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Is your vet voice sabotaging performance?

I’ve coached a lot of vets to help improve their clinical outcomes from the exam room over the last ten years. One client from a few years back particularly stands out. She was a very 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 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 pretty cheery and personable. The sort of individual you’d have no qualms about quaffing a beer or two with at the pub 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 client 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 her clients was obvious to see.

Killing rapport

In the face of the sermon the clients simply shut down and though the vet seemed to me to be heading towards the right diagnosis and was making all the right recommendations, the clients were no longer listening.

The result was a poor conversion of clinical problems into work ups and satisfactory clinical resolutions. To add salt in the wound, my client had advised me that this doctor suffered roughly double the number of client complaints than her peers within the practice. (You can also bet that there was an impact on how many new client referrals this vet was preventing from happening too).

After watching about ten consultations it was time for feedback and we listened 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 of her doctor spoke to her like this. She said her doctor did speak to her like this! And I asked her how it made here feel – she answered “frustrated as hell because I always 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 up in 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 in a ‘one to one’ situation then you are guaranteed to be creating an unhelpful distance between you and your client.

The oft-quoted truism is that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. All members of a vet practice would do very well to remember this phrase.

The ideal relationship you are trying to build 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 days events? 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, 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 rapport and build better relationships with our clients in the consult room too.

Authenticity wins the day

My advice to my client was simply this. Don’t be afraid to use your own voice. When you use someone else’s voice (unless you are a very good actor) then you risk coming across as inauthentic.

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. The net result is a whole lot of wasted opportunities.

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 the doctor 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 focused on being herself in the consult room, then there is every reason to think that she’ll achieve both things in short order.

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 game face when we go into the exam room. 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 doesn’t pay to allow 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 Heros – 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 pretty much 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 in the consult room in the comments section below that you’d never do elsewhere.

The best story wins a copy of The Yellow pages Are Dead, or my new book “So You’re A Vet…Now What?”

Dr D.

If you’d like some help improving your outcomes from the exam room then drop me an email by clicking here.

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