Make a connection with older veterinary clients
Q. I generally have no problem working with elderly patients, but I find it hard to work with elderly clients, especially those clients who are possibly experiencing the beginnings of Alzheimer's or hearing loss. I throw my best customer service skill I can at them. But sometimes I just can't seem to strike a chord. Do you have any advice for these situations?
Compassion has to be No. 1 when you work with these clients, says Pam Weakley, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Dickman Road Animal Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. "Elderly clients' needs are greater than those of the younger generation," she says. "Usually, their life revolves around their dog or cat. Their pet is their whole world. When working with these clients, you need to shut out the rest of the world and take as much time as clients need to be able to process what you're telling them. Sometimes, you need to tell them two or three times or explain things in different ways. But you need to be certain they understand what you will be doing or what test results have shown. You need to be able to ease their anxiety about their pet."
Weakley offers this example: Her practice worked with an elderly gentleman who owned a beautiful Irish setter. The dog was his wife's dog, and just before she passed away, she made him promise that he would never euthanize her dog."As the dog got older and began to have more difficulties, the client became more anxious because of the promise he made to his wife. He did finally have to opt for euthansia, and he was torn apart by his decision," she says. "We had to help him understand that his wife would be alright with his decision. He'd done everything possible to keep the dog alive. I don't mind telling you that was a pretty rough day for everyone here. We took the time to listen. At some point in our conversations, we learned about his promise, which helped us understand him better."
Weakley points to the August 2012 Firstline article "Caring for Old Pets," by Julie Mullins. Mullins wrote, "I like to relate older pets to the owner's 90-year-old grandmother—it seems to hit closer to home."
"This same scenario can be used here," Weakley says. "Think of those older clients as your own grandparents and treat them as you would treat Grandma."