Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a speaker, business consultant and second-generation veterinarian. She combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. She is the author of “Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management.” Learn more at amandadonnellydvm.comRead Articles Written by Amanda Donnelly
When I discovered a tiny tick on myself, I checked to see if my long-haired dachshund was up to date on her monthly dose of flea and tick protection. Fortunately, Gidget was only a few days overdue. Today’s preventive products are extremely effective, but as a second-generation veterinarian, I remember the days of using dips, shampoos, powders, sprays and household bombs to treat infestations. Back then, client education was top of mind because stopping fleas and ticks required considerable effort. Unfortunately, the parasites remain prevalent today, and compliance with year-round preventives is low.
What Clients Don’t Know
No one wants fleas and ticks on their pet, but that doesn’t mean clients are eager to pay for deterrents. Creating a conversation about the need for protection — before talking about preventives — is critical so that clients don’t focus only on the cost.
Clients might not understand the prevalence and life cycle of parasites or their pets’ risk factors. For example, they tend to think flea protection isn’t necessary during the fall and winter months. Other misconceptions are that indoor pets don’t need protection and that dogs must walk in wooded areas to encounter ticks. We should tell clients that cooler, damper conditions are optimal for fleas.
After establishing with your clients that most pets are at some degree of risk, advise them about the diseases caused by fleas and ticks, including Lyme. They might have heard about flea allergy dermatitis and anemia but be unaware of tapeworms, flea-borne typhus, Bartonella (cat scratch fever) and plague. Avoid scare tactics and instead focus on the severity of the conditions. Point out that even if the infection risk is low, year-round prevention is available and effective.
Education works better when you create a dialogue. Avoid lecturing pet owners with lengthy explanations. Instead, use “chunk and check” communication, in which you provide nuggets of information and ask questions to draw clients into the conversation. For example, you might offer a few details about preventives and ask, “How familiar are you with the need for flea protection in the fall and winter months?” Similarly, after reviewing the diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks, you can say, “What questions do you have about Jake’s risk factors or the symptoms of these diseases?”
To make education more interactive, consider fun games. For example, you could have clients match pictures of parasites with the correct name or give them an easy five-question quiz. Then, enter the clients into a weekly drawing for prizes such as a gift card or $5 off a future service. Team members can use the game as a starting point to talk about parasites.
Ask Better Questions
Posters and charts about external parasites are educational, but how often do clients pay attention? Face-to-face conversations are the best way to increase compliance if you engage pet owners with the right questions. Asking, “Did you want to get flea/tick prevention today?” comes across as tentative. “How many doses of flea/tick protection do you have left?” closes the door to further conversation when a client responds, “I’m good.”
A better approach involves open-ended questions to illuminate how much clients know about parasites, the risk factors and what they value about preventives. For example:
- “What questions do you have about the Chloe’s flea/tick preventive?”
- “What’s most important to you about flea/tick protection for Max?”
People are more likely to buy your recommended products when they understand the benefits. So, be sure to talk about the value of the preventives you sell, which means referencing the brand names and unique advantages.
12 Is Greater Than 6
One barrier to year-round control occurs when we routinely send home doses lasting six months or less. We assume clients won’t pay for a 12-month supply. Instead, start by recommending year-round control, and avoid judging a client’s willingness to pay.
For example, say, “Since it’s so important to protect Sophie all year long, we will send you home with 12 months of [brand name].” In addition, discuss how you can make flea/tick products more affordable, such as with manufacturer rebates and discounts.
Remember that flea and tick diseases concern pet owners. Veterinary teams committed to communicating the value of year-round prevention can help more pets get the care they deserve.
CALL TO ACTION
Don’t assume that your team members know all about fleas and ticks and the benefits of the products you sell. To identify gaps in training, administer a 10- to 20-question multiple-choice quiz. The veterinarians in your practice can generate parasitology questions, and your pharmaceutical reps will undoubtedly be happy to help with product details.