In the initial years of my veterinary science course, we drowned in so much theory it was easy to forget that one day we would actually be interacting with real clients, not just ridiculously voluminous textbooks or temperamental microscopes.
Indeed, there was a period when the only animals we saw were the ones in our (still life) anatomy practical classes. But lo and behold, we were finally let loose on the university’s clinical teaching hospital.
It was great. We donned white coats excitedly. We delighted in taking histories from pet owners. We studiously examined animals, ones that were breathing no less. We took temperatures from, mostly, unobliging subjects. At the end of each day, we were the proud bearers of new war wounds – usually superficial but some (like the missing fingertip) bad enough to become permanent conversation starters. Our rate of learning was incredible and, at the end of our course, we were equipped to deal with all the complexities of being a veterinarian in modern-day Australia – or so we thought.
I didn’t realise it then but there was one vital piece of the puzzle missing, something that I hadn’t received much guidance on as a student but which became apparent very quickly on the job. My success as a vet, interestingly enough, didn’t depend as much on the depth of my knowledge as it did on being able to communicate effectively with my clients. That’s not to say that I didn’t need to know what I was doing. Of course I did, but I also quickly discovered that what satisfied clients most was when I tailored my conversations to match:
This applied as much to routine vaccinations as it did to more complex cases that required further diagnostics, surgery or referral to a specialist. Knowing the minutiae of the flea’s life cycle might have excited me but surprisingly most of my clients weren’t similarly interested.
During my several years of practice, I observed that the most successful vets weren’t necessarily those with the best academic record but rather those with the best communication skills. In fact, some of the most intelligent students in our class were the worst communicators – and far better suited to life in academia or a pathology lab.
The lesson here? The only way you can build an emotional connection – a strong brand, if you like – is to converse successfully with your target audience. Equally, a great product or service (even one that’s literally best-in-class) can be driven into the ground with poorly thought-out communication.
I’ve learnt that if you know who you’re talking to, what you want to say and the best way to say it, you won’t get bitten.
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