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Strong DVM-client bonds translate to success
Las Vegas - Explain care benefits, cater communication to client personalities and show genuine interest in a pet owner's concerns. These techniques, according to a recent study, ensure pet owners are willing to pay for the highest quality of veterinary care.
LAS VEGAS — Explain care benefits, cater communication to client personalities and show genuine interest in a pet owner's concerns. These techniques, according to a recent study, ensure pet owners are willing to pay for the highest quality of veterinary care.
Confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding — not cost — influence pet owners to ignore DVM recommendations and highlight the need for improved client interaction and communication, says Laura Neidhart, Bardsley & Neidhart Marketing Research president and co-presenter of the 2006 Pet Owner Price Sensitivity and Attitude Study.
Together with Jim Flanigan, director of marketing for the American Veterinary Medical Association, Neidhart reviewed results of the study, sponsored by a 12-member industry task force, and how veterinarians can apply the recommendations to improve their practices. The presentation took place in February at Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas.
Although a majority of veterinarians are self-described introverts, Neidhart says, communication is the sole way to improve the quality of care pet owners provide to their animals. "In the end, it is what is best for your clients and your practice," Neidhart says.
Strong veterinarian interaction leads 71 percent of owners to follow DVM recommendations. Only 51 percent of owners follow recommendations when communication and bonds are weak, Neidhart adds. Cost is not a main factor.
Building a client bond can be easy, says Dr. Marty Becker, resident veterinarian on "Good Morning America" and star of PBS's "The Pet Doctor with Marty Becker." Guidelines to strengthen a practice's communication break down into key areas, he says.
- Establish a client bond. Begin to create a relationship with the owner and pet in the first 20 seconds of the visit. Smile, engage the owner in conversation and show a personal interest.
- Let the owner explain the reason for the visit without interruption. Keep an open mind, and do not make assumptions. Give the client full attention, and do not get distracted by taking notes. When the owner is finished speaking, ask appropriate questions to further assess the pet's health while using expressions of empathy to help relate to the owner's feelings.
- Use effective communication. Pet owners typically communicate with the right, or emotional side, of their brain, while veterinarians often view the same pet with the left, or more logical side. Therefore, it is important to communicate with and treat owners in a way that makes them want to come in, talk and listen.
"Clients don't want veterinary medicine. They want you to ensure their pet is safe and healthy," Becker says.
It is also important to determine an owner's experience with his or her pet by asking how long they have had the animal, where it was acquired and their experience with the particular breed. This enables veterinarians to better evaluate how educated a client is regarding the care their pet needs. Neidhart also encourages DVMs to ask about other pets and the care they are receiving.
- Recognize the value of the physical exam. The exam room serves as the key bonding center for the doctor, client and patient. The stronger the connection, the more likely an owner is to approve the treatment you have recommended. A client's perception of the DVM and staff during the visit influences the decision to allow care. Clients notice when staff members are indifferent or aloof, or if DVMs are rough during an exam, causing the patient to whine or pull away.
"Take control of the exam room in a friendly, open, caring, convincing, compassionate, skillful way," Becker says.
Ensure clients understand your actions during the exam. Explain what you are doing and use models and pictures to help them better understand. Watch for signs of confusion, and re-emphasize key points you want them to remember.
Present information simply and slowly, without medical jargon or an excess of percentages and data. Do not rush or talk too fast. This will keep owners from feeling overwhelmed and confused, yet allow them to absorb the information and ask proper questions.
Properly train staff to communicate through every step of interaction with clients. Ensure all phone calls and appointment scheduling are handled with polite, friendly service that should again be reflected to a client when he or she is in the waiting room. Be thorough and timely with follow-up care and appointments, and take every opportunity to further educate the client on providing the best pet care possible. Make each visit a positive memory.
The stronger the DVM/client bond, the more an owner focuses on the value of recommended services instead of cost, says Howard Rubin, chief executive officer of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI).
Four out of five pet owners will pay for recommended care regardless of cost when their DVM offers it and clearly explains the need and benefits, Rubin says. Clients who complain about costs typically don't understand what needs to be done or the value to the pet, NCVEI research shows.
"Just because clients think something is costly, it doesn't mean they are unhappy to spend the money," Rubin says.