Even though you may have said something a thousand times, and sometimes to the same owners, it is still our responsibility to educate clients. What may seem like common sense or obvious to us as trained professionals may appear differently to our clients. We have a responsibility to provide our owners with factual, informative and relevant information, pertaining to the care, well-being and health of their animals. The degree of information shared, and the depth of the information, will need to be individually tailored to meet the needs of the client in question.
Ultimately the more informed our clients are, the better healthcare they can provide for their pets – and, in the long term, they are more likely to return to the clinic if they feel they can ask questions and ascertain information. There are many different ways in which we can communicate with our clients, some of which are elaborated on in this article.
Client education doesn’t have to just encompass education relating to their animals. How do you educate your clients regarding your practice and what you offer? How do you inform them of out of hours or emergency procedures? How do you let them know that you will treat their animal as if it was your own?
A welcome pack allows you to provide new clients with important practice information with a nice personal touch making them feel important. These packs can be tailored to your own practice’s requirements and budget: you can purchase nice personalised plastic wallets to send out with all the information in, or you can simply post out the information.
Our welcome pack currently contains: a welcome letter explaining everything the client needs to know (eg out of hours service, opening hours, terms of business, etc); a practice brochure highlighting what we have and what we can do; a fridge magnet with our contact information so that it’s easy to find in cases of emergency; a data protection form asking the owner how they prefer to be contacted and to check that their contact details are correct; and a pet questionnaire about the pets registered. The latter comes with a little explanation of how, by providing us with this extra information – such as if they prefer a certain type of cat litter, dry or wet food or a particular flavour – we can ensure any stay with us is as comfortable and home-like as possible. From my own experience, clients love these questionnaires as they love to feel that their pet is special to you.
Information handouts and practice booklets
I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation where we have been explaining something to an owner, for example following their pet’s stay in the clinic, and we can find them not really taking the information in, either as they are waiting impatiently for their pet to arrive or they are daunted by the news that their pet needs medications, exercise modification, dietary changes and monitoring.
Information handouts are perfect for these situations and most practice management systems allow you to add, modify or make your own, which can be personalised to that client and their pet. Hopefully everyone is using discharge forms or letters now to allow the owner to get home, settle their pet and then sit down with a cup of tea and digest the information given. We can elaborate on these regular discharge forms and make condition-specific information handouts for conditions you see regularly in practice.
I am a massive fan of practice branded booklets. Having worked in several different settings and seeing lots of bundles of leaflets being given out, I think that people are more likely to read and digest something that comes directly from the veterinary practice rather than a company, as it doesn’t seem as “money grabbing”. There are normally people within each practice who have niche talents – why not use their knowledge and talent to produce your own practice booklets?
Examples can include: “congratulations on your new arrival” booklets with puppy/kitten/rabbit versions, with information about nutrition, neutering, vaccination and parasite control, as well as basic behaviour and training needs; breeding, whelping and puppy-rearing guides, with information about genetic testing, preparing for whelping, signs of whelping, when to seek help and neonatal puppy care; a puppy development guide; and a first aid booklet.
Eye catching displays with simple, to the point information are a great way to catch people’s eye and get them reading about conditions or even thinking “hang on, my pet does that”. You can get display materials from most drug companies and there is usually someone in the practice who has natural creativity to arrange displays.
I find it easier to make myself a year planner – each year I will print myself a little chart with each month labelled, and then I will make myself a plan of what topics I am going to cover in which months (eg February is Valentine’s month so I do a display on neutering; in October, I will start a fire-works board, tying it in with Halloween…). By having a plan of what’s coming up, you can prepare your materials on those rare quieter moments.
Nearly every person now has access to social media in some form (eg Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) and these platforms can be a great tool to share information with owners – from relevant healthcare topics to recent news and developments.
The key to effective social media is to keep it regularly updated and post relevant content. This does take time and commitment, and this is something that needs to be discussed with your management team. I try to always have the next two months scheduled ahead, with two posts per week of educational or fun content planned. This then allows time to post the cute and funny pictures, and of course stories that occur during the week. But equally, if there’s not time to post ad hoc stories, the scheduled posts are always there.
I find it easier to make myself a plan for my social media schedule at the start of the year. I use national animal-related days such as “Black Cat Day”, “Hearing Dog Day” or “Hairball Awareness Day” to make posts, and I will choose themes. For example, I recently ran a month-long medication theme where twice a week I scheduled a brief explanation of what a drug type does, and any special instructions or precautions relating to that drug type. This gave way for a great discussion about antibiotic resistance and why we don’t just repeat course after course of antibiotic.
You should try whenever possible in social media posts to have a call to action in the post to encourage engagement from your clients – this can range from “contact us for more information”, “if your pet is showing any of these signs please contact us” or “follow this link for more information”.
Your practice website can be a great educational tool for your practice and your clients. With most veterinary website providers being able to provide access to pet health-care sheets, these can really be an invaluable resource to your practice. The one thing I would urge you to do is to double check what is being posted. Initially, it can be a laborious task to read each healthcare factsheet (if it is something you have not produced yourself), but it is worth it as from personal experience, it is pretty embarrassing if your website factsheet advocates something completely different to your practice recommendation!
YouTube is another tool which is not commonly used by many practices. You can create a free channel for your practice allowing you to share informative videos. I can hear a lot of groaning at the thought of having to make videos, getting people involved, filming them, etc. And when badly planned, this can be a nightmare – but it doesn’t have to be.
Did you know that most PowerPoint presentations can be easily converted into a video format? During COVID-19, lockdown restrictions meant we were not able to provide our owners with the same level of education that we pride ourselves on. For example, new puppy owners were missing out on attending our puppy school. Everyone thinks puppy school is about bonding the puppy to the practice and socialisation, and while this is true, puppy school also provides a huge educational tool for puppy owners. With this in mind, I put all the information we would normally provide at puppy school into a Powerpoint presentation and then converted it into a video. This meant that any new puppy owner could be directed to our YouTube channel and they could watch the video presentation. The response from owners was really positive, and as a result we converted all our presentations from client evenings, practice booklets and information leaflets into little video presentations, which were then uploaded to our practice YouTube channel. We can refer owners to the channel, as well as using links to the channel on our social media and website.
I’ve found client evenings to be really popular and can cover lots of different topics, and they also help as part of your RCVS practice standards. These evenings don’t have to be costly or difficult to run and you don’t need lots of resources or equipment, but they can provide a crucial point of education and also a fantastic way to bond the clients to the practice.
We don’t have a projector or a big screen, we simply make a PowerPoint on whatever topic we are covering, connect a laptop to a TV from one of our spare rooms and away we go. We borrow extra chairs from our local scout group for a nominal donation (you can often get a little bit of sponsorship from drug companies for these events) and advertise them on all local social media, posters in practice and flyers out in reception. You can choose your topic to suit your client demographic, but a good starting point and always a popular one for attendance is a first aid evening, covering common emergencies, how to recognise them and what to do, then talk about common poisons and end the evening with a practical demonstration on how to apply a bandage as a first aid measure.
Newsletters and local news
Newsletters are another tool available to you to help get messages and information across to your clients. Whether you choose to do your newsletters monthly or quarterly, they provide a great source of client education. Once you make yourself a template, you can simply adjust the content each time, making sure you have clear headings and branding and include all of your contact information.
Speaking to local parish magazines can also be beneficial as they are often looking for content, and if you share articles of interest with them you can often advertise your business at the same time.