Your client-care team members should be masters of multitasking and problem solvers. During my 22 years of coaching receptionists, I’ve discovered helpful tips and tricks that make running the front desk easier. You’re going to want to get started now:
1) Get wireless headsets
Because receptionists answer hundreds of calls daily, headsets will reduce back and neck pain caused from cradling phones on shoulders. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), doctors, chiropractors, and physiotherapists all advise using headsets. Studies show wearing a headset instead of holding the phone can improve productivity up to 43 percent.1
Headsets let receptionists talk and type, speeding up the time it takes to book appointments and process prescription refill requests. Headsets also can eliminate hold time. While wearing a wireless headset and talking with a client, the receptionist could walk to the pharmacy to confirm the pet owner’s prescription refill is ready.
A headset also keeps the microphone in the same position as receptionists move their heads and speak, so voices sound consistent to callers. Noise-canceling microphones can remove up to 75 percent of background noise, filtering out sounds of barking dogs and other ringing phones.1 Ask your phone equipment vendor which headsets are compatible with your telephone system or check out online vendors. Look for wireless headsets with a multiline function, long battery life, an appropriate range for your clinic, and comfort.
2) Chime when you need backup
Animal Hospital of Richboro in Richboro, Pa., has a wireless doorbell at the front desk with a chime in the treatment area. When receptionists get overwhelmed with calls, they ring the doorbell to alert nurses they need extra employees up front. Having a nurse briefly pitch in lets callers experience speedy service and relieves stress on the front-desk team. You can buy a wireless doorbell from a home-improvement store for $20 to $60.
3) Have new clients complete paperwork ahead of time
If you wait until check-in, filling out the new client form will suck 10 to 15 minutes from the first exam. You’ll also have to interpret handwriting.
During scheduling calls, tell new clients, “To speed up your check-in as a new client, please complete the form at <www.yourwebsite.com>, so we may get information about you and your pet before the day of your appointment. The completed form will be immediately emailed to us, so your pet’s medical record will be ready when you arrive, and we can start your appointment on time.” Include links to new client forms when confirming upcoming exams with text and email reminders.
4) Let clients book online and through apps
Did you know the average phone call to schedule a health-care appointment takes eight minutes?2 If a veterinarian sees 20 appointments per day, a client-care coordinator invested 160 minutes or 2.6 hours per day to book those exams. In a four-doctor hospital, receptionists collectively spend 10.4 hours per day scheduling appointments.
Your practice-management software and third-party providers can help you offer online scheduling through your website. Clients can request up to three appointment choices and provide the reason for the visit, so you know the exam length needed. You simply check the schedule and email the client with the appointment details. The exam also may be confirmed with automated text and email reminders, eliminating phone time.
According to VitusVet, the majority of appointment requests are sent between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., while the busiest time for appointment and prescription refill requests is 5 a.m. when your hospital may be closed. When people are on their smartphones, they spend 70 percent of their time in apps.3
5) Use text and email together to confirm procedures
Cut check-in time in half when you set expectations before the day of surgical and dental procedures. Text the client, “See you tomorrow at 8 a.m. for <pet name>’s surgical admission. No food after ___ p.m. Water is OK. We emailed surgical forms to <email>. Reply with questions.” The text prompts the client to check her email, where you can provide detailed fasting instructions, as well as attach consent forms and treatment plans.
Your email message might say, “We will see <pet’s name> for surgery tomorrow at <your veterinary hospital>. Please withhold food after ___ p.m. tonight. Water is OK to drink to prevent dehydration. Your surgical admission begins at 8 a.m. with a nurse, who will spend 15 minutes reviewing the consent form, answering your questions, and getting phone numbers where we may reach you the day of the procedure. I’ve attached your treatment plan and anesthesia consent forms. To speed up your admission, please bring these signed forms with you, or we are happy to answer questions during check-in. Please allow at least 15 minutes for <pet name>’s admission to our hospital. If you have questions, call or text (555) 555-5555.”
6) Text or call late clients
Tardy clients will delay your schedule and cause stress for the medical team who will scramble to catch up. When a client is 15 minutes late, text or call her. Text this message: “We expected to see you at <time> for <pet name>’s appt. Reply YES if you’re on the way, RS to reschedule.” Get texting services through your practice-management software or third-party providers.
If calling, say, “Hello, <client name>. This is <your name> from <your veterinary hospital>. We expected to see you and <pet’s name> at 3 p.m. Please call us to let us know everything is OK or to reschedule your exam. We want to help <pet’s name> get the medical care he/she needs. You may reach us at (555) 555-5555.”
If the client is a no-show, you can move on to the next patient. If the client says she will be 15 minutes late, you can figure out how you’ll see the patient while she’s still traveling to your hospital. Depending on your schedule, you could shift the patient to another doctor if one is available, ask the client to wait and be seen on a work-in basis or offer a day admission.
Avoid turning away a client who may have been unexpectedly delayed due to something beyond her control, such as a traffic accident. Be a problem solver and help patient care happen. The front-office team’s ability to be productive and efficient directly impacts the number of patients you see and hospital revenue.
Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for more than 20 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She helps health-care teams improve telephone and communication skills that result in getting more pets the medical care they need. Myers shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.
1 Benefits of Headsets. Available at: bit.ly/1iIgYAd. Accessed March 10, 2019.
2 Six Ways to Schedule Patients Effectively and Efficiently. Solutionreach. Posted Aug. 18, 2017. Available at: bit.ly/2F3zZM6. Accessed March 10, 2019.
3 Postcard reminders: Three reasons you’re kidding yourself. VitusVet. Published Nov. 8, 2016. Available at: bit.ly/2wF9JSc. Accessed March 10, 2019.