Keeping it Personal Behind the Mask


By: Debbie Boone, BS, CVPM –  Originally published on Weave.

When mask wearing was added to the Covid-19 CDC guidelines, it didn’t bother me.  I have been in a profession that requires mask wearing for many procedures and I understand germs.   But, as a communication expert I knew we were going to lose something very important:


Our ability to read expressions.


Humans are naturally astute at reading the body language of other humans.  We observe subtle changes in lip positions, wrinkles around the eyes and even the cock of the head to attempt to figure out what those around us are thinking and feeling.  Humans have a unique skill that other animals do not appear to have.  It is called Theory of Mind.  This means that we will, through empathy, try to place ourselves in other’s positions to understand what they are feeling.  Sometimes we are good at this, and other times we miss the mark and make up an incorrect story about the other person.

But that is for another blog. 😊

Keeping clients and ourselves behind masks and out of our building has created a great challenge in communication and keeping the service experience at its best.  Obviously, we can’t risk infection to see a smile, but there are other things we can do to reach out to our clients and build our relationships. 

Humans communicate in 3 main ways:

  • Verbal/Written Word 7%
  • Paraverbal 38%
  • Body Language 55%


 When one major aspect of our communication – Body Language – is greatly diminished we must make extra efforts in the remaining two. 


Let us consider word choice.  As an avid reader, I understand how a good author can hook me into a character’s mind with the correct word choice. 

For example: “Dick loves Jane” is pretty blasé compared to “Dick was consumed by his passion for Jane.”  When we are working with our clients to try to help our patients we need to consider our word choice.  Is the dog “painful” because of an abscessed tooth that needs extraction, or is the dog “feeling like you do when you hit your thumb with a hammer…every time it chews its food”. 

You tell me; which is going to get more reaction and acceptance of care from the pet owner the first or second comment? 

The ability to communicate through email and text is convenient, but if we aren’t using the right words, we are going to struggle.  Not only should we use “sticky” language in our conversations,  but we can add graphics. 

Think of the clients who come for Curbside care who forget their cell phone, credit cards, call in instructions, etc.  By utilizing a checklist with photos, sent through text or email after the appointment confirmation, we are more likely to get compliance and have much less frustrated clients. 

Pictures increase memory by 65%.

In case you would like a free template for this list, here is the link to one I created: Client Curbside Checklist.

Fortunately, we can create these documents and simply send them to clients over text or email messages if we have the right app or phone system.

What about our Paraverbal communication? 

This is all about voice tone, speed and pitch.  I know practices are super busy since Covid hit, and the phones are ringing off the hook.  We created our own dilemma when we instructed every client to “Call us when you arrive”. 

Two problems occur:

First, you are overwhelmed with calls at the front desk because you are accepting the parking lot call, calling the client to report exam findings, calling with an estimate and getting approval and then calling again to accept payment. Now your phone lines are always busy and the client you instructed to call in is getting a busy signal from the parking lot.  Irritation begins to set in and the client experience is taking a trip South.


Get Weave. Weave phone system is VoIP so you have unlimited phone lines – no busy signals. It allows text messages through your landline number and if a caller hangs up before you can answer, it has a call follow up message that texts the caller you will call them right back.. and it reminds you to call.  How important does that caller feel when you immediately ring them back to take care of their needs? 

Phone trainers of old always instructed students to immediately get the customers name and then use it at least three times during the call. This makes it personal and connects you with the caller.  Caller ID came along and helped a great deal…unless another person from the home number happened to be the caller. 

Now, Weave integrates with our practice management software and when the client calls in the system not only brings up the client record but you immediately have the pet’s history at your fingertips.  That is personalized service!  Even the text message thread will pop up when the client calls so you have text history.  Clients want to feel KNOWN and IMPORTANT!  Stumbling around a medical chart to find out why they are calling is never a confidence builder if this is a recent or ongoing issue. 

How is your team doing on the phone? 

Part of my consulting service is to call practices as a secret shopper and discover the skills – or lack of skills – in the CSR team. 

The front desk makes or breaks your practice

If they are not welcoming, knowledgeable and confident in their advice to pet owners, clients will not come.  The ability to listen to recorded calls for training and coaching the staff is invaluable and the main reason I became a cheerleader for Weave. 

Years ago, I paid a marketing company $25 per call (later it went to $50) to record calls from a unique phone number to my practice.  The idea was to generate new clients, but I wanted the recording!  Allowing staff to listen to their own voice, tone, speed and pitch and hear the poor attitude or inappropriate word choice was the best training tool I ever had.  My team was much harder on themselves than I was when they listened to their calls.  But there was no denying the issue and it was easier to make corrections because I could record the calls.


In today’s challenging times, remember the need for extraordinary communication. 

We have lost 55% of our means of understanding one another without body language.

Put systems in place to make it easier to create the client experience they desire and pump up the volume in your word choices and oral communication.

And when you smile under that mask – you may just have to tell someone you are doing it! 😊


Please reach out if your team needs help with communication.