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
As I write this article, I reflect on recent experiences with my dermatologist and accountant. I mostly like my dermatologist — let’s call her Dr. Jones — because I’m confident in her knowledge and expertise. She does a thorough exam and asks, “Do you have any questions?” She’s efficient and reasonably friendly but doesn’t engage me in conversation. I’ll continue to see Dr. Jones, but I wouldn’t say I’m bonded to her practice; I don’t feel a relationship with her.
In contrast, I am bonded to my accountant. I moved to Nashville two years ago but still use the accountant I had in Florida. I trust his expertise, and we have a relationship. Every time we talk, he asks how I’m doing. I believe he cares about my financial and personal well-being.
What’s interesting is that I’m more loyal to my accountant than my dermatologist. Given how much I value my health and that I’ve had skin cancer, you’d think it would be the opposite.
One significant difference in the two experiences I described was the power of a question to build connections. At the end of the appointment, my dermatologist asked what most of us would expect: “Do you have any questions?” On the other hand, my accountant got personal — “How are you doing?” — at the beginning of the appointment, prompting me to share a few highlights of my work and life.
Veterinary team members frequently ask questions of pet owners to obtain information but miss the opportunity to build relationships. The right questions can help increase client loyalty and compliance, so let’s see how you can use them to achieve such outcomes.
Close-Ended vs. Open-Ended
A close-ended question can be answered with a single word, such as “yes” or “no.” Alternatively, an open-ended question invites someone to provide an expanded response. In my experience, when I ask veterinary team members for an example of an open-ended question or have them practice one, I often hear closed-ended questions. Your team members should know the difference so that they can develop a better rapport with pet owners and increase compliance.
How to Improve Loyalty
The key to enhancing loyalty is to develop a relationship with pet owners so that they bond to your practice. Think about your interactions with clients. Do you do all the talking, or do you encourage a dialogue? Asking open-ended questions creates a conversation and connects with pet owners. Being inquisitive shows your interest in the client and pet. Here are examples:
- “Which favorite activities do you share with Rusty?”
- “How does Charlie get along with everyone in the family?”
Those questions show you care about the human-pet bond, and they shouldn’t take much time to answer.
Secondly, open-ended questions promote decision making, which clients want to be a part of in their pets’ health care. For example:
- “Which questions and concerns would you like to discuss today?”
- “What’s most important when you think about Rosie’s quality of life?”
How to Improve Compliance
Team members might feel discouraged when clients decline health care recommendations. The good news is that asking the right questions helps overcome a pet owner’s resistance to preventive care and treatment plans. Clients usually say no because they don’t fully appreciate the need for a service or product, don’t understand its value, or think they can’t afford it. Team members can avoid such scenarios if they know the power of specific questions.
Here are two tactics.
Avoid asking close-ended questions before communicating the value of a recommendation. After a close-ended question, clients might say no because they don’t think their pets need the service or aren’t sure they can afford it. Here are examples of questions to avoid:
- “Do you want to get flea and tick protection today?”
- “Are you interested in a fecal test for Max?”
- “Do you want to schedule Max’s dental cleaning?”
Rather than asking whether a client wants a service or product, first inquire about the pet owner’s knowledge. Here are better questions:
- “What type of flea and tick protection are you using for Max?”
- “How much have you read about the different intestinal parasites that Max might be exposed to?”
- “How familiar are you with the progression of periodontal disease in dogs and cats?”
Those questions stimulate dialogue and open the door to educate a client about health care needs and the benefits of specific services or products.
Ask whether a client understands treatment recommendations and payment options. For example:
- “What questions do you have about Winnie’s treatment plan?”
- “Would you like me to review some payment options for Dixie’s dental care plan?”
- “What additional information would be helpful for you besides what I’ve reviewed so far?”
Gaining Team Buy-In
Getting team members to commit to better questions can be complicated. Busy people tend to become task-oriented. To gain buy-in from everyone, discuss how the right question at the right time helps more pets get the care they deserve.
Taking a few moments to ask questions is worth the effort if they help a pet owner understand the value of your services and say yes to treatment recommendations.
2 ACTION STEPS
Asking effective questions is a learned skill. Since habits take time to acquire, ask your team members to commit to doing this every day:
- Ask at least one question during each phone call or appointment so that you get to know a client or their pet better.
- Ask clients if they want a service or product after — not before — you communicate the need and value of a health care recommendation.