I’ve coached a lot of vets to help improve their outcomes from the consult room over the last five years. My latest client was an experienced doctor who had worked in some good jobs and clearly knew a lot about being a vet. But her boss was getting frustrated that her outcomes weren’t matching her pay grade.
After observing a few consultations it was apparent what the problem was and how we could fix it.
Preaching to the unconverted
The vet’s consult structure wasn’t too bad – I could just about identify the seven key stages to delivering a great consult. But the thing that really jumped out at me was just how different her “Doctor persona” was from her “real persona”.
In person this vet was cheery and personable. The sort of individual you’d have no qualms about drinking a beer or two with after work.
So I was surprised when her style changed so dramatically when faced with a client. Instead of the happy, cheery person of a few moments previously, my student became what I would describe as The Preacher.
Her voice changed from a friendly and disarming tone, to a highly inflected delivery with the pace and pitch that a preacher might use while delivering a stern sermon about morality. Not condescending, but not far off.
This was combined with a bad habit of cutting a client off in mid-sentence about their pet’s problem, with an unnecessary and lofty mini-lecture that only served to distract away from the real issues.
The impact on the clients was obvious to see.
In the face of the sermon clients simply shut down and though the vet seemed to be heading towards the right diagnoses and was making all the right recommendations, the clients were no longer listening.
The result was a poor conversion of pet problems into problems solved and a higher than normal dissatisfaction rate. (You can also bet that there was an impact on how many new client referrals this vet was preventing from happening).
After about ten consults it was time for feedback and we listening in to the consult recordings I had made.
My client was genuinely surprised how she came across – she had no idea just how she sounded to the client. I asked her how she would feel if her doctor spoke to her like this. She said her doctor did speak to her like this! So I asked her how it made her feel – she answered, “Frustrated as hell because I feel like my doctor isn’t listening”. Bingo – I thought.
Creating distance is bad for relationships
The problem with being a preacher is that you are metaphorically placing yourself in the pulpit – distant from your audience. It’s a ‘one to many’ style of communicating. If you use this type of approach in the consult room ‘one to one’ then you are guaranteed to be creating an unhelpful distance between you and your client.
The oft-quoted truism that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is something that all members of a vet practice team would do very well to remember.
The ideal communication style you should be using is that of The Partner, not The Preacher. So let’s take our cues from other relationships in our life that are partnerships as to how we should communicate.
Table for one?
Would we, for example, come home to dinner, sit down on the opposite side of the table from our loved ones and begin a sermon-style dissection of the day’s events? Of course not! If you did then it wouldn’t take long before you found yourself quite lonely at that table.
When we sit with friends or family we are more likely to listen, we chat, we laugh, and we relax. If it’s a healthy relationship then we are likely to be engaging as equals. All things that would help us to form better relationships with our clients in the consult room too.
Authenticity wins the day
The advice I gave my client was simply this. Don’t be afraid to use your own voice. When you use someone else’s voice (unless you’re a very good actor) then you risk coming across as inauthentic or ‘phony’. Nothing kills rapport and trust faster than phony.
Add in The Preacher style on top of this and you have almost no chance of creating the rapport needed to build trust in what you are saying. And in most cases, if you want someone to follow your advice, then they first have to trust you.
We role-played a few consults and then tried out the more relaxed style with the clients. At first it was clearly a struggle and my client had a hard time not slipping back into character, but before long we had warm handshakes and smiles to greet the clients, some jokes creeping in and crucially, the pet owners were allowed to finish their stories before my client began to speak.
The right small changes often yield big results
I’ll be keeping tabs on how thing progress over the coming months but the objectives were to reduce client complaints and increase uptake of services for this talented vet.
If she can keep on being ‘real’ in the consult room, then there is every reason to think that she’ll achieve both things in short order. I’ll let you know how things go.
In the meantime, here’s an interesting exercise for you to try out. Record yourself having a normal conversation and then record yourself having a conversation with a client. Most of us have a different voice. The question is how different?
Don’t be afraid to use your real voice
We all have a vet voice when we go into the consult room or call up a client. To a certain extent we need it for the same reason we don’t feel comfy with having our clients as our friends on Facebook – work and play are different things and there are areas that it just doesn’t pay to completely overlap.
I know that my consult room style is a mix up of me plus all the great things I’ve seen and learned from my Veterinary Heroes – the superstars I learned from over the years.
Those of you that know me personally will laugh when I tell you how I know I also have a vet voice.
My consults are largely full of the same mischief and fun as every other part of my life. The different is they have a clear structure and the one other dead give away that I’m in character – I don’t swear. Ever!
So tell me what things you do and say in the consult room that you’d never do elsewhere. The best story in the comment box below wins a free copy of my ebook.