You became a veterinarian to work with animals… But as you know, in order to treat patients, a large portion of your day involves communicating with the humans attached to those animals. That includes talking about one of the most emotionally-charged subjects out there: money! Money discussions are necessary to treat patients and keep your business running. Fortunately, that conversation can be easier, clearer, and more likely to result in acceptance of the treatment plan with a few tips in mind. This includes effective communication techniques, strategic presentation of cost estimates, and demonstrating value.
Making clients feel heard, respected, and valued can establish trust—which may improve acceptance of your recommendations.
A veterinarian’s duties may feel like a balancing act between recommending the best course of treatment for the pet and understanding that not all clients can realistically afford the best. When clients experience “sticker shock” or feel guilty because they can’t afford the best treatment for their pet, they may react defensively.On the other hand, if the client feels comfortable—without fear of judgment—it may help with establishing trust and figuring out the best option for that client and the pet’s condition.
Effective communication strategies may help, including …
- Classic communication techniques such as active listening, expressing empathy, and not rushing to fill a silent moment in the conversation.
- Non-verbal communication, including body posture, facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice.
- Exam room setup, including soothing or welcoming décor, and the arrangement of the room itself (standing over the client versus sitting next to them, facing the client rather than facing a computer screen, etc.).
Communications courses and training can be very helpful to veterinarians and the whole veterinary team.Veterinary specific courses may be available as continuing education, but even general communication courses are also of value.
Different styles of presenting estimates may send different messages to clients, and influence whether treatment is accepted or declined.
Veterinarians and team members may think a cost estimate is clear and presents all needed information… However, it’s possible clients may interpret information differently depending on how it is presented. For example, it’s been noted by some veterinarians that if separate dental procedure elements (i.e. tooth polishing, IV fluids, injectable medications, etc.) are listed separately with a price next to each item, clients may view these things as optional “add-ons” that can be declined. And for a radiographic study, clients may try to decline sedation, additional views, or a radiology consult if each item is listed separately, with individual prices.
If, on the other hand, one total price for “dental procedure” or “radiographic study” is listed, clients may be more likely to accept all recommended components. Be sure to list what’s included under the total price, so clients understand the value they are receiving—just consider not itemizing the individual price of each service. And if using an outside provider—such as a lab or a teleradiology service—make sure you have a service you are happy with that offers consistent pricing with no surprises, hidden fees, or up-charges. That makes it easier to present your price estimates to clients with no surprises.
Clients might not understand the value being delivered—unless it is clearly communicated.
Here are just a few examples of how to show clients the value you deliver and demonstrate how much you care…
- Explain what you’re doing during the physical exam. Otherwise, clients might not comprehend the full scope of your exam—they might even think you’re just “petting” the animal rather than examining it. But by saying, “Now I’m feeling for any enlarged lymph nodes,” and, “The ears look clean and healthy,” and so on each step of the way, clients can better understand the value of a physical exam.
- Tell clients when you change to a new needle after drawing up vaccines. Explain that you do this for their pet’s comfort.
- If possible, show clients their pet’s x-rays or bloodwork results, rather than just giving a quick overview.
Also, consider giving clients a copy (or allowing them to record your verbal explanation of the results) for family members who couldn’t be present at the exam.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Showing clients the value you deliver will help them understand how much you care about their pets. And this trust means they may better accept your recommendations as necessary and in the best interest of their pets. The conclusion is, effective communication, estimate presentation style, and demonstration of value may help with client compliance and acceptance of treatment recommendations.