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Marketing job #1: Build loyal, lasting, rewarding relationships with clients (Proceedings)

Article

If you think that client relationships are built solely on successful diagnoses and treatments, think again! New research from the emerging field of neuroscience is yielding deeper understanding about the way people really think and the dominant role that emotions play in all human interactions, including the ones that play out in your practice.

If you think that client relationships are built solely on successful diagnoses and treatments, think again! New research from the emerging field of neuroscience is yielding deeper understanding about the way people really think and the dominant role that emotions play in all human interactions, including the ones that play out in your practice. This talk discusses the new findings and provides applications to build more successful and rewarding relationships with clients.

The rationality of irrational behavior

Research released in 2008 by the AVMA shows that pet owners are more compliant, more loyal and more accepting of fees when they have a good relationship with you. Information published by the Gallup Press and other sources confirm the important role that feelings play in human behavior. Taken together, these data suggest that success in practice is based on clients' feelings about you more than on your medical expertise. This may seem irrational, but it isn't once you understand the new findings about how people think and process information.

It has only been in the last couple of decades that the emerging field of neuroeconomics – a hybrid of neurology, psychology and economics – has begun to unlock the secret of how emotions work as a function of biology. Scientists are now using advanced technology to see how the brain responds to feelings and correlating brain activity with observable behavior. This has provided new insights into how the brain is wired. It also helps explains why even intelligent people make irrational choices and do things that make no logical sense.

Feelings drive human behavior

Feelings drive human behavior in ways that we are not aware of and sometimes, in spite of our best judgment. Neuroscience has shown that the basic connection between feelings and actions is so primary and deep that it easily overrides more rational thoughts. For instance, folk wisdom cautions, "Count to 10 before you loose your temper!" It turns out that this is scientifically sound advice. Counting to 10 gives the weaker, slower, rational thought process a chance to catch up with the lightening bolt response emotions evoke. These "lightening bolts" occur when we first meet people, fall in love, or see something we want; as well as when we are frightened, experience loss, disappointment, or anger and other human emotions.

Most of us like to think that we are rational human beings. New research indicates, however, that we are first and foremost products of our biology. We are emotionally-driven creatures, as are our clients. The fact is that emotions exert such a strong influence on perceptions and behaviors that they drive the majority of the decisions people make everyday. They must be attended to in order to successfully communicate and build trusting relationships in and out of the practice.

In the past, client service initiatives were mostly directed at meeting common, first level satisfaction criteria based on quality patient care. In other words, meeting the basic clients' expectations for their pets' care was enough – after all, isn't that what they came for? Today, we know that quality patient care is only the starting point of client relationships that are strengthened through emotional engagement and trust-building.

The following chart is adapted from the work of John Fleming, Ph.D. and Jim Asplund. It shows how emotional engagement with clients can be broken down into four distinct levels, starting with Level 1 and building up to Level 4.

Automated response –vs – authentic connection

If human beings were machines, we could automate processes to the point where we could program communications to achieve almost perfect and predictable results every time we interacted with another. When we try to automate responses with people, however, just the opposite usually happens and it backfires. For instance, if we try to substitute automated answering machines for people and we frustrate our clients – so much so that they quickly circumvent the system to get to talk to a real person. It also backfires when we try to automate human behavior by asking receptionists to read from a script in response to client questions; or if the associates are directed to automatically shake clients' hands when they enter exam rooms for the first time. Even though these seem like reasonable things to do, in practice they prevent individualized and authentic people-to-people connections and sometimes they create negative impressions when others see the "automated" behaviors as insulting and insincere – just the opposite of your intentions!

Summary

Clients have changed! They are willing to spend money on their pets and they appreciate the medical options that you provide to help their pets. Clients are also more educated, sophisticated and demanding and quick to tell others about their experiences, which are based on their feelings, not facts.

Today,it is necessary to incorporate both informational and emotional components into your client communications. This will help you make a positive emotional connection and build a solid foundation for loyal, lasting, rewarding client relationships.

References

Pet Owner Price Sensitivity and Attitude Study, American Veterinary Medical Association 2007, Schaumburg, IL, BNResearch, Portland, OR

Human Sigma Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter, 2007, Gallup Press, New York, NY, ISBN: 978-1-59562-016-3

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