Communication Strategies for the 'Tough Conversations'

Several years ago, I had an aha moment about finances and client communication: As tough as it is for us to discuss finances with clients because we worry about their judgments and emotions, a client is equally concerned about the judgment and guilt from us if they cannot afford the treatment.

Achieving the best outcome for the practice and the client comes down to understanding the client's concern, educating them on our recommendations, and presenting a unified front as a practice. Here's how to make these conversations productive.

1. Identify the Reason

At the root of every tough pricing conversation is a reason that keeps the client from committing to your recommendations. Your goal is to recognize that reason, and position yourself to be the educational and compassionate resource they need while keeping your patient's best interest in mind.

Possible Concerns: After giving your recommendation, clients may be concerned that spending money is not going to benefit their pet's health; that they'll receive bad news; or that you are just "in it for the money" and recommending an unnecessary procedure. All of these concerns originate from a lack of understanding. Address their questions with compassion and provide as much information as you can to back up your recommendation. It's important to remember that concerned clients may react differently in such situations, so give them some time to process the information.

Financial Barriers: Even though our clients want the best for their pets, they may not have additional funds in their budget, or worry about telling their partner how much was spent on their pet. This could be expressed in anger or fear, as they may feel guilty about their financial situation. Again, be empathetic and allow them to make their decision without judgment.

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2. Know the 'What' and 'Why' Behind Your Recommendation

The client relies on the veterinary team to make the appropriate recommendations for their pet's health — every team member should therefore understand the "what" and "why" behind your recommendation when speaking with the client. Also, ensure your team is confident in the practice's protocols and terminology related to the recommended procedure. The client wants to justify the expense, so speaking knowledgeably about the recommendation is the difference between a trusting client and a frustrated one.

For example, my practice recommends an annual adult screening for all healthy pets over the age of two, even if the cost may be significant to the client. To ensure my team can answer any questions confidently, I have trained the staff on what is included in the screening, why the test is important, and when the client can expect results. To further show the importance of the screening, we reinforce the recommendation with our patient reminder system, marketing efforts, and new client kits.

3. Unify Your Messaging

From the first phone call to the exam room, the client should hear the same recommendation from all team members. This keeps the message consistent, and reassures the client that the recommendation is valuable.

For instance, if your practice has a protocol for annual heartworm and flea/tick prevention, inconsistent messaging can undermine your credibility. If the client hears that their pet needs year-round heartworm prevention from the veterinarian, but the receptionist mentions that it's only really important for 6 months of the year, the client will no longer trust anything we recommend.

To prevent this kind of disconnect, have receptionists begin by asking which preventive a pet is on (not if the pet is on a preventive), and whether or not the client needs a refill. If they aren't using one, the receptionist can let them know that the team will share some options with them in the exam room.

Continue the messaging in the exam room. If the client is using preventives, the technician or veterinarian should celebrate and thank them for being consistent with administering their pet's medications. If they are not, stress the importance of using prevention, along with more of the "why."

Financial concerns can pose significant obstacles to preventive or therapeutic treatment recommendations, but with compassion and education, the tough conversations can become easier. Talk with your veterinary team to make sure they understand the practice's protocols, and can discuss them with confidence and consistency. Taking these steps will gain your client's trust and keep their pets healthy.

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Amy Williams
MBA, CVPM

Amy has been in the veterinary field since 1999. She has worked in both small and large emergency and wellness hospitals in a variety of positions, including: Kennel Technician, Veterinary Technician, Customer Service Representative, Inventory Manager, Practice Manager, Practice Administrator, and currently as a District Manager for Lakefield Veterinary Group. She served on the Board of Directors for the Houston Veterinary Practice Managers Association and the Montgomery County Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, she serves as a consultant and speaker for many associations and companies, such as the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. 

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