The phone’s ringing again. It’s another frightened pet owner on the line with a question about her pet’s diet. Do you know what to say? Are you prepared to answer all of your clients’ questions? The pet food recall offers your team a great opportunity to connect with clients and strengthen their bond with your practice. They’re relying on you to offer the advice they need as the list of recalled foods grows longer and news reports change. Here’s a look at how to handle clients’ toughest questions during any disaster:
1. Determine your message. “The very first day of the recall, we met and discussed what we’d tell clients,” says Michelle Guercio, CVT, CVPM, the hospital administrator at Animal Care Center of Pasco County in New Port Richey, Fla. “We outlined our plans for asymptomatic and symptomatic pets, typed it up, and posted it next to the phones to make sure we were all delivering the same message to clients.”
2. Prepare to answer the tough questions. And they will be tough: Am I poisoning my pet? Should I cook my pet’s food? How much will the tests cost? Sometimes you’ll have the answer. For example, Guercio’s team figured the costs of the recommended blood tests and urinalysis so they were ready to respond. And when clients asked about whether they could prepare homecooked meals for their pets, she met with doctors to create the best response, which was typed and distributed to all team members. But if clients ask something you’re not prepared to answer, take Guercio’s advice and tell clients you’ll discuss the question with a doctor and call the client back with more information.
3. Show your compassion. After all, you’re a pet owner, too, and you’re likely in the same boat with clients, says Gina Toman, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a veterinary assistant with Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “Every morning I’m looking at the list,” she says. “When I see one of my pets drinking a ton of water, I think, ‘Oh God, do I need to get them checked?’ Your clients should know that you’re also a pet owner, and you share the same concerns. When you show your sympathy, it creates a much stronger bond with clients and they trust you. Remember, they’re scared, but keeping an open dialogue helps reassure them.”
4. Offer your best service. Clients will remember how you treated them when they were angry and frustrated. And the root of their feelings is fear for their pets. So always err on the client’s side. “I always tell clients, ‘You know your pets best. You live with them. How do you think they’re feeling?’” Toman says. Guercio agrees. “We want to save our time for sick patients,” she says. “But if we’ve got asymptomatic patients and the owners are seriously concerned, we’re happy to see them. They may need the reassurance that comes from talking in the privacy of an exam room and having a veterinarian examine their pet.”
5. Plan regular check-ins with your team. In cases like the pet food recall, the story changes daily, and sometimes even hourly. That’s why Guercio’s team checks in for daily rounds to make sure they’re all on the same page about their message.
6. Elect an information officer. You’ll need someone to collect the data you’ll disseminate to the team every morning, Toman says.
7. Prepare to bust myths. Clients may have many information sources, from the Internet to their neighbor’s best friend’s daughter who “knows a vet.” “There’s so much talk, and clients can be confused and deceived by something they heard or read,” Toman says. “As the veterinary support staff, we need to come together and present a united front to clients.”