Young veterinarians don't know how to talk to clients

The younger generation of veterinarians lacks one critical business skill.
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Jul 01, 2010

There are some veterinarians who succeed at keeping clients happy and maintain profitable average client transactions. Then there are others who frustrate clients and have horrible average client transactions. Why is this?

During my 30 years of experience in the profession, I've seenmany young veterinarians come and go, some with a lot of success and some with very little. And it seems to me that professionalism doesn't have the same meaning to young veterinarians today that it had to veterinarians years ago.

The No. 1 common denominator that most veterinarians lack today is people skills. They lack an ability to relate to and communicate with clients. I've overheard veterinarians talk to clients in the exam room and can guarantee that the client left totally confused and had no idea what the veterinarian just told them. Why would the client move ahead with a procedure that they don't understand?

I've learned from firsthand experience, as well as watching other veterinarians, that entering into the exam room and talking on a level that the client understands will almost always result in the client opting to perform the procedure. Although old-school veterinarians may not have had as high-tech of an education as veterinary students today, many of them are extremely down to earth. They're dedicated to their profession and don't feel superior to anyone—this allows them to relate to clients at their level.

Veterinary schools today put a lot of emphasis on grade point averages and the young veterinarians who come out of school are very intelligent. They're way smarter than I ever dreamed of being, but they can't always relate to people. These whip-smart students can diagnose just about anything and everything, but they can't explain it or simply won't explain it in simple terms to a client. This leaves clients frustrated and unhappy with the services they've received.

I think that new veterinarians do this because they feel superior to their clients. They think they have to talk over clients' heads in order to build themselves up. I often hear young veterinarians complain about how dumb clients are. Yet these same veterinarians can be so self-absorbed that when it's 6 p.m. and time for them to go home, they'll leave whether a client is in the waiting room or not.

I've never put any significance on grade point averages when I've hired someone. My philosophy is that anyone who can get into and get through veterinary school is given the opportunity to be a good veterinarian. When I hire, I look for people who can talk simply and don't present themselves as someone special, but instead they're just who they are. They should carry themselves with confidence but not be condescending. They'll stay for clients who are late because they understand that they're doing this job for the client and the pet, and not just for themselves.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of good veterinarians coming out of school today, but some lack professionalism and it shows. Indeed, knowledge is important. But listening to clients, understanding their needs, and truly caring for them and their pets will bring much more success to a veterinarian and a practice than the smartest person in the world who can't relate to clients.

Dr. Dean Severidt is a veterinary practice management consultant in Jacksonville, Fla. Send comments or questions to
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