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Issue: 67 - Jul 15, 2014
Combine These Two Communications to Enhance Client Compliance
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

For as long as I can remember our profession has discussed client communications that enhance client compliance. So, what have we learned and what’s changed?  Well, the competitive landscape and profession has changed dramatically since I was a kid working in my dad’s small animal practice. But what hasn’t changed is that clients still make decisions about care for their beloved pets in large part on the relationship they have with the veterinary team. When this relationship is based on trust and a sense of family, pet owners are more likely to come in, agree to services and refer their friends. Unfortunately, gaining the trust of clients is harder now because of competing distractions (think Internet, low cost alternatives, less discretionary income) clients face. Moreover, clients often feel overwhelmed with all our recommendations for high quality care and think “does Chloe really need this?” And it certainly doesn’t help when television shows like this year’s 20/20 episode air negative claims about veterinarians making unnecessary recommendations. 

As I reflect on my 15 years in clinical practice and consider my observations working with clients, I believe there are 2 secret ingredients to successful client communications and enhanced compliance with treatment recommendations. They are Authenticity and Confidence. Let’ define these terms. Authenticity is about being genuine and real. Authentic team members speak the truth and provide pet owners accurate information. Confidence is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something.” Confident team members convey to clients what their pet needs and then communicate the value of the services. 

Think about your communication and that of every team member at your practice. Are they always authentic and confident?  Remember also……..

Confidence without authenticity leads to pet owner mistrust and skepticism. Authenticity without confidence may result in confusion and inaction. 

Authentic, Confident Recommendations

Look at the following aspects of client communication and consider how authentic and confident you and your team are when making recommendations.

  1. Give clear recommendations for the best treatment. Eliminate vague, indecisive language such as “It might be a good idea… ” or “We could do…” and instead identify the pet’s need followed by a specific recommendation. 
    • For example, you could say: “Chloe needs to have her teeth cleaned professionally because she has grade II periodontal disease [educate the client about periodontal disease and show them the pet’s mouth so they see what you see]. The benefit of a dental cleaning is that we can slow the progression of the disease and eliminate her discomfort. I will have my technician Jill review her specific treatment plan and help you schedule her appointment.”
  2. Explain medical options when appropriate and convey the risks and benefits of each along with a clear, confident recommendation for which course of treatment you think is best for the pet.
  3. Give clients facts and accurate information. There’s a difference between using lay terms clients can understand and “dumbing it down." Likewise, never use scare tactics or judgmental phrases.    
  4. Ask clients open-ended questions about their knowledge and viewpoints so they become a partner with you in making decisions about their pet’s care. These include questions such as “Tell me what you know about senior laboratory testing?” and “What concerns do you have about the treatment plan I’ve outlined for Belle?” By asking questions you create a dialogue with clients and avoid being seen as a "salesperson."
  5. Consider how you track compliance for wellness services and what messages you use with your team. Focus on patient advocacy rather than hitting a number. Make sure team members know that any target goals are in place to help pets get the care they deserve so they can live longer, happier lives. Clients would surely be put off if they thought a recommendation was made just so the hospital could hit a revenue goal. 

Action steps to Improve Compliance

Take the following steps to ensure your team is well trained and prepared to make authentic, confident recommendations to pet owners. These action steps and the communication skills outlined above will help build rapport and trust with clients. Moreover, your efforts will lead to greater compliance and more pets will get the care they deserve.

  1. Measure compliance for wellness services for all the employees’ pets. This shouldn’t take too long and is easy to do unless you have a really large team. Ask team members to write down the names of their pets and then look at the medical records of their pets to see if they are current on annual exams, fecals, heartworm checks, preventive products, dental cleanings, vaccines and wellness testing. If team members don’t provide their pets the same services they recommend to pet owners, how authentic and confident will they be when making treatment recommendations?
  2. Determine if the employees buy their preventive products from the practice. If team members don’t use the products recommended by the practice and don’t buy them from a veterinarian, how authentic and confident will they be when making product recommendations?
  3. Use short standing meetings or staff meetings to have all team members practice telling each other 1) a brief description of a service or product in lay terms and 2) 1-2 benefits of the service or product. This exercise helps the team do a better job communicating the value of services to pet owners.  
  4. Evaluate your hospital protocols for making recommendations. If compliance isn’t as high as you would like, consider whether pet owners are hearing recommendations before they have been sufficiently educated about their pet’s physical exam findings and medical recommendations. 

Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC