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Veterinary Forum February 2008 (Vol 25, No 2)

Doctor to Doctor: Barriers to education

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    Client education is the key to the increased use of veterinary services. Clients cannot request services if they do not know they are needed or even exist. This month's segment focuses on how to overcome common obstacles to increase your standard of care and your bottom line.

    It is unwise to assume that the client is aware of all the products or services that the pet needs or you can provide. Informed pet owners generate more income for the practice, and clients will not buy what they do not understand — at least not more than once. An uneducated market can lead to a nonexistent market.

    Client education has many benefits, such as better care for the pet, malpractice prevention, better client compliance and enhanced client satisfaction.

    Lack of client education can reduce the potential choices to one: price. The more clients hear about a particular service, the less resistant they will be to the cost. If all services are perceived as having equal benefit, then the only differentiating factor involved will be the amount of money clients have to pay.

    Education roadblocks

    The major barrier for most client education efforts is assuming that a client understands your recommendations. Client education without comprehension is incomplete. It is difficult for most veterinarians and staff who encounter pet problems every day to realize how little a client may know about a product or procedure, so education must be presented in an easily understood manner.

    Some other common reasons that client education fails include:

    • Missed educational opportunities
    • Lack of adequate discussion time with staff
    • Uneducated staff
    • Unwilling clients
    • Client anxiety

    Uneducated staff and an anxious client often go hand in hand. When clients are filled with anxiety, they cannot focus on your teaching efforts. To help minimize their anxiety, make sure your entire veterinary team is consistent in its explanations and recommendations. If staff members give contradictory messages, this can cause clients to become uneasy and prevent them from focusing on what you are telling them.

    It takes educated staff members to educate clients, but education can become boring and repetitive for your team. It is important to maximize the use of different tools to keep the message fresh and ensure that every client receives all of the information he or she needs.

    The key to client education is frequency and consistency. Beautiful lawns require planting a lot of seeds. Between six and nine interactions are usually required to penetrate the subconscious mind, and between 16 and 18 interactions are needed for full memory retention. Clients do not like to make hasty decisions. Your goal is to make sure that what they decide is based on proper education.

    Valuable tools

    Every person is unique, and each learns in different ways. To ensure that you hit the "hot button" for every client, it is important to use all client education tools available. Here are some newer ones:

    • Online client education — Newer companies, such as Vetstreet, provide services aimed at offering the means of constant communication between clients and veterinarians. Vetstreet can automatically generate postcard reminders, provide clients access to their pet's medical information, produce individualized pet ID cards and allow you to choose a marketing plan for your practice.
    • Newsletters — Client education pieces that double as reminders are an effective means of teaching your clients and reinforcing your relationship with them. You can provide pet owners with high-quality content and veterinarian-reviewed recommendations while promoting your services by sending them a fun, informative publication like HealthyPet Magazine.
    • Captive-audience broadcasting — emebaVet offers informative, educational and practice-specific programming for your waiting room that is designed to enhance the client"veterinarian relationship and lower perceived wait times.

    Client education also can be achieved over the phone. Instead of the standard "on hold" music or silence, a CD of generic or personalized treatment or product suggestions can be played on a loop through your phone system. This allows you to capitalize on a "captive audience" and can inform clients about services they may not have otherwise considered.

    Of all the client education tools available, none is as important as one-on-one interaction with each staff member. To be effective, you and your staff must show passion, enthusiasm and conviction to convince clients that staff members truly believe what they are recommending. The veterinary team must never be the reason a pet does not have the opportunity for the best care possible.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: A call for papers


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