Make time to talk to pet owners about parasites
Stop the clock for vital flea and tick discussions with clients. Consider these six client personalities and take time to offer the best responses to pet owners' parasite concerns.
As veterinary professionals, we're faced with pesky parasite problems every day. We've heard a myriad of excuses from numerous parasite enablers, and we've tried our best to thwart them. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we prevail, but the sun always sets and rises on another day of all-too-familiar battles.
Reflecting upon these experiences I began to notice a pattern, which brought me to the discovery that flea- or tick-troubled clients I've dealt with fit into one of six categories. I decided to try to use a specific and consistent approach for each type of client I recognized to yield better results—and it worked.
Evaluating the thought processes of clients, I realized that instead of spewing the entirety of my prevention knowledge to these cynics, I should choose an appropriate response that matched their personality types. Below are some verbal and visual strategies I used to approach each type of client:
"My pet doesn't have fleas. I only walk him on the sidewalk."
What to say: Talk about hitchhikers
Whether you're passing by on the sidewalk or walking through your garden, creepy little fleas feel no shame in jumping on you and hitching a ride inside ... where their new, four-legged home awaits.
What to show: Flea dirt
Your clients just told you there was no way their pet could have fleas, because they've never seen one on him. This is especially common with cats, since they are such avid self-groomers. Run a flea comb through their fur and show clients the flea dirt you find. Place it on a wet paper towel so they can watch that little black speck turn red. Once you've explained to them that flea dirt is actually flea poop and that flea poop is actually blood, they'll not only understand, they'll be taking away a new trick they can try at home—and, of course, visual evidence.
"I've never even seen a tick in this area and there's definitely never been one on my dog, so I don't need prevention."
What to say: Point out the wildlife
Have you ever seen a bird, squirrel or rabbit in your yard? Then you've been around ticks. A common misconception about ticks is that they only latch onto deer. Of course there are areas where ticks are more prevalent, but there are reported cases of tick-borne diseases in every single state.
What to show: Build a tick hotel
If you really want to creep out your clients, give them an image they'll never forget: the tick hotel. Take a specimen cup and fill it with alcohol, then collect all of the ticks you pull off of your patients. When clients start to argue about ticks in the area, show them your little hotel. You can even decorate it with a no vacancy sign.
"You're just trying to sell me more stuff."
What to say: Stick to the facts
Clients have every right to feel this way. They've budgeted for an annual exam only to be bombarded with the suggestion of more charges. You'll want to take a factual approach to prove that you aren't just giving them a sales pitch. Try speaking their language and talk about something they can relate to: the weather. It takes a good, solid freeze to kill off parasites. If you live in a warm climate or experience a mild winter, the pest population doesn't have the chance to die off as it should and can potentially double or triple. Discussing the resilience of parasites and understanding the life cycle of the flea can arm you with the tools you'll need to connect with this client.
What to show: Samples
Providing a free sample of a trusted prevention product proves you aren't just trying to make a sale. If clients won't budge, sending them home with product in their hands can be a reminder that you're on their side.
The Penny Pincher
"I can get much cheaper stuff at Walmart."
What to say: Offer a brand comparison
As we know, many generics have neither the research nor the efficacy of major frontrunners, though they claim to have the same active ingredients as leading brands. Informing our clients that some of these companies are actually comparing themselves to the antiquated version of the brand names—which used to kill adult fleas but not their eggs or larvae—is paramount. Remind them that the trusted topical brands have improved formulas that contain a pesticide and an insect growth regulator, and that their patented inactive ingredient spreads throughout the body in the oil glands of the skin.
What to show: Real cases
A quick search on the Internet provides plenty of pictures and horrible accounts of pet owners whose animals were harmed by generics. Keep a file or book of photos on hand to show what could happen with the wrong product and your clients may never go back to their old ways.
The Accidental Saboteur
"I thought it was OK to give baths. You said this product was waterproof."
What to say: Advise them to go soap-free
These poor clients were trying hard to be responsible. They bought the product you recommended, but they're still seeing fleas. Calm them by reassuring them that the product is waterproof, but it may not actually be soap proof. Explain that when they bathe their pet with the wrong shampoo they are actually washing their money away.
What to show: The products you sell
It's difficult to sift through all the shampoos at the pet store trying to find one that boasts itself as being soap- or detergent-free. Sell a soap-free option in your clinic so clients can leave with a solution. Carrying a trial size entices them to buy if they're unsure about whether something soap-free will actually get their pet clean.
The Closet Cat Owner
"Yes, I'm treating all the pets in my household."
What to say: Use your hitchhiker talk
People are treating all their dogs and doing exactly what you told them to do. They think the products you sold them aren't working because they're still seeing fleas. You think for a moment, puzzled, before asking, "Do you have a cat?" "Well, yes," they reluctantly answer, "but she doesn't go outside." Aha! You didn't even know these clients owned a cat because they've never brought it in for an exam and vaccinations. This brings us back to the hitchhiker strategy, since every flea that rides into the house will head straight for the untreated cat.
What to show: More flea dirt
Suggest they go home and try the flea dirt trick on the cat so they can see their kitty is suffering too. And if they bring the cat in for an exam, the doctor may offer a free sample of feline flea preventive to show the owner how much better things are when they treat their cat.
There will always be situations that fall outside the norm and clients who won't be swayed. As with all things in life, we must accept our losses and move on. At least trying to understand our clients can help us understand ourselves and the approach we take toward the people and pets we care for. Taking a moment to speak to their nature makes them appreciate your concern and helps you avoid sending them home frustrated by fleas or completely ticked-off by ticks.
Cori Weber has worked as a receptionist and veterinary assistant in Kansas City and lives in Olathe, Kan. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.