The key to veterinary clients' hearts (and bosses' too!)

Unlock your potential in the veterinary practice with communication that elevates the service you offer—and makes heartfelt connections with the clients you serve.
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Jan 01, 2013

Shortly after purchasing my own practice, I heard from one of my colleagues who'd been helping me with the purchase: "Whoever is manning the front desk, go ahead and give her two weeks' notice. I have a great receptionist coming back from leave, and I don't have a place for her."

So, despite meeting Donna, the receptionist at my new practice, and liking her a lot, I gave her notice. But then something happened. Over the next week I watched her as she owned the office, welcoming virtually everyone who came through the door by their first name, including their pets.

If clients came in upset, they left in a better frame of mind after spending time with Donna. It didn't take an idiot to see I was about to make a big mistake. So about a week later, I called her back to my office.

"Remember what I said the other day about not needing you any longer?" I asked. She nodded. "Will you please forget every word of it and stay with me?" She nodded again, this time with a big smile on her face. When I sold the practice about a decade later, Donna was still my receptionist, and along the way I learned so much from her about how to treat clients like real people.

After all, even the most stressed-out or difficult client has a heart ... somewhere. And what if finding ways to effectively deal with such clients is key to your next promotion or salary bump? It just might be. When you can win over even the most challenging clients, you become a more valuable asset, because high-quality customer service is a key component to a productive, profitable practice. It's not often emphasized by our educational system, but it's something that you can develop on the job. It starts by realizing the way to another person's heart is through your own heart.

Empathy and intuition

Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of another. And it often starts by realizing we share more in common with people than we have differences. This is especially true in veterinary clinics. We act as a magnet, attracting people who love and care for animals. Keeping this in mind, we can develop our intuitive skills and empathy.

We all get upset, and more often than not we're not really upset about what it appears we're upset about. I call this the "kick the cat" syndrome, from the story I once heard about the irate husband who arrived home one evening after a hard day at work. As he walked into the house, the family cat rubbed against his leg but received a swipe with the man's foot.

The wife noticed this unusual behavior as she walked over to greet her husband, then she walked back into the kitchen to fix him a drink. She knew how much he loved their cat. And if he was taking a swipe at it, he must have had a hard day. She used her intuition and empathy to give him space to calm down.

Donna would often do the same thing when clients walked in as an "upset waiting to happen." Realizing their feelings were likely not about her, she wouldn't take their behavior personally. Instead, she treated them as she'd want to be treated—with respect and dignity.