a deeper level in a matter of seconds. A firm handshake will help your clients believe in you and tell them they're in good hands. Therefore, they're more likely to move forward with your recommendations and the end result is overall improved client compliance.

Also be sure to look clients directly in the eyes when you meet them. Eye contact is an amazing way to instantly connect with another person. In her article "Building Confidence as a Lever for Success," Patricia Berger says, "A person can easily assess another person's self-confidence by engaging in eye contact. The eyes play a big role in making relationships, portraying sincerity, and building careers. In interviews the first impression plays an important role in the final selection. Making eye contact with the interviewer will make him or her see one's seriousness in getting the job."

So, who's your interviewer every day? The answer, my friend, is every one of your clients.


What color are you wearing right now? One year after I started shaking hands and looking folks in the eye, I thought to myself, "Self, I wonder if the color I wear affects my clients' decisions." I did some research and, lo and behold, I found out that color choices can dramatically affect others. Did you know that wearing red can increase anger in you or your clients? The color black can create a space of higher perceived value of services. The color indigo creates a space of integrity and sincerity. There's only one way to test these theories: Pick a color, wear it for a month, and see what happens.

At my job I can wear scrubs every day. I wore them for a long time. Then I got pregnant with twins and they don't make scrubs for doctors pregnant with twins. I started to wear nice clothes. I never thought that my wardrobe would have an impact on my client relationships—but it did. When you go to the doctor and someone comes in wearing scrubs, don't you wonder if it's the doctor, the technician, the desk clerk, or the kennel attendant? Scrubs are great for surgery, costume parties, and sleeping. Wearing them all the time could impact your bottom line.

Also, be sure to wear a lab coat with a nametag. Make sure that DVM or VMD or Veterinarian is somewhere on this nametag. The lab coat will keep your new clothes clean and establish a sense of professionalism, trust, and respect. Make sure the lab coat is neat—not wrinkled. If there are stains on your lab coat, buy a new one. The more professional you look, the better your bottom line will be. If your family physician had blood stains on her coat, would you take your children to see her?


Unless he bites or has maggots, I kiss the dog. I know it sounds crazy but it's a major icebreaker. Clients are more likely to follow your recommendations if they see that you love their pet as much as they do. Hesitate to start smooching? Give the pet a high five. This is a great alternative for those of you who have a phobia of kissing the dog (cat, bird, snake or hamster).

Before you pucker up, see "Pause before you pucker up" for some safety reminders and signs of aggressive pets.


Clients know that their pet is overweight—it's often the first thing they tell me. I used to counsel pet owners and make suggestions about obesity. They took it very personally, almost as if I were saying they were a bad pet owner. That's a terrible way to start a relationship. Now I don't say a word about it and I get great compliance on pet dieting and exercise recommendations. I seriously think that an interesting episode of TV's The Biggest Loser would be one with pet owners and their pets. Clients want to help their pets get healthy; they just don't want me to point a finger at them.


Show pet owners where their dog or cat will stay. This is very important at my veterinary clinic because we see new clients every day. Pet owners want to know that their pets are safe in a peaceful environment. I've had many clients agree to in-patient care because we showed them where their pet would sleep during an overnight stay. Also, be sure to let clients hug Scruffy one more time before you close the cage doors.

Now, let's talk about you. Do you know that there are a high percentage of veterinarians who are tired, burned out, deflated, unhappy, and resentful of their career? Once you have a better client compliance rate, I promise you're going to be less stressed, release endorphins, and improve your overall health.

Don't just do great—be great. It takes less time and energy. This is a proven fact! Remember it's not what we do that matters about 99 percent of the time. It's how much we care that matters most.

Some people think I'm too happy and may be laughing at some of my suggestions. I'm OK with that. I'm going to shake a client's hand, kiss the dog, and release some more endorphins. I would love to hear your feedback after you try some of the tips. How's your client compliance rate now? Are you getting more thank-you cards and referrals? Head to to sound off and swap stories.

Christina Winn, DVM, is an emergency and critical care clinician in Portsmouth, N.H. Please send questions or comments to or post them at

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