Columns , Communication

A group effort

Improving client education and compliance requires proper training of the entire team. Accurate and consistent messaging is key.

A group effort
If your hospital is seemingly too busy to hold a lunch meeting, then schedule one outside normal working hours at a time that’s good for most employees.

Many of today’s veterinary practices are incredibly busy. Trying to see all the patients is one of their biggest problems, and yet a number of them aren’t as profitable as they would like. While many factors affect profitability, a major one is decreased revenue due to a lack of pet owner compliance.

Seeing clients leave without scheduling recommended services such as a dental cleaning or without purchasing recommended heartworm and flea preventives is frustrating. If you could do something to increase client compliance, would you? “Yes!” you’d say. However, in my observations, practices don’t take one of the most critical steps — one that’s within their control — to improve compliance. That action step is to invest time in team training on client education.

Because implementing a client education training program is way more difficult than it sounds, it’s easier to blame a lack of pet owner finances, competition from low-cost providers and the sense that “Clients just don’t listen” as reasons for low compliance. And then there’s the fact (or excuse) of “We just don’t have time to train the team in this area because we’re so busy and we don’t have enough staff.” All this sets up a vicious cycle of lower efficiency and poor client education.

Time constraints aren’t the only challenges. Other the common reasons cited by hospitals for insufficient training on how to provide outstanding client education are:

  • Unrealistic expectations. The assumption is often that employees will quickly learn what they need to know to sufficiently inform pet owners about services and products.
  • A lack of organization and knowledge on how to set up an effective training program.
  • Resistance from people who don’t want to train new hires.

Veterinarians and veterinary nurses are in short supply. For many practices, this causes pressure to see more patients and get them in and out of exam rooms quickly. Unfortunately, client education tends to suffer in these situations. Specifically, poor client education often means pet owners don’t fully appreciate the need for services and products, they don’t fully understand the value, and in many instances they are confused by the myriad options. When this happens, compliance goes down and pets don’t always get the care they deserve.

While no one can wave a magic wand and give hospitals all the employees they need, practices can leverage the existing team’s talent. Veterinary nurses and assistants can and should do a significant portion of client education. But they have to be trained to provide accurate, consistent, comprehensive client education to enhance compliance.

Here are three areas of focus that should be part of any client education training program.

Don’t Assume What Clients Know

It’s easy to think that pet owners know all about veterinary preventive care services and products. In reality, clients aren’t always well informed about basic pet care needs. They might have read erroneous information or are skeptical about the value of recommendations.

Train team members to ask questions such as “Tell me what you know about nutrition for senior pets” or “What do you know about feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus in cats?” After determining the pet owner’s knowledge, client education can be tailored accordingly, which helps to increase compliance.

Train to Give Accurate, Consistent Messages

Clients who hear different messages from different team members can become confused, breaking down trust. Moreover, this confusion can lead pet owners to more easily decline or defer treatment recommendations. Teams need to be trained to provide accurate information aligned with the hospital’s standards. For example, everyone needs to be trained to provide the same information about the need for annual heartworm tests and why pets should be on year-round preventives.

Know Patient Needs and Service Benefits

Ideally, veterinarians talk to clients about what pets need and communicate the value of services. Then, the doctors typically leave the exam room and trust the team to educate clients when treatment plans are presented, take-home instructions are reviewed and conversations about preventive care are held. However, employees aren’t always trained adequately to reinforce these messages. One way to improve training is to ensure that everyone can recite out loud a brief description of common services and products and at least one benefit.

Given staff shortages, busy schedules and time constraints, a team understandably can feel as though training is an almost impossible goal. The best way to make the goal less overwhelming is to establish specific tactics.

These four action steps can help any practice start to improve a team’s client education training:

1. Get Organized

If your hospital is seemingly too busy to hold a lunch meeting, then schedule one outside normal working hours at a time that’s good for most employees. Regardless of when the meeting occurs, the sole focus should be to discuss the implementation of a training program. Additionally, be sure to let the team know that limited time will be devoted to discussing obstacles. Instruct everyone to come with ideas and solutions for improving client education training.

2. Identify and Assign Roles for Trainers

Few employees get excited about having to train a new hire or a co-worker, in large part because they’re busy and might see the responsibility as added work. To overcome resistance, discuss the value of having everyone trained, such as greater efficiency, more job satisfaction, increased client compliance and better patient outcomes. In addition, assign training roles to multiple employees to spread the workload.

When possible, have employees do training in their area of expertise. For example, one team member might have a particular interest in nutrition while someone else is more interested in dentistry.

3. Set Weekly Training Goals

Practices that focus on reasonable goals can make more progress. For example, let’s say the team identified poor compliance in heartworm testing and preventives. This demonstrated the need to improve training on telling clients about heartworm prevention. The weekly goal, which could be stretched over multiple weeks, might include these three actions:

  • Inexperienced employees will observe a veterinary nurse discuss heartworm testing and prevention during appointments.
  • Team members will read client education handouts and articles on heartworm testing.
  • Short standing meetings will be held three times a week to do role-playing, which allows individuals to practice client education messages out loud.

4. Identify Resources

Webinars, videos, articles, books, websites and continuing education seminars are available to help employees learn. Quizzes and role-playing are excellent ways to ensure that team members retain information and are ready to accurately educate pet owners.

If veterinary hospitals want to increase client compliance, half the battle is the commitment to team training on client education. The other half is doing something different and taking action.

Think of climbing a ladder. You will get to the top one rung at a time.

You can develop and implement an effective training program one small step at a time.

Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a speaker, business consultant and second-generation veterinarian. She is the author of “101 Practice Management Questions Answered” and serves on the Today’s Veterinary Business editorial advisory board.

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