A client arrives for her dog’s checkup. Both receptionists are busy answering calls. The pet owner signs in and takes a seat. Fifteen minutes pass before anyone greets her. A technician shouts across the lobby, “Bailey? We’re ready for Bailey.” The client forces a smile and walks toward the technician with her dog, Bailey. Will she return for care based on this service experience?
When clients were asked why they left veterinary hospitals, communication and customer service issues were cited more often than other reasons under practices’ control, according to an American Animal Hospital Association State of the Industry Report.1
You don’t want clients to perceive going to the veterinarian as an inconvenient errand. Use positive service experiences to become a destination practice that keeps pet owners returning. Here’s how:
Replace Sign-ins With Friendly Greetings
A sign-in sheet feels like you’re at the department of motor vehicles. If you’re on the phone when a client arrives, smile and make eye contact to indicate you’ll help after finishing the call. Then step out from behind the counter to greet the client.
In an appointment-based hospital, receptionists should know the next several arriving clients and have personalized greetings based on the reasons for their visits. Notes in the schedule such as “boxer checkup,”“sick pug” or “new kitten exam”offer clues that make cordial greetings easy. Patient photos saved to electronic medical records also improve recognition.
Service businesses with reception counters, such as hotels, restaurants and retail shops, have standing workstations for employees. Standing allows for more interaction. When a new client arrives, make her feel like family with your initial greeting. Say, “Good morning, Mrs. Myers and Alex. Welcome to our veterinary hospital. I will let the doctor and technician know that you’ve arrived for Alex’s kitten exam. I see that you completed our new client form online, so we have Alex’s medical record ready. Did you bring your adoption paperwork with you? I will update Alex’s medical record with that information and share it with the doctor and technician.”
When clients arrive for sick-patient exams, show empathy and set expectations for the day’s visit. Let’s say a client has a pug with diarrhea. Say, “Good morning, Vicki and Spike. I’m sorry to hear that Spike is having tummy troubles. I will let the doctor and technician know that you have arrived. Did you bring a sample of Spike’s diarrhea for us to perform the lab test?”
After the client responds yes, explain next steps. Say, “Thank you! I will take the sample to the lab now so the technician can begin the test. We’ll have results for you during today’s exam. We are glad you’re here so we can help Spike feel better.”
Create Learning Opportunities
National Research Corp. of Lincoln, Neb., interviewed 10,000 human medicine patients and found people remain good natured about waiting 15 minutes beyond their appointment times. If an additional 15 minutes passes without explanation, patients said they would be angry, and some would leave.2
Provide updates every 15 minutes to communicate that you’re staying in touch with the medical team for the latest updates. Instead of “I’m sorry for the wait,” say “Thank you for your patience.” Replace negative words of sorry and wait with positive ones of thanks and patience. Use this phrase even when the client hasn’t been patient, because you want to reward the behavior you want. Say, “<Client name>, thank you for your patience. I know you have been waiting 15 minutes. I checked with the doctor, and we should be ready to see you in 10 minutes. The doctor asked me to share this brochure about your dog’s senior early detection screen, which you will discuss during today’s exam. May I bring you water or coffee? We appreciate your patience while our team is caring for another patient. I will update you again in 10 minutes so you have the latest information.”
Turn delays into educational opportunities with these lobby amenities:
- Post educational bulletin boards featuring preventive care topics.
- Hang wall-mounted brochure racks with literature on nutrition, parasite prevention, vaccines and your medical, boarding and grooming services.
- Offer shopping for retail items, including at-home dental-care products, food, supplements, vitamins and behavior aids.
- Establish a guest WiFi network so clients can use their smartphones and tablets to view your website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and other sites.
- Offer tours with an available team member to showcase your medical and ancillary services.
- Show clients veterinary medicine in action. At VCA Aventura Animal Hospital and Pet Resort in Aventura, Fla., television monitors appear above the reception counter. While waiting in the lobby, clients can watch live video (without sound) of ultrasound being performed in the special procedures room, surgical and dental procedures, outdoor play areas for boarding dogs and the treatment room. During a lifesaving emergency or invasive procedure, employees switch cameras to safe zones such as boarding and grooming areas. The hospital features several wall-to-ceiling glass exam rooms so clients feel included rather than excluded from the delivery of medical care.
Alternatively, program a television monitor to play slideshows of a hospital tour and your team in action. Each month, the team at Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, S.C., updates photos on its lobby television to share dental education, tick prevention tips, hot weather safety, rebates and free doses on preventatives, and staff profiles.
Engage Clients in Exams
Don’t trap clients in an 8-foot-square exam room. When you discover ear mites, lead clients to your microscope and let them look. You’ll gain better compliance for treatment after they see the “monsters” through the microscope. When you hear a heart murmur through your stethoscope, let the pet owner listen. Share X-rays so clients understand your diagnosis, including uploading images to your website’s patient portal or offering to email them.
Kids help care for pets at home, and you’re training future responsible pet owners. When I took our 1-year-old cat, Alex, to The Cat Specialist in Castle Rock, Colo., I brought along our neighbor’s 6-year-old son, Gage. Dr. Jennifer Lavallee let Gage listen to Alex’s heart and gave a play-by-play description of the exam. When I told Gage that veterinarians must go to the same amount of college as people doctors, he said, “Wow, that’s a lot of homework!” Gage’s family has three dogs, and he enjoys their veterinary visits and training classes with their new puppy.
Personally Greet Clients
Shouting is for the playground—not a professional office. Instruct technicians to familiarize themselves with the appointment schedule so they can walk to the seated client and greet the owner and pet by name. Say, “Good morning, Mrs. Thompson and Bailey. I’m Sue, the certified veterinary technician who will be assisting Dr. Stone today. Let’s weigh Bailey before we go into the exam room and start today’s checkup.”
Share Who Gave Care
Just as doctor ID codes to track production, create staff ID codes to personalize client experiences. Doctor and staff ID codes will be entered at every patient transaction. Using staff ID codes has several benefits:
- Tracks who provided patient care and client service
- Assigns the callback to the care provider
- Features an invoice item description that prints on the client’s receipt, such as “Your veterinarian was Dr. Smith,” “Your technician was Sydney,” and “Your receptionist was Ashley.”
Most clients will interact with at least three people during a typical visit—a receptionist, a technician and a veterinarian. Printing caretakers’ names on receipts helps clients connect with the entire healthcare team.
Call Clients After Every Visit
Assign callbacks to individuals who delivered the care. For example, an exam assistant would call a client the day after a pet’s checkup and say, “This is <your name> calling from <Your Veterinary Hospital>. We enjoyed seeing <pet name> yesterday for her preventive checkup. I’m calling to see how <pet name> is feeling and to make sure we got all your questions answered. If have questions, please call us at <your office number>. You can visit our website at yourwebsite.com to see <pet name>’s updated reminders, get dosing reminders and to order products. Thank you for the opportunity to care for <pet name>.”
A veterinarian would call to follow up on complex cases, such as an orthopedic surgery, cancer treatment or chronic health conditions.
Practice owners and managers need to remember that they operate in both healthcare and service industries. Pet owners choose where to take their pets for veterinary care. What will you do to become a five-star destination practice?
- "AAHA State of the Industry 2015: Client Communication and Customer Service the Key to Retaining Clients.” Accessed 02-27-17 at http://bit.ly/2my4Kxb.
- Levoy, B. “The psychology of client waiting.” Veterinary Economics, November 2009. Accessed 02-27-17 at http://bit.ly/2lifqhy.
Wendy S. Myers, a certified veterinary journalist, owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. You may reach her at email@example.com or csvets.com.
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!