Consulting the colourful way - Veterinary Practice
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Consulting the colourful way

JAYNE LAYCOCK reports on the ‘pick of the month’ CPD webinar The Colourful Consultation presented by Brian Faulkner, communication skills coach and owner of

CONSULTING is a skill performed by vets on a daily basis, and whether you love it or would rather be out the back spaying a bitch, a successful consultation is the point from which every other profitmaking procedure in practice is born.

In other words, by getting your consultation right, your bottom line will only go in one direction: upwards.

The Webinar Vet invited Brian Faulkner, a practising veterinary surgeon with a Masters in Psychology, to lead a webinar advising vets on how to get the most out of their consultations. Based on his studies, Brian developed a concept known as “The Colourful Consultation” which is designed to help vets perform a successful consult, helping to obtain client, personal and team satisfaction, and ultimately boosting that bottom line.

Brian now takes this concept into practices, providing invaluable training and insights into how the smallest changes in behaviour can make a massive difference. Last month’s webinar discussed 10 tips on how to get the most out of a consultation, based on that concept.

Tip 1: What gets valued, gets measured, gets done

Brian’s first tip is a case of simple psychology: “What gets valued, gets measured, gets done.” Measuring key turnover indicators such as income generated from consults, diagnostics and surgical procedures provides valuable information and demonstrates areas that could be improved upon.

The process of measuring what is valuable to a practice will invariably lead to a proactive approach to improving profitability. Brian strongly advises that if you do nothing else, setting up monthly profit and loss sheets looking at key turnover indicators is essential.

Tip 2: Anticipate trouble and deal with it proactively

There are five types of consults: the primary consult; the re-check; the vaccination; the long-term medical case; and the euthanasia. A consultation is much more likely to run smoothly by anticipating the problems that each of these brings.

For example, clients may resent the charges for re-checking their pet with an on-going medical condition. The client needs to perceive this consult as being good value for money, so consider how you could achieve this. Perhaps using a log book recording weight and other relevant data showing the client how a condition is progressing and the value of these regular checks.

The euthanasia consult is another example where problems need to be anticipated, and ensuring that there is enough time set aside to deal with the consultation empathetically is crucial.

Tip 3: First impressions

Making an appropriate first impression is crucial for gaining a client’s trust – and trust is always the first step to persuasion. The majority of clients will have made their judgements about a vet’s trustworthiness within the first few minutes of a meeting, and most will selectively look for evidence to back up their judgement, negative or positive.

So always make sure you look as the clients expect from a vet, smart and professional. Try to run on time, use appropriate eye contact and, having experienced this humiliation on several occasions myself, try really hard to get the sex of the client’s pet right.

Tip 4: Find some common ground

Always listen carefully and try to find common ground with your client. We have all been in the situation where the opinions and values of our clients are not in line with our own and this can sometimes lead to conflict.

Try to find an area of agreement and, once you have found this, your next step would be to address the area of concern. By standing on common ground initially, the client is much more likely to be persuaded to follow your advice.

Tip 5: Get your timing right

Discussing procedures such as dentals at the appropriate time during a consultation is also key. For example, it is likely that dental disease will be identified within the first few minutes of an examination. Brian explains that this would not be the right time to discuss dental procedures as, in his words, it takes several minutes for the client to “warm up”.

Show the client their pet’s dental disease and then set aside, explaining that you will discuss this at the end of the consult. By discussing dental disease in the last two minutes of a consultation, you are far more likely to get a client to agree to a dental procedure.

Tip 6: Create best practice protocol guidelines

It is really important that everyone within the practice is singing from the same hymn sheet. Creating a summary sheet for staff and clients about practice protocols covering areas such as vaccinations, fleas, ticks and worming is invaluable. It is also a great tool to use in primary consults such as puppy and kitten vaccinations as it works as a platform for discussions around preventative health care.

Brian has produced a “PREVENT IT” summary sheet used within his own practice which acts as an aidemémoire for preventive healthcare issues, and your practice’s protocols and recommendations (outlined in the April edition of Veterinary Practice).

Tip 7: Make an assertive observation and recommendation

Firstly, an assertive observation needs to be made by gaining consensus with a client about the existence of a problem.

Brian was keen to stress that “assertive” does not mean “aggressive”; being assertive means giving the client a positive recommendation – and always remember to give eye contact. Once this has been achieved, vets must decide upon a strategy for this particular patient and make a recommendation.

After this, always pause and check the client’s response. Around 30% will show a blank response. Many vets will read this as meaning a client didn’t understand what was discussed and will reiterate the recommendation.

Brian suggests that when faced with a blank response, always ask the client: “Tell me, what are you thinking?” There may be a variety of reasons behind the blank response but often there is little reason to reiterate the recommendation.

Tip 8: Obey the £75 rule

If an invoice is over £75, Brian suggests always informing the client and explaining the rationale behind this cost, whether it’s for six months’ worth of flea treatment or a blood test investigating an underlying problem. It is much better to deal with any cost concerns before they leave the consulting room, saving the receptionist from having to deal with an irate client. Even worse, the client may say nothing and choose never to come back at all.

Tip 9: Beware the Bermuda Triangle

Once a recommendation has been made by the vet and accepted by the client, Brian was keen to point out that clients have a tendency to change their mind on the walk between the consult room and reception. At this stage we have lost our clients in “The Bermuda Triangle”.

Let’s look at the example of booking a dental recommended by the vet during a health check. The likelihood of a client booking a dental at reception is far greater if the vet has accompanied him or her to the reception desk.

Brian calls this the “walk of gain” and is a strategy that could make a real difference.

Tip 10: Always discuss the client’s next visit

The client’s next visit may be for several reasons, perhaps a re-check on a presumptive diagnosis, or for vaccination due in several months. Either way, discussing the next visit helps to reinforce its necessity.

It is also a very effective way of opening dialogue with owners whose pets have never been vaccinated, allowing an opportunity to have a friendly discussion about their reasons for not vaccinating their pet.

Consult skills are learnt with time and practice, but from experience I know it can be easy to slip into the routine of managing consults in a very predictable way, and bad habits, once formed, can be difficult to break.

Minor tweaks

Brian’s webinar has taught me that just by making a few minor tweaks to my technique, successful outcomes to all of my consultations should be easier to achieve.

Just leading a client to the reception desk, “parking” secondary issues and discussing them at the end of a consult and the very simple task of just “being quiet” after making a recommendation and reading a client’s response can make such a difference.

This webinar has been a real eye opener to the power of psychology in performing an effective and successful consultation.

And for all those vets who have a tendency to run overtime, Brian finished this webinar with “10 reasons” why vets fall behind with their consults. It’s fascinating and well worth a look!

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