The smooth consultation (part 1)
Vet practitioners frequently concentrate on the pet and forget about the owner… Client centricity requires some preparation and training. The consultation should follow a process where conditions are created to have a positive interaction with the pet owner, starting with a warm-up and using the communication skills explained in the chapter “Communication is a clinical skill”. In this first section, we look at warm-ups and how to establish a good relationship with owners.
The veterinarian should take a break between two consultations in order to adapt and focus on the new case.
The best guideline for perfect communication is to ask: how can we turn every consultation into a special experience for our client?
Pre client warm-up
Just as athletes warm up their muscles before training and competitions to strengthen their motivation, a veterinarian should mentally prepare himself for clients before the consultation. This time is well invested because:
- The veterinarian understands what the last contacts and transactions with the client have included and can pick up directly from there.
- The veterinarian reads what he has written regarding the client or the treatment case, i.e., what he still wants to address and offer – things that he might have forgotten without preparation or would have remembered when the client is homebound again.
- The veterinarian takes a break between the individual consultations and cases, which he often simultaneously deals with, in order to adapt and focus on the new case.
- The veterinarian is completely focused on the client. The client recognizes that he is important and the veterinarian gives his best to help him and his pets.
This “warm-up” should include at least the last 3-4 contacts with a client, including telephone calls and discussions with the practice team that the veterinarian may not have heard (Figure 1). It may happen that clients entrust the practice team with information, opinions and wishes that are important for the attending veterinarian. Often clients may not share their needs and concerns to the veterinarian, especially if the veterinarian acts rather authoritatively and decisively with the client.
However, it can also be situational that a veterinarian may not notice everything the client says, e.g., an emergency has been announced and the vet practitioner is under time pressure. It is important for the practice team to support each other, and to record in the file everything about this client and his pet. There is no need to write a novel – key issues are completely sufficient. This is the only way of creating a complete record of communication that can and should be used.
In practice, the warm-up may be that the veterinarian, and in certain consultations also the nurse, is in the consultation room before the client gets in, opens the client´s and animal’s file and sees the last contacts in an overview (this can be accessed in most programs with a simple keyboard shortcut):
- What was the last reason for the previous consultation?
- What contacts were made with the practice afterwards and what was it about? (e.g., conversations at reception, phone calls, e-mails, etc.)
- What did the client buy or order in the meantime?
With this information, the veterinarian is perfectly prepared for the upcoming consultation and can use the information in the dialogue (see example dialogue number 1).
Note: All contacts a client has with the practice are important and require good communication.
Building a good relationship
To build and manage a good relationship between the veterinarian and the client, it is important to keep in mind that the client gave his trust to the practice in advance. The client has chosen the particular practice and veterinarian and may be there for the first time or already a regular client. He has given the practice a vote of confidence! For the practice team, this given faith must be appreciated by showing the client that they are worthy of this trust through:
- 100% client orientation – the client and his pet are the focus of all efforts!
- Respectful interaction – the entire communication is about making the visit a completely enjoyable experience.
- Small gifts (branded with the practice name & logo) (Figure 2) and extra services in between visits, such as calls to help with therapy or difficult situations, a small packet of food or a voucher for a specific care measure as a birthday present for the animal or a reflective collar with practice logo for the dark season.
All these measures have one thing in common: they are surprising for most clients and therefore they have a particularly sustainable effect. As a matter of course the client expects good veterinary medicine. These additional gestures and small gifts make the relationship partner indebted to return the favor. The result is a circle of trust, performance and return, in which both partners “give each other gifts” and thus maintain a positive relationship.
In addition, 100% client orientation is still not self-evident today! Even though the competition among veterinarians is steadily growing, those who live with a focus on client service and management are still in the minority. Far too often the client continues to be a “pet owner with a patient or a case”, and this wording alone reflects the importance of the client in the eyes of the veterinarian. In order to achieve a good relationship at eye level, a fundamental change of perspective – a paradigm shift – of the practice teams must take place: from the pet owner to the valued client. If this is also performed daily, it´s an absolute trump in competition!
How do we start virtually every consultation by establishing a good relationship? This is actually quite simple every person appreciates being received in a positive, friendly manner with a compliment. The person that gives in advance sets the pace for the mood in a meeting! This means specifically for the beginning of a consultation:
- 100% attention, i.e., entire body facing the client;
- radiant smile (unless the reason for the consultation is tragic, as in the case of euthanasia);
- greeting the client by name (also with a handshake, depending on the ethnic customs);
- greeting the pet by name; and
- giving a compliment or positive reinforcement, e.g., “It’s great that you and Lucky are here!” “That’s a perfect cat carrier!”
Even if we rely heavily on specialist knowledge and facts in the medical environment, the communication experts agree that the relationship with the client is more important in comparison to the factual level. If the relationship between dialogue partners is not positive or contains unspoken conflicts, the content (factual level) will not be successfully conveyed. It is extremely important for a dialogue based on mutual trust between doctor and client to strengthen the relationship right at the beginning of a contact (and every time again), so that the factual level (findings, diagnostics, therapy) will also be recognized by the client.
The following example dialogue shows how a “warm-up” and establishing a good relationship level can be implemented in everyday practice:
- Veterinarian: Hello Mrs. Schmidt. It’s nice to have you at our practice today with Lucky! Lucky looks very lively and fresh today.
The veterinarian establishes a good relationship by facing Mrs. Schmidt and Lucky, smiling, and greeting client and pet by name. In addition, he expresses his delight that the two are in his practice today and makes Lucky a small compliment. Then the veterinarian shows that he is prepared, refers directly to the last contacts and then continues to the current consultation.
- Veterinarian: I’ve just read Lucky’s file and I am pleased that he tolerates the new diet so well and that he likes the taste of it.
- Client: Yes, it’s quite amazing! That has never happened before. It has always been very difficult to get Lucky to try new food.
- V: And how did it work out with the tips my nurse gave you on the phone?
The veterinarian knows from the file that the nurse has given tips and uses it skillfully here.
- C: It was very valuable advice. I must thank her!
- V: Well, then we can move on now. What brings you in today?
This type of conversation as an introduction to the consultation is not “small talk” but high-quality time invested in client care, client retention and information gathering. Mrs. Schmidt has learned that the veterinarian and his entire team take her needs seriously and are very concerned about providing her and Lucky with the best service they can offer.
Note: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!
Miguel Ángel Díaz
Miguel received a degree in Veterinary Science in 1990. After working at several clinics he opened his own clinic in 1992 Read more
Iván López Vásquez
Iván comes from a family of veterinarians; his father and older brother share the same passion. He obtained his degree from the Universidad de Concepción Read more
Cindy Adams is Professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Calgary, Veterinary Medicine, Read more
Dr. Blättner studied in Berlin and Munich and after graduating in 1988 she set up and ran her own small animal practice. Read more