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Issue: 58 - Oct 15, 2013
5 Easy Ways to Engage Clients
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

Do you feel like you really know and understand your clients?  When was the last time you heard a great story from a client? Do you know about your clients' interests and passions? If you haven't heard a great story this week and you don't know something unique or personal about all your clients, it's time to focus on client engagement!

Client engagement is about making authentic connections with the pet owners you serve. It's easy to talk to your favorite clients or those owners who've been coming in for years that you know well. But what about your new clients or people who are more reserved? How can you quickly and easily connect with pet owners so they become loyal clients? Here are tips that anyone on your team can implement immediately to build trust and rapport with clients.

  1. Ask questions. Questions convey interest and jumpstart conversations. Questions can be focused on the pet or the client. Examples include questions such as "What type of toys does Hannah like to play with?" or "Tell me what fun activities you have planned for the summer." Just make sure the questions are genuine.  One way to do this is to look for common interests you may have with clients. If you love sports, ask about their favorite teams. Try to find out what activities and hobbies your clients enjoy and then make a note to ask them about their interests on future visits.

 

  1. Make eye contact. Don't always stay behind the front desk or glued to the computer.  Both the reception desk and the computer act as barriers between team members and clients.  To make a genuine connection with people you must look up from the computer!  Don’t become so distracted by data entry that you forget to actually look at clients. Think about holding eye contact with clients multiple times through-out the check-in and check-out process to be sure you are engaging pet owners. 

If you want to get to know people, another way to do this is to bridge the gap and sit down near the client. If clients are seated, don't tower over them when you’re talking to them about their pet.  Instead, pull up a chair or mobile stool so you can see eye-to-eye which makes for a more comfortable, engaging conversation.

  1. Get clients involved with “Show and Tell.”  Don’t make the mistake of lecturing clients about medical care. Most pet owners have limited medical knowledge and may not understand many procedures, services or products that you feel are important for their pet.  So, use visual aids, diagrams, videos, brochures and charts to reinforce client education.  Be sure to stop frequently and gauge clients’ understanding by asking open-ended questions such as “Tell me what questions you have so far about the procedure?”

Make an impression by showing children and adults alike the equipment used to take blood pressure, interesting parasites on the microscope, and let clients see what's in "the back". This will show you care, convey the value of services and often lead to more in-depth conversations.

  1. Give clients compliments. Everyone likes to receive compliments so look for opportunities to say something nice to clients.  Always praise clients about how well they take care of their pet because this reinforces your position on patient advocacy and shows you care about keeping pets healthy and happy.  For example, you may be able to comment on what a great job a client did getting their pet to lose weight.  Or you could compliment clients for being consistent with heartworm and flea control products.

Don’t limit your compliments to praise or comments about the pet.  If you like something about the client let them know.  You may give compliments about their clothes, jewelry, hairstyle, community involvement, quality of their work, or their sense of humor.  One of the ways you can make compliments even more meaningful for people is to include specific, in-depth remarks with your compliment.  For example, rather than just telling Mrs. Smith she has a pretty blouse, tell her why by saying that it is particularly flattering with her outfit or her eye color.  When you use compliments to actually engage someone in conversation, it can lead to more authentic connections.

  1. Practice your listening skills.  Some people are naturally good at listening and while other people have considerable difficulty with this communication skill.  If you know you tend to always think about your response while some is talking or you tend to interrupt others when they talk, you may need to practice developing better listening skills.  Connie Dieken, speaker and author, defines listening as the desire to hear.

Listening to clients is important for two primary reasons.  First, it is often critical to ensuring that you have gathered all the relevant medical history and information about the pet and client.  In addition, attentive listening demonstrates interest and compassion towards the client. 

Reflective listening involves using statements to let the client know that you heard what they said and ensure that you have accurately understood the client.  Reflective listening helps to make sure that we have listened to clients, that we are processing the correct information and that we are cognizant of what pet owners are feeling and thinking.  Examples of reflective listening statements include:

  • I’m hearing you say that you think Oliver’s quality of life is not good, is that correct?
  • It sounds like you feel like you may not be able to take care of Ziggy now that he has diabetes?
  • I understand that you have some budget constraints for what you can spend today.
  • If I am hearing you correctly, it sounds like you aren’t sure which treatment option is best for Jake?

Reflective listening statements invite clients to affirm that you have understood them correctly.  If you have made erroneous assumptions, clients have the opportunity to clarify their thoughts and feelings.  In addition, reflective listening invites client to give you more information.  This can be critical particularly when you are engaging in dialogue about serious medical conditions and need to ascertain the level of understanding by the pet owner and/or their willingness to care for the pet.

The key to enhancing your ability to engage clients is practice.  Focus on one communication skill for at least a few weeks to develop the skill into a habit.  Discuss progress during staff meetings and share ideas about what works and what doesn’t when communicating with pet owners.  Celebrate success and take action steps to continue the process to become a better communicator with your clients.  Teams that engage clients help build client loyalty and client referrals which are added benefits to having happy clients!