The secret to happy clients

dvm360dvm360 May 2022
Volume 53
Issue 5
Pages: 62

AVMA’s survey found that the most influential factor in client satisfaction is perceived value

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PCH.Vector /

Client satisfaction and loyalty can go a long way toward ensuring adherence and optimal patient care—not to mention repeat business. Client satisfaction is about meeting expectations, whereas loyalty, is about relationship building. Both contribute to the likelihood of a client returning to—and even recommending—your practice, or switching practices altogether.

The news from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 2021 Pet Ownership Survey is encouraging in this regard. Despite the challenges to health care delivery posed by COVID-19, 90% of pet owners who responded were somewhat to extremely satisfied with their last veterinary visit, and half were very likely to recommend the practice to friends or family. Even so, 2% were extremely dissatisfied, and 9% said they were extremely likely to switch practices.

Although low in number, dissatisfied clients can disrupt our days, harm the well-being of our teams, and jeopardize the hard-earned reputations of our practices. Indeed, we’ve seen this all too often recently.

So what can we target to improve client satisfaction and loyalty? The answer may surprise you.

It's about value

AVMA’s survey found that the most influential factor in client satisfaction is perceived value. Forty percent of clients who were dissatisfied with the overall value of services provided by their veterinarian said they would be likely to switch practices. By contrast, only 18% of clients dissatisfied with the practice’s convenience (hours, location, etc) were likely to switch. Convenience, it turns out, is the least influential factor.

Perceived value isn’t just important to maintaining clients, it also affects an owner’s decision whether to visit the veterinarian in the first place. The survey asked specifically about primary reasons owners did not visit the veterinarian, and respondents told us the following:

  • Seventy-eight percent chose responses suggesting low perceived value.
  • Convenience ranked much lower, at less than 10%.

What's the problem?

The truth is that although many people consider their pets as part of the family, many of these pet owners don’t understand the value of the recommendations their veterinarians make. This is particularly true when it comes to routine examinations and preventive care. Some of the reasons owners gave for their pet not seeing a veterinarian in the past 2 years are as follows:

  • Pet didn’t get sick or injured—28%.
  • Pet didn’t need vaccines—26%.
  • Veterinary care costs more than it’s worth—6%.

This lack of understanding is not surprising if we consider findings from the Bayer veterinary care usage study,1 which found that communication during veterinary appointments can be unclear. The responses included the following:

  • Forty-three percent of pet owners didn’t completely agree that their veterinarian communicates with them in language they understand.
  • Fifty-six percent didn’t completely agree that their veterinarian clearly explains when they should bring their pet in to be seen.
image provided by AVMA

image provided by AVMA

What's the solution?

The disconnect between what clients perceive as valuable and what veterinary professionals know is important for patient health limits our ability to provide the care our patients need. How can we address, and perhaps eliminate, this disconnect? It all comes down to communication.

Word choices matter

Language-focused research conducted by the AVMA shows that simply changing how we speak about veterinary care can significantly influence pet owners’ perceptions about the value and importance of regular care. The AVMA’s Language of Veterinary Care findings indicate that pet owners value 3 main things when it comes to their veterinarian:

  • expertise;
  • a strong relationship; and
  • personalized recommendations.

It also uncovered strategies we can use to meet these expectations, as follows:

  • Emphasize our experience, not training, to convey expertise.
  • Leverage the relationship owners have with their pets: Acknowledge them as their pet’s advocate.
  • Provide individualized care, as personalized recommendations can differentiate the veterinary team from other information sources such as groomers, trainers, or the internet.

Resources you can draw on

The AVMA’s e-book, Language That Works, explores the results of this research in further detail, with words and phrases that veterinary teams can use—or should avoid—to help build client relationships and loyalty. We’ve also developed a robust training module that helps veterinary team members connect meaningfully with pet owners to improve adherence, enhance patient care, and drive your business forward. Both resources are available online at

Communication style matters, too

Other tips to help clients appreciate the value of the services you provide, building trust and loyalty, are as follows:

  • Use a relationship-centered approach to communication involving back-and-forth with clients to create a partnership rather than a 1-sided delivery of information.2
  • At the start of the appointment, partner with the client in setting an agenda. Ask about any concerns they have, listen, probe for additional concerns, and confirm the list.2
  • Talk through what you’re looking for while conducting a physical exam. Conclude with a clear, customized recommendation.3
  • Explain, in client-friendly terms, the benefits and efficacy of the treatments, diagnostic tests, or other services you’re recommending.
  • In situations involving choice, such as recommending one vaccine over another, explain the rationale in terms of the patient’s needs.
  • Be transparent about costs and explain the value of related services in relation to the pet’s current and long-term health.4,5
  • Conclude the appointment with a personalized follow-up plan.

Partners for Healthy Pets offers a free preventive health care certificate program that provides more detail on communication styles that promote relationship building and perceived value. It can be found online at An added bonus: veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers can earn 9 continuing education (CE) credits by participating.

What about angry clients?

Despite our best efforts, we’re bound to encounter disgruntled or angry clients. When this happens, how can we build a bridge to reestablish friendly and trusting relationships?

  • Let the client vent and listen to understand. Appreciating the concern can help you decide whether and how to address it.6
  • Acknowledge the problem and apologize. Let the client know you hear them.
  • Be willing to solve the problem. Compassion is an effective antidote to anger.
  • Remain calm. Consider your body language and aim for a relaxed posture with good eye contact.
  • Consider difficult feedback a gift. You can’t fix what you don’t know about, and talking things out in person may prevent complaints on social media.

If you’re attending AVMA Convention 2022, you’ll find specific CE sessions that can help deal with these situations, including “Difficult Clients: Turning Snappy Into Happy,” led by Amy Newfield, MS, CVT, VTS.

The bottom line

Pet owners appreciate convenience, but understanding the value of veterinary services will keep them coming back. Simply changing how we talk can help owners better understand this value, ultimately leading to healthier pets and stronger, more rewarding relationships.


  1. Von Simson C. Bayer veterinary care usage study: the decline of veterinary visits and how to reverse the trend. AVMA. July 18, 2011. Accessed March 15, 2022. BAYERBCI_VET_CARE_USAGE_STUDY_PART2.pdf
  2. Burns K. Communicating with clients key to preventive care. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;242(10):1325-1326.
  3. CVM Courses. Client communication: physical exam. Accessed March 15, 2022.
  4. Coe JB, Adams CL, Bonnett BN. A focus group study of veterinarians’ and pet owners’ perceptions of the monetary aspects of veterinary care. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007;231(10):1510-1518. doi:10.2460/javma.231.10.1510
  5. Volk JO, Felsted KE, Thomas JG, Siren CW. Executive summary of the Bayer veteri- nary care usage study. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238(10):1275-1282. doi:10.2460/ javma.238.10.1275
  6. Burns K. When clients bite: dealing with difficult clients ... in a pandemic. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2020;257(8):783.
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