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Did They Just Say That?!

The top 20 horrifying things this veterinarian has heard while calling other clinics.

What are clients hearing from your veterinary clinic?

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As a traveling surgeon, I spend a lot of time calling multiple veterinary clinics. So I've heard everything from the best to the worst in the area of phone etiquette.

Most times, it's the most helpful, prompt and professional service I could ask for. My call is handled with efficiency and the reason I'm calling for is addressed quickly. But a few times, the things I hear make me shake my head in disbelief.

Yet it is so critical to sound professional when answering the phone. Clients will prejudge the quality of medicine you practice based on what they hear on the phone. And they haven’t even met you yet! Here are some of the most offending situations I’ve encountered.

First Words Heard

Calling some hospitals can be frustrating. The line might be constantly busy, or the phone might ring endlessly, both of which are probably not good ways to manage a service-oriented business. Others clinics are reachable, but you are obligated to leave a message without talking to a human being. Sometimes, “Messages are checked hourly” or “Messages are checked at the end of each day” or “Calls will be returned within 2 business days.”

Here are a few aggravating “pick-up lines” heard:

  • “Hello.”
  • “XYZ Hospital” (did you forget your first name?).
  • “Is this an emergency or are you able to [CLICK].”
  • “Your call is very important to us. All receptionists are busy so please leave a message” (I’ve heard this at a general practice, but even at an emergency clinic!)

Thankfully, most receptionists use simple opening lines, such as: “Thank you for calling XYZ Animal Hospital, this is Sarah” or “XYZ Animal Hospital, this is Sarah.”

Of course, don’t go overboard. Some opening messages are so long, you could eat your lunch while listening to them. “Thank-you-so-much-for-calling-XYZ-Animal-Hospital-and-Cloud-Nine-Pet-Hotel-and-Spa-where-we-treat-your-pet-like-our-own-and-we-have-a-special-on-flea-medications-this-month, this is Kimberly Sue, how-may-I-provide-you-with-outstanding-customer-service-on-this-beautiful-Wednesday-morning?”

When Someone Picks Up

Once I can talk to a real person, here are some of the words I’ve heard after saying something seemingly benign like: “Hi, this is Dr. Zeltzman, can I please talk do Dr. Smith?”

  • “Huh?”
  • “Doctor who?”
  • “Who what now?”
  • “Hang on.”
  • “Hang on a sec, Hon.”
  • “Hold on.”
  • “Hold on a sec, Sweetie.”
  • “What?”
  • “Do what?”
  • “Say what?”
  • “What was that?”
  • “Come again?”
  • “Who’s calling?”
  • “Let me grab him.” (Why would you do that?)
  • “Let me see is she can pick you up.” (That just sounds weird.)
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And recently I was told that “Nah, she don’t come in til 12.”

How about something straightforward like: "Do you mind if I place you on a brief hold?"

Call me old-fashioned, but if I had said some of these things as a kid, I would have been grounded for three months.

If you are unsure about what happens when clients call your practice, you could hire a phone mystery shopper. A phone mystery shopper secretly listens to actual phone calls, evaluates the conversations and provides an analysis of the experience. Tips for improvement are then suggested.

You may be surprised…


Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman

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