Communicating effectively with your client base is critical to providing optimal patient care and ensuring strong client retention. Client communication begins before folks even walk through your doors. Reminder calls should be made to confirm every appointment. These calls provide opportunities to briefly present services that will be recommended with visits. Some practices even email clients the expected treatment plan prior to wellness visits so clients are better prepared. When clients come in your office, your front desk team represents the first line of communication with them. The receptionist always should offer a warm greeting to both the client and the pet. He or she should take some time to discuss the nature of the visit. If your receptionist keeps his or her head down and doesn’t acknowledge or engage the client, this sends a message that the client is of no value. Clients are doing you a favor when they seek your services—not the other way around. Veterinary assistants or technicians should take brief histories, educate clients about their pets’ preventive care or other needs and learn if clients have any questions or concerns.
Doctors, of course, need strong communication skills as well. When you are in the exam room, clients are paying for your time and expertise. You are the professional. It is best to look and carry yourself as one, so you send the right message. Dress the part if you can. Most clients will form a more favorable impression if you and your team members wear clean and pressed uniform scrubs. Lab coats for doctors are a real plus. Greet clients with a handshake and acknowledge their pets. Always talk through exams as you proceed—you don’t want any client to leave and say the dreaded words: “the doctor never even looked at my pet” when you know in fact that you did. Present your best recommendations to clients. When you offer multiple treatment plans, clients actually can become confused. Again, you are the professional and clients really do want your best advice. On the human side, think how a patient might feel if his or her physician said, “Well, we can do x-rays and some blood work, which one do you want to do first?”
The communication process should extend beyond visits to your practice. Many practices only call back clients after a “sick” pet visit or a non-elective surgery. This is a mistake. Often doctors don’t do call-backs, effectively cutting themselves off from further communication with their own clients. While there always will be one or two clients who lack boundaries and may take advantage of your time when you make a follow-up call, this typically is not the case. The truth is, it is well worth your time to invest in call-backs to your clients. Clients really appreciate hearing from a doctor and will be impressed that you took the time to reach out to them. If phone calls are not possible, correspond with clients by email instead. It is all about exceeding expectations and letting your clients know you care. So what about getting clients back in your doors? An effective reminder system is essential. Postcards remain important, but if you haven’t yet stepped up things with email and text reminders you may want to. Don’t skimp on reminder services and look for a provider that offers communication tools beyond simple reminders including e-newsletters and website portals where your clients easily can find information about their pets.
Complete the communication circle with your clients and work to achieve high client satisfaction before, during and following all patient visits. You should see greater client retention and financial success.
Carol Hart, DVM