A veterinary receptionist is the face of your practice, and it’s a job you can’t give to just anyone. So where do you start with hiring the right person?
First things first, you have to decide on the title. One of the most challenging trends right now in veterinary medicine is giving the person at the front desk any position title OTHER than receptionist! Instead, they are now Client Service Representatives, Client Advocates, Front Office Personnel and many, many others titles. Sometimes it gets confusing even knowing exactly what this person does in the veterinary practice, based on the new and often unfamiliar titles.
Before you start looking for the right receptionist for your veterinary practice, you’ll need a clear idea of just what this person will do in your practice. You should find the most accurate and current summary of this in their job description, the jumping-off place for any hiring process. This will guide your discussion, and be sure to include these interview questions to ensure a good fit.
1. Why do you want to work in an animal-care facility?
A receptionist is well-suited to work at any type of front office, truthfully. The basic tasks — answering the phone, greeting clients, scheduling appointments, data entry — are all things that are done in many types of businesses. In fact, you should remain open to candidates that have front-office experience, just not in a veterinary practice. Find out what attracts them to a place where contact with animals is essential and expected. Nine times out of 10, they will simply reply, “I love animals,” but dig a little deeper, and find out what significance animals have had in their life.
2. Have you ever experienced the death of a close pet?
This is a question we often fail to ask, or even consider. Yet our receptionists will absolutely be involved with clients who suffer the loss of their beloved pet. Will they understand the grief associated with this loss, and how the particular circumstances — such as a tragic accident, an attended euthanasia, a death while in the hospital — might affect the client’s grief? There are many different colors of grief, and the candidate you pick should understand that and be able to empathize while still doing their tasks. Remember that many situations are similar among different types of businesses, with the exception of the addition of death and euthanasia in the veterinary practice. Spend time on that topic in particular.
3. Can you multitask?
This is essential to any position in the veterinary practice, but up front it must also be done while “on stage” in full view of the lobby audience, so the receptionist has to do it with grace. Give them a typical scenario: You are on the phone scheduling an appointment, you have a doctor waiting for you to bring back a chart, another phone lines start to ring and a client walks through the front door and comes to a stop right in front of you. What do you do? How do you prioritize these tasks in the heat of the moment?
Know what answer you want to hear. Perhaps it's, “I make eye contact with the approaching client and either mouth the words ‘I’ll be right with you,’ or hold up an index finger to indicate ‘just one minute.’ Then I put the second call on hold, finish the first, address the needs of the client in front of me, run the chart back to the doctor…” or however you would want them to handle the situation.
Throw in a few more real-life scenarios at them, such as:
4. A client comes out of an exam room where they just euthanized their pet. They are crying and standing at the front desk. What do you do?
Even if the candidate does not know the protocol in your specific practice, you would still want to hear them say that they would offer words of comfort or perhaps lead them to a less busy area of the front desk for privacy. Ask them specifically to describe the body language they would be using: A soft tone of voice, leaning in toward the client so they can discuss things softly, offering a tissue if appropriate. See how well they can visualize the scenario and their part in it.
5. You present an invoice to a client. They see the total in dollars and get upset, beginning to raise their voice and getting angrier by the second. What do you do?
Again, how would they picture that scenario, and how would they respond? It’s also OK during these real-life scenarios for the candidate to say, “I would follow the practice’s protocol,” meaning they understand there will be a protocol to learn, but do not let them stop there. If needed, prompt them more by asking, “so what do you think an appropriate protocol would include for this situation?”
What you may be hoping to get is for them to respond is perhaps “move the angry client to another room or part of the practice, and ask if they want me to review the invoice,” as well as them knowing who to go to next to intervene if needed, such as the front office supervisor or practice manager.
For the real-life scenarios, keep in mind that the candidate may have customer service experience from a different type of business, so you may want to either help them visualize the scenario by describing it in more detail. You can also turn the question into a type called behavioral interview where you ask, “what DID you do?”
So perhaps “what did you do when you were faced with an angry customer at the dental office, restaurant, retail store?”
6. What tools and technology are you familiar with?
Many organizations use the same equipment and technology used in the veterinary practice. What type of office machines have they used, such as fax/copier, multi-line phone or computer? Who serviced these machines? For example, did they learn how to clear jams on the copier? This is usually done by the receptionist in the heat of the moment, and it always happens when it’s busy up front!
How well do they type? Are they familiar with using email, texting, and other forms of communication you use with your teammates and your clients? Chances are, even if they have previous experience in veterinary medicine, they may not know your basic software, so ask them when is the last time they had to LEARN a new software program. Ask them how that went, if it was it easy for them or if they struggled quite a bit?
7. What do they think are the most important “soft skills” for the job?
You are hoping to hear things like compassion, friendliness, empathy, active listening, multitasking and others that hopefully are listed on your job description as well. What type of person fits best at the front desk, and do they have those qualities?
There is perhaps no more critical a position to fill then one at the front desk. These team members are the first and lasting impression for every client that calls or comes in the door, so selection must be taken seriously. But also realize until you get them into the position and get a little training under their belt, it may be very difficult to know if they are a good fit. The front office is not for everyone, and you will likely know whether or not they will be successful within those first few weeks. Take that “introduction period” for all it is worth, and use that time to see if you’ve created a good fit. There is a saying that goes something like this, “hire slow, and fire fast.” Take your time with your interview process, but when your gut tells you it is not going to work, make a change. These people are too important to the practice and the team to not ensure a good match of person-to-position!