Up your communication game with younger clients

March 12, 2020
dvm360 Staff

Generational differences in thinking and communication styles are real, and catering to the styles of today’s younger pet owners will put your practice on the path to building lasting bonds.

Many people view their pet as a member of the family, focusing intensely on their pet’s health and wellbeing, and spending a lot of money doing so. This is especially true for younger clients who may not yet have children. What veterinary practices need to keep in mind is that younger clients may not fully grasp all that comes with pet ownership, and they communicate and receive information much differently than previous generations.

In light of these differences, successful veterinary teams adjust their communication style to better match that of their younger clients. Here are some tips to make it easier to educate and communicate with younger pet owners, and what tools are more effective.

Educate and motivate

When it comes to education, delivering a message the way a client learns best is key. For younger generations, social media is the way to go, says Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ, a Colorado practitioner and Fetch dvm360 conference speaker. Dr. Wooten shares some methods and messages that can help:

  • Facebook is out. This platform is not widely used by younger generations. Instagram, You Tube, TikTok and SnapChat are where it’s at. These platforms aren’t effective just for communication; they’re also great for education about health topics such as the need for dental care and heartworm prevention.
  • Dry wit is in. Ads, messages and education that are engaging and include a little humor will go a long way.
  • Find a personal connection. Having trouble convincing your client about the importance of heartworm prevention? Dr. Wooten recalls a client who could not grasp the danger of heartworms. But when she changed her education to focus simply on “worms,” the client was repulsed at the idea and eagerly agreed to whatever prevention was necessary. Diet challenges? Rather than highlight the dangers of obesity, focus on what the pet owner likes to do with their pet and what they need to do to make sure those activities can continue.

Appreciate the bond, acknowledge the limitations

While younger pet owners may sometimes be written off for not knowing enough about pet health, or not having the resources to provide certain levels of care, Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, an independent business advisor with Halow Consulting, cautions that underestimating these pet owners can be a big mistake.

“They love their pets like family more so than ever before,” Halow says. “I really believe we should recognize the pet owner and lead off with the thought that they really want the best for their pet—and we really have to try and get them that.”

Halow offers some advice on how to make that happen.

  • Have empathy. Appreciate that the cost of care may be a challenge for some clients and they may feel embarrassed.
  • Keep it down. Don’t hold discussions about finances out in the open at the front desk. Offer privacy and options.
  • Be specific. When you make recommendations, explain to the client exactly what should be done. “Don’t focus on policy, focus on the pet and its owner,” Halow says. “Be specific to them and their needs.
  • Don’t use fear as a motivator.“Fear motivation, or being scared of the consequences, has been big in veterinary medicine,” Dr. Wooten says. “It’s important to deliver the information, but not in a way that scares or causes guilt.”
  • Avoid using scripts. “Be careful with a script, because you may end up opposite of where you want to go,” Halow says. “Scripts are excellent for kickstarting a thought, but nothing takes the place of people believing in the value of a recommendation. You need to believe in what you are selling and you’ll be successful.”

Instant gratification

Technology is key with younger clients, but even older clients have embraced the instant and mobile communication that apps and text messaging can offer. Text messaging is instantaneous and personal, and apps offer the ability to provide a variety of services remotely, from answering questions to refilling prescriptions. The most effective communication strategy is multifaceted, Dr. Wooten says. There are a lot of ways to improve communication through technology:

  • Touch base through text. “Text messaging good. If pet is in hospital, status updates to clients are very popular. Pictures are ideal,” Dr. Wooten says. “You can text lab results or what you are seeing to client.”
  • Push it. Use push notifications, calendar tools, and banner messages delivered to mobile devices. These can be used to notify clients about a new result, remind them of an appointment, or offer forward scheduling for next year’s exam.
  • Use your resources. Some veterinarians may think these are big tools to tackle, but Dr. Wooten says many overlook the 20-something kennel worker who is a gold mine. “You likely people within your practice who can communicate [in this way] better than you can.”
  • Try it out. “Practice owners need to go down to the vendor hall at trade shows and talk to those people about these tools. See and touch; get an example,” Halow says. “Five to 10 minutes of education is all it takes. Ask for references to practices that have used this technology.” Practices are not averse to onboarding these things, but they think it will take time they don’t have to learn it, he says.
  • There’s an app for that. A host of apps are available, and Halow says the key is to just “swallow the pain” and start using one. Wooten suggests Pet Desk as one starting point, as it offers a variety of options for mobile pet care.