Communication Tools of Today and Tomorrow
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2003
Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France


Veterinary practices are businesses that exist to perform services to their customers or clients, as dental offices, banks, travel agencies, and many others. We should be aware today in our modern society that these clients are consumers and react and act as consumers would in other places than the veterinary clinics. Veterinary practice is also a professional service provider, but does your practice provide such excellent service that your clients will never look elsewhere? Listening is not hearing. It is not a passive action but an active one that requires patience, concentration and understanding of the others needs. It requires also in the animal health environment a large proportion of compassion. This active listening phase of the relationship between the veterinarian & his or her client is critical. It is often neglected because of lack of time, but mostly because of the lack of awareness of its importance for clients. Remember what were the essential expectations of the clients (and this is universal!): availability, kindness, & listening before competency. The veterinarian and the staff should be able also to adapt their way to handle clients according to the client's profile and typology.

I am among those who strongly believe however that we don't need more clients! What we need are more better clients. Clients that follow our recommendations and suggestions and are part of our "fan club". With simple common sense, a little judgment, and some experience of human communications, one will quickly know when and how to react when facing the different types of persons that is part of our clientele. Recognition and knowledge of these individualities and the use of an adapted approach that matches the typology of person is an important part of the art of communication.

A perfect welcome should include several parts and there is a true art in welcoming and greeting clients. This requires a certain technique (which is not part of the veterinary curriculum!). As one specialist in communication said: "you only have one chance to make a good first impression"

The art of communication

It is obvious for example that the 'business man' who comes to the clinic with his Labrador dog may not request long explanations about the benefits of low protein & fat diet for his senior dog, because of obesity, diabetes, renal failure, urea, creatinine, etc. All these pertinent scientific information would probably be superfluous for him...and potentially negative because for him these details are a waste of his precious time. He does not need nor want to know... On the other hand a retired person, somewhat curious and literate but hesitant or undecided, may ask a multitude of questions and request more information than you were planning to deliver.

The ideal reception

The ideal reception could be divided into 4 phases. The first phase is how to say "hello" or "good morning" or "hello, good morning, may I help you?" It is as simple as it is important! And you can add a smile to it! Immediately after comes the second phase which is "the active listening phase".

As we said earlier it is a paramount part of the relationship with clients. One specialist in communication skills once said: "you will gain more clients in 2 hours trying to listen to them, than in 2 years making your clients listen to you!"

The golden rules of "active listening" include:

 being calm and friendly (smile)

 establish the eye contact (and maintain it)

 being attentive and involved

 leaving the client explain his/her problem(s) or concern(s)

 perceive the emotional status of the client

 proceeding to a control check-up -and only then interfere...

The third phase of the greeting consist to adapt your attitude and messages according to the client's profile. Recognizing the individual's personality will help you significantly with the way you will communicate successfully with him. The fourth and final phase consists of discovering the client's motivation. These motivations are partially known from the general clients expectations (implicit vs explicit). Some are the result of the active listening phase and reveal what are the true clients needs and the related services or products that should be suggested and /or explained.

The importance of client's services

Offer services that are adapted to the client needs and expectations and achieving excellence in client service is one of the major key to succeed in a veterinary practice. This requires planning and setting appropriate guidelines among the team. It is not sufficient to have the strong desire to do well, it is necessary to work at it and as one of the managers of Lockheed Industries once said: "quality will be judged by its use, not announced by its maker"

We are all consumers and as such we always wish to receive what we consider is a value for our money. This does not mean the cheapest possible product or service but one that we feel is giving us an expected value, our expected value. Usually the highly satisfied client will feel he or she has received a high quality service. To the contrary, the dissatisfied client will be disappointed by the service quality.

Quality control at the veterinary practice

The method is quite simple to apply. Once you have identify a service based on client's need & expectation, write down in a step by step course what should happen for that service to be perfect. Then for every step identify what are the things that could go wrong. By identifying these negative milestones you will be in a position to control, or better, to prevent these events to happen. This is the basis of quality control. Clients define quality in many different ways. A study performed in the USA describes 10 widely accepted criteria for client quality evaluation. These criteria are perfectly adaptable to the veterinary environment.

 reliability: which involves being consistent and keeping promises

 responsiveness: which has to do with prompt and diligently provided service

 competence: which needs to be demonstrated by the entire team

 accessibility: which has to do with both physical access to the service provider and with his or her willingness to deliver the service in a friendly manner

 courtesy: which again involves the entire staff

 communication: which deals with time & contact but also, as mentioned earlier, through being a good listener

 credibility: which involves honesty, integrity, trust, faith and reputation

 security: meaning minimized risks

 understanding & recognition: which has to do with the level of effort to fully satisfy known individual's needs

 tangibility: which has to do with the external appearance, attitude, contact, but also the physical facilities and equipment of the premises

Planning for excellence and valuing the client

Planning for excellence requires certain considerations that I believe are important in a veterinary practice.

 position your clinic and your work in a high-quality market niche

 develop and maintain a high-quality reputation & image within that niche

 concentrate your activities at what you know and perform best instead of doing a little bit of everything with a lower proficiency

 aim and commit yourself and your team for the best to please your clients and don't accept compromises (remember Walt Disney!)

Remember also to embrace the human animal bond relationship: "clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" (Caroline Jevring, 1996).

It is likewise critical that the veterinarian and his or her staff understand that their work is a client-driven business. That the clients and their pets are the reasons the practice is existing. Usually several people incomes and therefore families depend on its healthy and productive activity. This very basic fact is often neglected or even ignored by veterinarians, worldwide. Veterinarians are mostly interested in developing their intellectual and technical aspects of their activity. They would spend sometimes a fortune to acquire a sophisticated piece of equipment with sometimes no consideration for its financial return. Their concern for clients is often minimum. I know some veterinarians that would even look at clients as rather annoying individuals and events that interrupt their day.

Speaker Information
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Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France

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