Just The Facts, Ma'm

Having trouble getting vital information from your clients? Here are some tips.
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Why is it that clients don’t tell you everything you need to know when you need to know it? It can be like pulling teeth to get some clients talking, whereas others talk on and on, covering everything from the reason they called you to where they booked their next vacation. While it’s important to be personable with clients, keeping the discussion on target benefits the patient, the client and you.

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So how can you keep the appointment on track when every client’s personality is so different? Consider using a different history-taking technique based on whether your client is an introvert or an extrovert. According to Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and reputed founder of analytical psychology, extroverts are generally enthusiastic, talkative, assertive and gregarious in social situations. In contrast, introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken. This isn’t an article on introverts and extroverts. But sorting clients into introverts and extroverts—and then adjusting your communication strategy to match— can increase client satisfaction, expedite patient care and save you time in the process.

Spotting an Introvert

An introvert will answer the question you asked, but won’t volunteer additional information. If you want to know something, you are going to have to ask for specific details. Here are some other ways to draw out an introverted client:

• Use open-ended questions that call for an answer longer than just a few words or a simple “yes” or “no” response, such as, “When and how did you first notice this behavior?” or, “What are you most concerned about?”
• Try not to interrupt and resist the urge to fill small gaps in the conversation with other questions. Give your client enough time to respond to one question at a time.
• Listen carefully for clues about what he’d like to know but doesn’t want to ask.
• Invite him to email other questions to you and feel free to send him lengthy emails of your own. An introvert likes details he can refer to afterwards.

Open-ended questioning is a great tool for seeking greater understanding or participation, but it isn’t appropriate in all situations. In an emergent situation, for example, when quick decisions are critical, encouraging additional discussion isn’t in your patient’s best interest. Ask direct questions of both introverts and extroverts. If an introvert is unable to answer you quickly, or the extrovert starts a long misguided explanation, reword the question or move on to the next. Often, the answer to the question will pop into an introvert’s head after a few moments.

Sometimes a client may think you are looking to find fault when what you are really seeking is information. If you think this is a factor, give the person someone else to blame. For example: “What do you think your spouse/trainer/farrier will say?” or “Why do you think your horse jerks his head away from you?” Both of these questions shift the focus away from the person to whom you are talking and to another party. Talking about how someone—or something—else would react may help bring out more details.

Reining in an Extrovert

Sometimes the most talkative clients give you the least useful information. An extroverted client may provide the minute details on every aspect of her horse, from diet to behavior to the other horses with which he is friendly. Since she doesn’t know what information is important, she’ll tell you everything she can think of, just in case you need to know. Your biggest challenge may be how to get a word in edgewise! Here’s how to get an extroverted client back on track:

Instead of asking open-ended questions, be direct. Ask specific questions related to the matter at hand. If you aren’t hearing what you need, politely interrupt her and ask another question.

Repeat important points and write them down, or have the client write them down. This will save your client the time and potential embarrassment of calling your office to verify the detail of a topic you discussed. And if she is writing, she will be focused on relevant information and less likely to get stuck on extraneous details.

Don’t send this client long emails or leave extensive phone messages. An extrovert will skim long messages and may miss the salient points. Instead, reiterate the most important points and/or the next steps in an outline format.

Body Language

Adjusting your verbal communication is one step toward getting more complete information from clients. With introverts and extroverts alike, also be aware of your body language. When you are rushing to your next appointment, your body language may signal to your client that you’re too busy to listen. If you are tapping your toes with arms crossed over your chest and a blank look in your eyes, your question may be “Tell me” but your posture says, “Let’s wrap this up.” In addition to gauging your clients’ communication styles, be cognizant of your own. It can make a huge difference in how clients react, communicate and trust you with their horse.

Often the most important question a client may ask is the one posed just as you are getting in your truck to drive away. The question may be as simple as a clarification to something you have already discussed, the finishing touch to your diagnosis or the treatment plan. But at times, that last question is the most important issue on the client’s mind. Give the client your full attention. You may be able to address the question now, but if it relates to something of which you weren’t aware and for which you didn’t examine, be prepared to schedule a second appointment. The better you become at spotting clues to unasked questions, the less often that “one last question” goes unanswered another day.

Leslie A. Mamalis leads Summit Veterinary Advisors’ equine business consulting services. She is based in Littleton, Colorado.