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We, as SQPs, are at the forefront in educating owners on preventative healthcare; after all, it should be part of every pet’s life, but sadly this isn’t always the case.

Communication is key as it has a positive impact on any business: Having solid communication skills are vital in developing a strong relationship between SQP’s and pet owners. This can lead to greater client loyalty, increased compliance and most importantly, better health and welfare outcomes for pets.

Every day we use different communication skills, so how can SQPs better communicate with pet owners? There are many forms of communication that we can use and they can be broadly divided into two categories - verbal and non-verbal communication.

Verbal communication is largely words, although this doesn’t necessarily mean it is to do with speech. Although verbal communication has an endless list; from speaking and listening, telephone, email, social media, displays in the store/waiting room - the list is endless! However, for SQP’s the most common form of verbal communication is speaking and listening.

Our questioning skills, as SQPs, can help obtain the right information we need which can build stronger relationships and manage customers more effectively. There are four main type of questions; these are closed questions, open questions, choice questions and probing questions.

Closed questions - can only be answered with a yes or a no and are normally used at the end of the discussion. A common example of this type of question is “shall we weigh your dog now?”

Open questions - require longer answers and usually begin with what, where, when, how and why. Open questions can be powerful, for SQPs they help us to get more information from the pet owner. A common example of this type of question is “how many pets are in your home?”, this gives them an opportunity to talk about their animal(s) and in turn, helps us to know which preventative health care treatment is needed - in this case, based on the total number of animals in the household.

Choice questions - are used to help us suggest different products to the owner. An example might be if a customer has seen tapeworm segments and require a wormer, you could ask “would you like an all-round worm product or a product that just does tapeworm?”, after this you may have the opportunity to use further questioning, concerning the worm treatment history.

Probing questions - is another strategy that can be used to find more details from the owner. This is another engaging form of conversation, for example, “what are the most important factors when considering the type of worm treatment you would like?”. This can help SQPs to know what the customer is looking for, such as value for money or ease of use.

It is important as SQPs we ask the right questions and communicate well to provide good customer service. Having the right balance can show that you are engaged and interested in what their needs are, plus it develops a good relationship with the customer and most importantly, helps us find out what the needs are for their pet.

Not only do SQPs have to use good questioning to understand the needs and wants, it is also important to have good active listening skills. Listening is making sense of what is heard and requires paying attention, interpreting what is being said and remembering. To use active listening as a (better) way of communicating, we need to remember:
  • Make eye contact
  • Smile and nod during the conversation to show you are engaged
  • Seek relevant information at the correct time by using relevant questioning skills
  • Avoid making distracting gestures
  • Summarise the message heard, especially to clarify the owner’s wants.

Non-verbal communication does not directly involve speaking, but conveys the message in other ways (to engage the customer). This can include making eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions (such as smiling) and body and posture movements. These are all powerful means to communicate.

Body language plays a major role in non-verbal communication; an open stance with arms relaxed at your sides tell customers you are approachable and open, whilst using eye contact conveys that you’re interested. When using non-verbal communication it is important not to send mixed messages – so ensure that your body language, facial expression and tone of your voice all match.

Top tips for better communication:
  • Be clear with your communication and use simple language
  • Be constant with your message and make sure all marketing materials and staff are following the same message.
  • Regularly communicate with customers - old and new. It is important to retain current customers as it is bringing in new customers. Focus on the areas that make you unique.
  • Invite customers to your veterinary practice - send reminders to customers or target new customers by leaflets or a newspaper article - use all means of communication. This will also remind customers that preventative health care treatments for their pet are due.
  • As an SQP we can recommend products and in turn, some clients may not understand how each product compares. Personal recommendation during communication is a powerful thing.
  • Remember to use open questions to engage in a conversation with a client.

It’s essential to structure your questions to have a clear direction and understanding of what the pet owner wants. In turn, it’s also really important to listen to what the owner is telling you.

We, as SQPs, must understand that good communication is vital.