Pet owners dont ignore your recommendations because they are bad people

2019-11-19

Advice on how veterinary professionals can be better at guiding pet owners to take the best action for their pets.

spaskov/stock.adobe.comIf you tell an average pet owner what's best for their pet, they'll do it.

If you're rolling your eyes, read on. If you believe that statement … well, you probably have been living in an alternate reality.

The truth is, pet owners don't fail to follow your recommendations because they are bad people or don't love their pets. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from two veterinary industry pros on how to effectively communicate in order for pet owners to take the best path forward for the health of their pets.

Educate-don't mandate

Repeat this mantra: “I'm not a used car salesman. I'm not a used car salesman.” No matter how much you may want to, you can't run away from sales when you work in a field where your knowledge is what makes the sale. The cardinal rule is, if you believe in what you're selling, you'll be able to sell it. If you don't want to sell products, you have to be open and honest with the people you work with so they don't schedule you for these appointments.

Many pet owners are against vaccines and medications for fleas and worms because they feel it's unnatural or harmful. When I was a new associate, I would say, “You need to get vaccines and flea and heartworm medications in order to protect your pet.” But I've learned that people don't like being told what to do, and they also don't like feeling that you're trying to upsell them. Here's what I usually tell clients now: “My job is to present you with the facts and make sure you make an informed decision, and you get to decide what to do with that information.” People seem happier that they get to make an educated decision, and I'm happier because I get to educate them.

-Hilal Dogan, BVSc, CCTP

Give options, but don't abdicate your role

I have a friend who despises choosing a restaurant. In fact, it's nearly impossible to get her to weigh in on any sort of dinner-related decision. The reason is that she doesn't want to feel accountable if the place we visit is underwhelming. She takes comfort in always being able to say, “Well, it was your choice.” For a friend and a dinner decision, this is fine. But what if everyone approached choices this way?

Yes, we need to present pet owners with options, but we cannot relinquish our responsibility to guide their decisions. Too often, we say “Well, you could ... ” and then present a multiple-choice scenario with options that may seem perfectly clear to us but are confusing to our clients. We feel good about putting the choice in their hands, but then we wonder why they so often default to the cheapest option. (The one element that's not confusing in all of this? Price. You don't need a medical degree to understand that part.)

Instead, what if we presented options in the context of making a strong recommendation? For example, we can use statements like, “Based on what we've discussed, the plan I'd recommend is … ” or simply, “To address your concerns, we need to … ” We can use these phrases and still give people options. However, they offer clear direction on how best to move forward and take advantage of our education, training and experience.

If we are acting ethically, listening to our clients and their needs and practicing a good standard of care, we should be able to give options while also making clear what path we believe will best serve the pet and owner. When we refuse to commit to any recommendation, we abdicate our position as a guide, consultant and doctor. I believe that also means we fail our clients.

-Andy Roark, DVM, MS