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Client Communication Tools

Improve the Bond and Keep the Client


Why worry about communication?

Many pets are viewed as family members. As such, veterinary care decisions can be a very emotionally charged time for pet owners. Wilson (2008) states “breakdowns in communication are at the root of most grievances” (p. 111). Furthermore, it is not just the veterinarian who commits errors in communication. Any veterinary employee who interacts with the client, or cares for the pet, may be the source of client dissatisfaction.

Good communication with unhappy clients may be the one action the veterinarian performs that can repair the bond, or at least keeps the unhappy client from filing a formal grievance with the state veterinary medical board or proceeding with litigation. Clear and effective communication from the outset greatly lessens the likelihood of communication errors, bonds clients with the practice, and helps make everyone’s day a little more pleasant.

Client Communication Protocols

The Argus Institute of Colorado State University’s veterinary college has developed protocols

to assist veterinarians with client communication skills. The focus is to build a bond-centered

practice, where relationships between veterinarians-owners-pets, owners-and-pets, and

veterinarians and support team, are strengthened and healed (Verdon, 2002).

The examination room is often the location in the veterinary hospital where trusted communication occurs. Much like an English paper, the Argus Institute protocols divide the exam room experience into three parts: the Opening, the Body, and the Closing (Verdon, 2002).

Exam Room: The Opening

An often overlooked basic Opening is the Introduction. Veterinarians and team members should introduce themselves when meeting the client for the first time. Additionally, a warm greeting with familiar clients is always welcomed by the client. Verdon (2002) provides a great example:

It is good to see you again, Ms. Thomas! It’s been quite some time since I have seen Trinket.

I can’t believe how much she has grown! I understand Trinket is ready for her next set of vaccinations. Is that correct?”

This warm exchange creates a rapport with the client and provides an opportunity for the owner to clarify the reason for Trinket’s visit. The opening also provides an opportunity for the veterinary professional to explain what will be occurring during the pet’s visit.

Exam Room: The Body

The purpose of this part of the communication protocol is to gather information and provide explanations for recommended care. An additional aspect of the Body is providing a step-by- step narration of the physical exam, or discussing the importance of diagnostic testing.

Verdon (2002) reminds us that it is important to create an environment where clients feel comfortable asking questions, and to use open-ended questions when gathering additional information.

Exam Room: The Closing

The closing provides the veterinarian an opportunity to summarize the physical exam findings, provide specific treatment recommendations, inform the client when the pet’s next exam should occur, and inquire if the client has any additional questions. Additionally, providing detailed instructions on treatment or follow-up care helps build client trust in the veterinarian, and the hospital as a whole (Verdon, 2002).

Preventive Communication Steps

Establish relationships and rapport with clients and their pets

Provide client education materials to explain services and recommendations

Always offer the best care for every pet, first. Don’t second guess what clients are willing to spend

Provide Treatment Plans (estimates) for all recommended services, regardless of whether the client asked for one

Discuss what procedures will and/or will not be performed prior to providing said services (Wilson, 2008)

Seek client authorization before providing additional medical care, beyond what was outlined in the Treatment Plan

Offer referrals for advanced or overnight care, or when the scope of the medical problem is

beyond the veterinarian’s expertise

Educate all team members on the importance of showing compassion to clients at all times

When Things Go Wrong …

In spite of all your best efforts and preventative steps, failures in communication are bound to occur. Sheila Grosdidier (2008) offers seven tips to help defuse angry clients:

1. Review what happened with the client. Provide clients an opportunity to describe what happened. Listen closely. Do not interrupt. Ask for additional details when needed. This process conveys your interest in their detail of events, and provides you with time to consider your response.

2. Meet face-to-face with the client. Often the first time you converse with an angry client is over the phone. Whenever possible, delay this conversation in order to give angry clients time calm down.

Ask the client to meet with you, in your office, at a later time (but not too much later). Allowing the

heat of the moment to pass helps facilitate a more calm, constructive meeting.

When Things Go Wrong …

3. Involve an objective third party. If personalities or other issues prevent arriving at a resolution, ask a third party (Practice Manager or owner) to be an intermediary. Explain to the client that you are wanting an objective perspective. Often the presence of an intermediary decreases the tension,

leading to a possible resolution.

4. Develop solutions that work for all parties. Beware being caught up in “he said, she said” accusations. Focus on the issue at hand and developing a resolution. Pinpointing where the error or

miscommunication occurred is key to creating a reasonable solution that will work for all parties.

5. Be open to the client’s ideas for resolution. When you cannot seem to find a resolution that will

make the client happy, ask them what solution they propose. There is a risk that they will suggest an

unreasonable solution, but you never know until you ask.

When Things Go Wrong …

6. Tell clients you will consider their suggestions. Everyone appreciates being heard. When appropriate, offer an apology for any miscommunication. Making an acknowledgement to the client

that you do not wish for this type of situation to occur again lets them know you take their concern

seriously. Let clients know you heard their suggestions for improvement and will apply them where


7. Remember your goal. Forget who is right and who is wrong. Do not let egos get in the way of

reaching a resolution. The goal is to resolve the conflict. Including the client’s thoughts and feelings

in the process will help you reach that goal.


Grosdidier, S. (07/01/2008). 7 tips to defuse angry clients. Firstline. Retrieved from


Verdon, D. R. (06/01/2002). Communications protocol can help cement the human-animal bond. DVM360 Magazine. Retrieved from http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/ communications-protocol-can-help-cement-human-animal-bond. Wilson, J.F. (2008). Law and Ethics of the Veterinary Profession. Morrisonville, PA: Publisher’s Network