Cut excuses to the core
Regardless of the excuse clients give, at its core is a pet owner harboring concerns you need to resolve. "I think what is rarely touched on is accepting and acknowledging clients' fears—and that boils down to listening skills," says Pam Stevenson, CVPM, director of Veterinary Results Management Inc. in Durham, N.C. "A client will tell us everything we need to know if we just listen. And, in particular, listen to what a client is not saying."
To do this, pay special attention to body language. If a client picks up his cat and cuddles him during a conversation about anesthesia, he is silently expressing his fear. "At that point, a team member needs to say, 'I see that you're looking a little worried. Can we discuss this?'" Stevenson says.
Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and CEO of Innovative Veterinary Management Solutions in Phoenix, agrees that a client won't always volunteer the information you need. "It's important to know that people's reactions on the outside may be different from what they're really feeling on the inside," he says. "If a client reacts with anger, chances are good he or she is internally dealing with hurt and sadness. And if a client seems hurt, he or she may be quite angry inside." Seek to understand the client's complex feelings, and then endeavor to fix the problems. You must do this first, McVey says, because a client can't comprehend the greater situation until they've dealt with their feelings.Clients who've been listened to and whose feelings have been acknowledged—regardless of whether you agree with them—will do more to keep their pets healthy. And they'll trust you and the practice more. "It's your responsibility to advocate for the patient, but you don't have to judge," Stevenson says. "As soon as you judge, you stop advocating. You stop holding open the possibility that the client may eventually do what needs to be done. We all need to work to listen, be aware of our judgments, minimize them to the best of our abilities, and try to understand and empower pet owners."