When I was still in vet school I remember reading a survey that was done of existing practice-owners. The surveyors asked what they looked for when they hired a new associate. Absolute bottom of the list of responses was "knowledge of the profession." Top of the list? "Interpersonal skills." This is a truth that has only grown more solid in my mind after 15 years in practice.
Years ago a vet in my community suddenly died. I had heard his name but never knew him. After his death his clients started going to other area vets, including my own practice. I quickly started seeing major issues with this patients, as well as the fact that he never kept written records, practiced out of his garage, and many other rather scary things. If he had been alive I would have very seriously reported him to the state veterinary board. Despite the fact that he was breaking several practice laws and was guilty of malpractice, people loved him. He was friendly and had great communication skills. In fact, at one point there was serious talk of erecting a statue to him!
One of my associates is an incredible clinician with virtually encyclopedic knowledge of veterinary medicine. I would trust her with my own pets' lives and usually wonder why she consults with me on some cases because she's generally right. However, she is not the best communicator and doesn't always come across well to people. Because of this some clients prefer to see me over her.
Why bring this up? I attended a seminar today on how client experiences affect their perception of a vet's medicine, and therefore their attitude towards the practice. All of this influences whether or not they come back to that clinic and what kind of reputation or "brand" that clinic develops. I can't say that anything was really eye-opening, but it did help reinforce what I had personally seen over the years. I also picked up some good techniques and hints on how to do better.
I think most people understand the need for good customer or client service. They certainly know when they've had good or bad service, and will make decisions based on that service. Most people who receive poor service never complain, they just go somewhere else. In today's economy, that can be disastrous, especially for a veterinarian.
I know I have many veterinary students who read this blog so take this as advice. No client or employer is going to ask for your GPA or transcript from school. However, they are going to pay attention to how well you communicate and interact with people. More importantly, your clients are going to pay more attention to how you treat them than what technique you use to spay their cat. Develop your social skills as much as you do your medical ones and you'll succeed as a vet.