Is your message getting through?

Article

A birthday wish in the mail is nice, but such kind gestures only work if you deliver a similar message in person.

Let's say your team decides to send every patient a birthday card. That's great—but you'll only maintain the good vibe the card generates if you follow up with warm client service in person. After all, your most important marketing efforts happen one on one.

Here's an example of a warm impulse gone wrong: A caring receptionist tells a worried client whose pet had been hospitalized to stop by any time to visit. The client feels relieved and stops by the next morning. While she's there, the pet manages to dislodge its catheter.

That's when the warm message turns chilly. A technician storms in, whisks the pet away, and testily informs the client that it would've been nice if she'd called before visiting. The message the client receives is, "I'm too busy." Just that fast, the trust the client feels evaporates.

You've heard it before, but three simple steps help warm up all client interactions:

1. Show your compassion for pets. You need to live by the adage "clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Show compassion for the client's worries, and by extension you show compassion for his or her pet. In my example, the technician shows a decided lack of empathy for a frightened pet and for its worried owner. The technician's frosty reception leaves the owner wondering how much care and compassion team members really give her pet.

It is what you wear from ear to ear

2. Speak English. Slow down, translate your findings into everyday language, and make sure the pet owner really understands the recommendations you and the doctor make. Clients don't share your comfort with medical terminology, and they often don't understand clinical terms that some of you might take for granted. After all, what client nods knowingly when the doctor delivers a diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma? Can the client assuage her daughter's fears with, "Kitty has hepatic lipidosis?"

3. Offer payment options. While your practice certainly can't finance every complicated procedure, you can suggest the options your doctor supports that make it possible for clients to provide the best care for their pets. These may include outside financing, check holding, or pet insurance.

The wrong message

Here's a situation you want to avoid: A client takes her pet to the clinic she's frequented for seven years. The veterinarian dances around the word "cancer" and declares that "he" (a female pet) needs exploratory surgery, which costs several thousand dollars.

Use words that pack a punch

The technician strokes the cat's fur sympathetically and talks about poor "Scarlet." (The pet's name is Charlotte.) When the client asks about making payments, the receptionist says she can't offer that option and suggests taking out a standard bank loan.

What does the client think? In seven years the team members couldn't be bothered to get her pet's gender or name correct, and she's confused by the doctor's diagnosis. She's not sure what she's getting for her thousands of dollars, which makes her think the veterinary team is only interested in money. The client's dissatisfaction and frustration soar.

Learn to say "I am sorry"

Of course, many clients have positive experiences, but even one negative visit can run off the very best of clients. So whether you're facing a difficult diagnosis or a potentially touchy conversation about payment options, take a deep breath and refocus on your reason for practice—helping pets live longer, healthier lives. An extra dose of understanding and compassion may be just what the doctor ordered to help you communicate more effectively with clients and to strengthen their bonds with your team and your practice.

Lisa M. Browder is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. Please send questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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