Communicating during a pandemic

By VHMA Admin posted 07-16-2020 06:58

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As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to rise, businesses are doing their best to stay afloat, addressing the changes brought on by the pandemic and being sensitive to conditions and challenges clients may be facing as a result of these changes. The challenge for owners and managers is how to engage effectively and empathetically with clients during this new normal. Veterinary practices and staff walk a fine line as they promote the health and wellbeing of their patients while being sensitive to the special circumstances their clients may be experiencing. In light of these extenuating circumstances, practices may consider reexamining existing communication strategies that are used to discuss products and services with clients to determine whether they are appropriate under current conditions.

The art of the conversation

Veterinary clients are not always aware of the range of services that are available that can help their pets maintain optimal health.  One of the important services that staff provides is education…. educating clients about services and care regimens. Education may occur throughout the visit in conversations between the client and the veterinarian, technician, and even the receptionist. Repeating the message helps to reinforce it. Some say that repeating a message three times is helpful for getting the message across. Others swear by the rule of seven. According to a Microsoft study, repeating a message between 6 and 20 times yields the best results.

Many managers and owners work with staff to help craft persuasive messages that staff can relay to clients. Whether the focus is the importance of forward booking, diet, or preventive care, a well-composed and thoughtful message can help employees make a strong case, anticipate responses, and respond to concerns. When staff is able to address the issues clearly and confidently, clients are more likely to respond favorable.

COVID-19, however, has thrown a curve ball. Although your message may be compelling, the rebuttals persuasive, and the product or service unimpeachable, many people are dealing with difficult issues brought on by the pandemic, including sickness, job loss, business closures, furloughs, and personal crisis. While they love their pets, they may be too preoccupied or distraught to tune in to a message that promises a pathway to better health for their pet. Communicating with clients during this time requires compassion, sensitivity, and resourcefulness.

Practices interested in revisiting communication training and perhaps modifying the message may wish to consider the following:

  • When speaking to clients, be sure to listen to their responses. The clients you are seeing now are not the clients you were communicating with months ago. Although the services or products offered by the practice are in the best interest of the pet, if a client cannot physically, emotionally, or financially process and act on the information, it may be better to back off and raise the issue at another time.
  • Once an accurate reading of the mental, physical, and financial health of the client population is available, it may be time to re-examine and revise communication materials and strategies temporarily. Of course, the practice’s goal is to ensure the health and well-being of the patient, but because the patient is incapable of making decisions or assuming the financial cost of services, the message must be crafted to resonate with the client. By understanding how their behaviors or habits may have changed and adjusting the message to reflect these changes is to react in an authentic manner. Even if the client is unable to act on the message currently, they still may internalize the content and react at a later date.
  • Because practices are still relying on curbside visits and may have limited contact with clients, exploring new platforms to check in with clients and educate them responsibly is advisable. Reassure them that when they are ready, the practice can offer them the services that will help their pets thrive.
  • Be patient and remain aware. As the situation eventually improves, be prepared to introduce a strategy that is appropriate for the next step of the process.

Research show that pet owners are willing to employ new services and products for their pets if they are properly informed. Providing owners with good solid information seems like an effective way to further client understanding. But these are unusual time, as the global pandemic continues to impact lives, health and the economy, managers and owners should recognize that their educational efforts may need to be tempered or modified to reflect the times.

Effective communication between the veterinary team and the client is key to changing behavior. For practices interested in information about how to implement or revise communication techniques, especially to advocate for Preventive Pet Healthcare, the Partners for Healthy Pets website offers communication training tips