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
Have you ever been frustrated by a pet owner who didn’t appreciate your preventive care recommendations or the value of annual wellness visits? If so, a new e-book from the American Veterinary Medical Association titled “Language That Works” can teach you to change your client communications and get better results. The AVMA’s Language of Veterinary Care Initiative discovered the words and phrases that best resonated with clients. Let’s look at three primary findings and four other best practices.
1. Build Trusted Relationships
An interesting conclusion was the importance of talking to clients about their relationship with a pet and the veterinary team. Many clients perceive a veterinary visit as more of a transaction than a time for relationship-building, especially if they come in for preventive care. Clients also rely on other sources, such as groomers, trainers, pet stores and the internet, to meet their pets’ needs. Ideally, veterinary practices should promote how they can help with all aspects of a pet’s health, not just in emergencies or to give a vaccine.
To build a relationship and trust, veterinary teams should try to remember the client and the pet’s history and use specific communication, such as the word “relationship.” For example:
- “We know how important Hannah is to you. We want to build a strong relationship with you and her so that we can provide the best veterinary care.”
- “Regular visits help us get to know you and Ginger and the relationship you share.”
2. Personalize Your Recommendations
Asked what they’d like from veterinarians, pet owners desired “personalized recommendations.” That phrase builds trust because it implies the veterinarian knows the pet and has tailored recommendations accordingly. People don’t respond well to general suggestions that sound like a sales pitch. Personalized recommendations raise the value of a relationship because the more veterinarians know a client and pet, the more they can provide specific information about an animal’s needs.
Make sure a client knows that your recommendations are specific to the pet. Use its name, and reference its age, breed, risk factors and lifestyle. Again, emphasize the relationship. Try this:
- “All our doctors enjoy building relationships with clients and their pets. During your visit, Dr. Smith will provide personalized recommendations for Chloe based on her age, risk factors and lifestyle.”
- “Given what I’ve seen in the past and how Max looks today, here’s what I recommend based on his activity level.”
3. Initiate Money Conversations
Veterinary medicine can be expensive, which causes anxiety in many pet owners who want to provide the best care possible. That’s why having honest, supportive conversations about money is critical. Clients don’t always know about affordable options and might feel too intimidated to ask. The Language of Veterinary Care Initiative revealed that pet owners want veterinary teams to be understanding about the cost of care and proactively discuss it.
Don’t wait for clients to raise concerns about whether they can afford veterinary care. Instead, strive to make the money conversation easier and more comfortable. Here are two ways:
- “We know veterinary care is expensive and that trying to make decisions about treatment options can be stressful. However, we can discuss a few options and work with you to find what’s best for your budget.”
- “We have several payment options we can talk about to make care as affordable as possible.”
4. Say “Checkups” and “Regular”
Clients like to hear “checkups” because it’s descriptive and conveys that the veterinarian will assess the pet’s health. Here’s what you can say:
- “During Sophie’s checkup, the doctor will assess her health, answer your questions and discuss her preventive care needs.”
- “Regular checkups are valuable so that I can become familiar with Jake while he’s healthy and make the best recommendations down the road if he becomes ill.”
5. Avoid Scare Tactics
Pet owners prefer words that promote positive outcomes rather than worst-case scenarios. Rather than saying “deadly,” which can seem like you’re trying to scare someone into accepting a recommendation, try:
- “Giving Benji his core vaccines as well as flea, tick and heartworm preventives ensures he doesn’t get avoidable medical conditions.”
- “Cats tend to hide signs of illness. Regular checkups and lab work help us identify any issues, such as kidney or thyroid disease, before Tigger might show signs of illness.”
6. Don’t Be Pompous
Comments promoting the veterinarians’ level of education and how they know what’s best for a pet can be disconcerting to clients. Likewise, saying you’ll provide scientific evidence to support a recommendation might put off someone. Instead, focus on experience and say:
- “Our doctors have a wealth of experience treating all ages and types of dogs.”
- “Based on my 15 years of experience, here’s the approach I recommend. May I share with you some of the latest information about Rosie’s condition and the treatments?”
7. Draw Clients Into the Conversation
Open-ended questions honor a pet owner’s knowledge and perspectives. Here are examples of what you can say to empower clients and learn more about them and their pets.
- “What is most important to you about Indie’s health and well-being?”
- “What have you read or heard about Lyme disease and vaccinations for dogs?”
The AVMA initiative revealed that small changes in communication can make a significant difference in a pet owner’s perceptions about veterinary medicine. I recommend that you start by choosing one or two words and phrases you’d like to practice. Your use of language that resonates with clients can help more pets get the care they deserve.
American Veterinary Medical Association members can download a free copy of the 28-page “Language That Works” e-book at bit.ly/3nPzNGS. CareCredit and Pets Best helped fund the project.