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Issue: 55 - Jul 15, 2013
How to know What to say to Clients
By: Dr. Steve Kornfeld, DVM, CPCC
Veterinary Success Services

Knowing exactly what to say to clients, and how, is a crucial part of the success in practice, as is the ability to measure the impact of what is said on the results. Knowing this is the difference between reacting to circumstances and being in control of them.

Yet, little thought is given to it and even less planning.

The veterinary environment has changed dramatically in the last 4-5 years and is likely to continue changing in the future. If we keep saying the same things, the same way we have in the past, we are bound to fall behind the curve because there is no way for us to measure how well we are doing and improve the way we talk to clients.

The key then is to preplan what to say with every interaction, before you say it, and to learn to say it with mastery. By this, you will achieve the correct and consistent message that will allow you to achieve predictable results, whatever they are. Inconsistent interactions on the other hand, create lack of trust and credibility on the part of clients and thus lower compliance and much more.

In this economic environment, what clients are looking for more than before is value. If you do not know how to create that value; if you do not exceed your clients' expectations, they are more likely than ever before to seek it elsewhere and to share their lack of satisfaction with the world.

Is the number of transactions in your practice lower than you would like?

Does your client compliance leave room for improvement?

Could this be because you are not providing high enough value with every interaction with your clients?

If you, the vet or the practice owner, are in the back doing surgery, or you are in the exam room and your staff say whatever they think is appropriate at the moment, how well are they doing and how can you ever improve results in your practice? You hope the staff is saying the right things and you hope they know how to say it, but do they? Hoping is not a sound business strategy, do you agree?

So as you begin creating consistent interactions, think of all the steps clients go through before they are asked to say 'yes' to doctors' recommendations or better yet, to talking favorably to others about you. Divide these interactions into "stations". The stations are the nodes of interactions in your practice: your receptionists are a station. Whoever puts clients in the exam room is another station. The staff members dealing with clients in the exam room are a station, etc.

Now define the desired outcome from each such station. So for example, from the "phone team" station, your desired outcome might be, "at least 80% of incoming calls turn into an appointment, no matter who takes the call". From the doctors' station, a desired outcome may be to achieve a certain average transaction, to achieve a predetermined compliance of the other services pets need, etc. From the nurses it might be to achieve a high client satisfaction, demonstrated by the number of referrals. Be very specific with such targets as they will dictate the structure of what to say.

Next, with the help of your team, go over all the questions and concerns clients have in every station. Don't fret, these questions come in variations, but basically are all included in a limited number of topics.

Once you hammer out the questions, asked or implied, now , again as a group, create powerful answers to them. For instance, invariably all clients whose pets have to go under anesthesia are concerned about the risks from it. Not addressing this, or waiting for clients to express their concern, diminishes your ability to create enough value. Instead, if you anticipate clients' concerns with the anesthesia and if you have strong words in your mental tool box, you will greatly impress them. Can you see how this works?

After you have written down the best words to show value to your clients in every interaction, it is time to train your team to say them like pros; like professional actors on stage. There should be no compromises here. Every team member should use the same words created for their station, or there will be no consistency in the message. The moment people are given the license to use or not to use these words, they will not. That's the power of habit.

Don't think for a moment that a single training session is going to be enough to achieve your desired targets. You will need to train and train and then train again. Think about it though, if you increase results by 10-15-20% because everyone on your team reads from the same page of the book, does this justify the time investment? Part of the training should be through role-playing, as there is no better way to work the kinks out of the process.

Now is the time to let the team play with the possibilities in real scenarios. At first it may be awkward for the team to use these words -- the power of habit. But with time it will become second nature to them and they can have fun with it and witness the outcome.

With your team well trained at saying the right things, they can give clients their undivided attention, without second guessing themselves whether they have done a good job. This too will contribute to elevating client experience.

Now about the outcome.

You do all this to improve results in all areas of client interaction. Once you have determined what the desired outcome is you can begin measuring how things are changing in the practice. From week to week and month to month, you should experience improvement in outcomes. If not, something in the process is not done enough or well enough. In this case, go back and review the whole process and find where the weaknesses are. Improve these weaknesses and try the process again. You may need to repeat your revisions several times, but ultimately you will nail the right formula that you can keep using and benefitting from.

Once you have achieved your targets, why stop there? Continue strengthening your client communications even further and observe how yours becomes the place to go if one is to enjoy the experience at the vet office.