CLIENTS SPEAKING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
TRY TO UNDERSTAND THEM - DON'T GET ANGRY
Dr. Madan L. Kharé
The veterinary business is a customer service oriented business. And just as if you were working in a department store, supermarket, or as a telephone customer service representative, you are going to face all sorts of clients from all walks of life. And in the U.S., a melting pot of multi cultures, many veterinary practices are exposed to pet owners who speak English as a second language. Dealing with diverse customers takes a bit more effort than it does when handling clients that look and sound like you do. However, all customers are worthy of your time and deserve your attention and respect.
Keep in mind that they may come from a different culture and have a different background, but they are still the pet’s owner and therefore, your client. Their way of thinking, understanding, and making interpretation is different than yours. It will be your responsibility to synchronize your thinking with theirs, rather than the other way around. Some of you may think it’s not fair, but we are in a service providing industry, and we can’t be choosy and dictate who is going to be a pet owner and a client.
You must convey the same courtesy to all clients, irrespective of their backgrounds. You need to show a sense of comfort and acceptance of all people. This will help prevent any potential misunderstandings and miscommunication that can lead to anger, litigation or a trip to the office of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. Below is some advice that receptionists, technicians, and doctors can follow for a positive experience in closing the language barrier and communication gap.
DO’S AND DON’TS FOR DEALING WITH DIVERSE CLIENTELE:
- When clients don’t understand you, or you don’t understand the client, don’t risk offending them. Accept responsibility for the communication gap rather than play the blame game.
- Don’t speak loudly or yell. The client may think you are angry with them. Do speak slowly and clearly.
- Don’t be patronizing, condescending, or make the client feel that they are stupid. Do be patient and sensitive to his or her feelings.
- Don’t presume clients understand technical jargon or your hospital’s protocol. Do explain things in a logical order, and make sure they understand you, each step of the way. Politely say something like, ”I want to be sure I have the correct information” then repeat what the client said. Don’t act irritated or make them feel like they are bothering you.
- Don’t use slang, jokes or plays on words. Do use simple language, using short, concise, and complete sentences or questions. It will be easier for the client to understand what you are saying.
- You or your staff members may not have had experience with foreign cultures. Never let your personal ignorance, inexperience, bias, or prejudices affect the way you behave toward them.
These rules also apply if you yourself are a foreign-born person working in the veterinary hospital and are faced with prejudiced clients. Always maintain a positive, upbeat, and professional manner.
Remember that they are your clients, and they are the reason you go to work every morning. Treat them with respect. Treat them the way that you yourself would like to be treated. One day, you may have to walk in their shoes…
Most local and state courts hire bilingual interpreters who are called upon to interact with a foreign-speaking witness. If you have several clients that come from a diverse ethnic background, it will be advisable that you hire trustworthy multi-lingual staff. These staff members can be very useful in making clients feel comfortable and most important of all, understood. Or you can contact a few community members who are bilingual. In most cases, it has been observed that if one provides communication to clients in their own native language, there will be a better understanding of the pet’s conditions, better diagnosis and treatments, and better rewards.