10 Tips to Improve Your Staff's Communication Skills

Find out why good communication skills are important for every one of your team members.


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When phone shoppers or existing clients call your veterinary hospital, your goal is schedule every exam or surgery. Did you know 53 percent of receptionists fail to convert calls into booked exams? Find out how to confidently ask for the appointment every phone call in this video. 

When you communicate with confidence, more clients will accept the care that their pets need. Here are excerpts from my new book, “101 Communication Skills for Veterinary Teams: Speak with confidence over the phone and in exam room conversations.” Share these scripts with your team so you can be effective communicators.

1) Deliver A Welcoming Phone Greeting 

Let callers hear the smile in your voice and eagerness to help. Slow down and enunciate your words rather than sounding like you’ve just finished a triple espresso.

Answer the phone promptly — first ring is best. Never go beyond three rings. The longer your phone rings, the less important your caller feels. An effective phone greeting includes a salutation, business name, employee’s name, and an invitation for service. Say, “Thank you for calling [your veterinary clinic]. This is [your name]. How may I help you?”

2) Answering A Call While You’re Helping A Visiting Client 

Let’s say a client is standing at the front desk with her credit card in hand and your phone rings. You need to make the client and caller feel equally important. Tell the client, “Will you please excuse me for a moment so I can place this caller on hold and then keep helping you?”

Answer the phone, “Thank you for calling . This is . Is this a medical emergency, or are you able to hold while I finish checking out another client?” The word “finish” tells the caller that the wait time will be brief. A client ready to check out will be thankful that you’re respectful of her time as well.

3) Transferring A Call

Don’t say, “Please hold while I transfer you.” The words “hold” and “transfer” could have negative effects. Instead, use positive words that show action. Say, “Let me connect you with the surgery technician, [employee name].

The word “connect” shows action. You’ve also let the caller know which employee will assist her. Explain the purpose of the call to the surgery technician before he picks up the line. The front-desk employee would tell the technician, “I have Mrs. Myers on Line 2, who is calling for a surgical update on Caymus, a cat that is being neutered today.” Then the technician can be prepared to greet the caller by name and provide the latest information.

When the technician picks up the call, he would say, “Hello, Mrs. Myers. This is Eric, the surgery technician. Susan explained that you’re calling for an update on Caymus. Let me tell you how surgery went.” This hand-off shows that your team works together to provide exceptional patient care and client experiences.

4) When Clients Call to make Appointments, Check the Reminder Status of all Pets in the Family 

Let’s say you view the client’s record and discover a second dog is overdue for preventive care. Respond with, “We’d love to see Mason for his preventive care exam. Did you know that Rocky also is overdue? He needs a preventive care exam, vaccines, heartworm/tick screen, intestinal parasite screen and preventives. You can bring Mason and Rocky to the same appointment. Which day of the week works best for you? Do you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?”

Once the client responds with a preference for the day of the week and time of day, offer two choices. Known as the two-yes-options technique, this phrasing significantly increases the chance you’ll schedule the appointment. Say, “When would you like to schedule exams for Mason and Rocky? We have an appointment on Tuesday at 9 or 11 a.m. Which fits your schedule?”

10 ways to improve your staff's communication skills

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Provide your clients with estimates for the cost of their pet's care so they don't feel there are any "surprises".when they receive their bill.

5) When Clients Request Medical Records, Find Out Why They are Leaving your Practice

Say, “We would be happy to provide copies of your pets’ medical records. Our hospital strives to provide exceptional patient care and client service. May I ask why you’re leaving our hospital?”

If the client is moving, say, “We hope your family and pets enjoy your new home. I will staple our business card to your pets’ medical records. If your new veterinarian has questions about the care that we’ve provided, he or she is welcome to contact us. If you move back to our community, we’d love to welcome you back to our hospital.”

If the client is leaving due to poor service, say, “We want to find a solution that you’re happy with. Let’s talk about what we can do to resolve the problem. We would like the opportunity to continue to provide veterinary care for your pets.”

6) Collect Clients’ Emails.

Industry research shows 30 percent of people change their email addresses annually, and the average person has three email accounts. How you ask for clients’ email addresses matters.

Don’t say, “Can I get your email?” Instead, use benefit statements that will have them gladly volunteering their email addresses.

Say, “Our practice is going green and sending more reminders by email. We want to be able to quickly notify you about pet health alerts such as a pet food recall or a rabies outbreak in our area. You also can access Jake’s reminders and request prescription refills and appointments through our website. Which email would be the best for you to receive Jake’s reminders?”

7) Greet Clients in the Exam Room 

When greeting clients in exam rooms, technicians or assistants should introduce themselves, shake hands and explain their roles.

Say, “Good morning, I’m [name], the technician who will be assisting Dr. [name]. For your preventive care visit, we will do a nose-to-tail exam, vaccines, heartworm/tick screen, intestinal parasite screen and refill 12 months of parasite preventives. I will take a brief history, collect samples for testing and get your pet’s temperature, pulse and respiration. Then the doctor will begin the exam. Is there anything else you want to discuss with the doctor?” S

ay “vaccines” instead of specific ones. Based on exam findings, the veterinarian may add or subtract vaccines. Saying “We will refill” encourages 12 months of parasite protection. Asking “Is there anything else you want to discuss with the doctor?” identifies “Oh, yeah…could you also check…?”

8) Give Clients your Business Card

Providing business cards instills client confidence, boosts pride in staff, helps receptionists quickly connect calls and may generate new clients if passed along. Veterinarians also should provide business cards, especially to new clients. Let clients know when patients need to return next. Say, “We will see Max again in six months for his next preventive care exam, intestinal parasite screen and Bordetella vaccine. If you have questions before then, be sure to call. We’re always happy to help. Here’s my business card.” Watch my video on the importance of business cards below:

9) Say “Need” instead of “Recommend”

Telling a client, “I’d recommend that you get your pet’s teeth cleaned within the next year” is wishy-washy. “Recommend” sounds optional and has no medical urgency.

Be firm and confident when presenting the diagnosis. Replace “recommend” with “needs” to communicate the importance of treatment.

10) Provide Treatment Plans for Surgery, Dentistry and Hospitalized Cases before Admission 

A treatment plan accomplishes four goals:

  • Explains needed medical care
  • Gives you legal permission to treat
  • Estimates the cost of care and
  • States payment and deposit policies

A financial policy might state: “Payment is due when services are provided. Deposits may be required for emergencies, infectious disease cases and new clients. For your convenience, we accept cash, checks and major credit cards. We offer CareCredit, a payment plan for qualifying clients.” Even when a favorite client says, “Just do everything,” provide a written treatment plan.

Clients don’t want surprises at checkout, nor do you want to argue over fees. Always get signatures because this gives you legal permission to treat patients and has clients accept fees. Keep original signed consent forms and give clients copies to take home.

Excerpt from Veterinary Practice News, April 2014 with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing. To subscribe to Veterinary Practice News, click here.

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