Editor's note: The following Practice Builder was provided by Carmen Monson, independent nutritionist with Monson Consulting, located in northwestern Wisconsin.
Over the years, our consulting firm has worked with many herds, from large free-stall operations to small family dairies. With that experience, I've found that most farms want generally four things: results, a proactive yet practical approach, quick answers to their questions, and respect.
Most nutritionists provide the first three fairly well, but more and more often I've seen problems with the last of the four — respect — particularly if the farm is fairly small or isn't doing very well.
There are many ways to show respect for the dairies you work with. Here are a few that have worked for us:
- Be prompt: make appointments and be on time. I make regular appointments with about 80% of our clients; the other 20% do not like regular appointments. For the clients that do not like appointments, I'll call or e-mail the farm the evening before I'm in the area. For cold calls, I always try to call or e-mail to set up an appointment and if that's not possible, I'll stop for a brief farm visit to set up a more convenient time. Scheduling not only shows respect for the producer's time, but also makes you more efficient as well. Being on time for that appointment is also extremely important. Try not to schedule too many appointments back to back so that if one runs long, you end up late for the next farm. If you are running late, simply call and apologize-and give an approximate time of arrival.
- Always bring something to the party: be prepared. Even if it's just a check-up, always bring something that either supports a previous point you're trying to get across, a new idea you'd like to introduce or a checklist of things to remember. Making the best use of your time together is a great way to show respect.
- Pull out all the stops: use all of your available resources. When a producer is experiencing some real trouble, pull out all the stops. Try a team approach with their veterinarian, breeder, university researcher or local expert — whoever and only whoever is pertinent to the problem. Facing an issue with everything you've got shows the producer that you care about his business and you're willing to work with other members of his team.
- Focus on their goals: really listen. One of the biggest problems I see in other nutritionists is that their goals for the dairy are different from the producer's goals. I’ve been guilty of this myself. Really listen to what the producer is trying to tell you: does he really want to go for high production? Is he more interested in high components? Would he like to use more local commodities? Listening closely and acting on what he wants is the best way to show respect.
- Make sure to follow up: get back quickly. Following up with a quick e-mail or call can be an easy way to show respect. Not only do you show that you're concerned with his operation enough to call, but it helps you head off a potential problem that may be developing.
- Mind your manners: details make a difference. Always make sure you remain polite, professional and respectful of their property. It may seem trivial but sometimes, it can be the "last straw" to a producer. For instance, you can encourage discussion but walk away from arguments — you won't win. Never fake it if you don't know something. Tell them you'll find out and do it.
Sincerely apologize when you're wrong. Don't drive on the lawn. Don't kick the dog. You know the drill! And always make sure you show gratitude at every opportunity. There is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that says "Men are only respectable as they respect." In other words, give respect and you will gain it yourself. The benefits you receive for yourself and your business will be well worth the effort.