How to Support Your Veterinary Receptionist

Your receptionist is your greatest asset. Make their job easier so they can spend more time giving your veterinary clients the service they deserve.

By Evan Bench from paris, france (Reception) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

Receptionists are the face of your veterinary hospital. They play the starring role in every client experience — from scheduling exams to check-in and checkout.

Your client-service team also spends an abundance of time with clients in the lobby. Research from 10,000 small animal practices participating in a 2010 online American Veterinary Medical Association study showed that a client waits 19 minutes during a busy part of the day before being escorted into an exam room at a five-doctor practice.

The same client waits 10 minutes to check out. A client’s wait time totals 29 minutes, which is longer than the length of a typical exam. Clients spend more time with the front-desk team than with medical staff.

Give your client-service team the support and resources it needs to create positive client experiences. Here’s how.

Install a wireless doorbell so front-desk staff can holler, “Help!”

Animal Hospital of Richboro in Richboro, Pa., has a wireless doorbell at the front desk that chimes in the treatment area.

When receptionists get a tsunami of calls, they ring the doorbell to alert technicians that they need an extra set of hands. Having an assistant or technician pitch in for five or 10 minutes lets clients experience prompt service and relives stress on the front-desk team.

Buy wireless doorbells from hardware or home-improvement stores for $20 to $60.

Cross-train your entire team.

During a mystery-shopper training call to a veterinary clinic, a receptionist told me, “We’re really busy right now. Can I call you later?” Never turn business away.

A price shopper typically calls four veterinary hospitals. If this overwhelmed receptionist returns the call within 10 minutes, chances are the pet owner has already called and chosen another veterinary hospital where she got immediate answers. Price shoppers commonly call before or after work and during lunch breaks—so you will always be busy!

Ask the caller, “Are you able to hold for a moment? We will be happy to provide information and answer your questions.”

Then connect the caller to an assistant, technician or manager who is cross-trained on how to convert phone shoppers into new clients. Our webinar on “4 Easy Steps to Turn Price Shoppers Into New Clients," which you can see here, teaches teams how to have a welcoming greeting, identify patient needs, present service before price and ask every caller to become a client.

Price shoppers are not checking prices; they are looking for long-term relationships. Shoppers are seeking a veterinarian they can trust whether their pet needs preventive care, is sick or requires emergency care. Pet owners stay with a veterinary hospital an average of five years, according to the “Well-Managed Practice Study” from Wutchiett Tumblin Associates.1

A new client isn’t coming for just one exam. Let’s say a new client visits today with an 8-week-old puppy and returns for preventive care over the dog’s 12-year lifespan. The practice would receive additional income if the dog had emergency care, a therapeutic diet, long-term drugs, ear infections, illnesses, spay/neuter, and other care. (See chart)

Use headsets.

Because receptionists answer hundreds of calls each day, headsets can reduce unnecessary back pain and fatigue caused by cradling phones on shoulders. The American Physical Therapy Association, doctors, chiropractors and physiotherapists recommend using headsets. Studies show that using a headset instead of holding the phone can improve productivity up to 43 percent.2

Headsets let receptionists use computers efficiently to schedule appointments. Let’s say wearing a headset saves one minute per scheduling call and a receptionist schedules 15 exams today. If you save 15 minutes in productivity, the additional time could be spent on overdue reminder calls that generate even more appointments.

While wearing a headset and talking with a client, the receptionist could walk to the pharmacy to confirm that the pet owner’s prescription refill is ready while also eliminating the client’s hold time.

Wearing a headset enables the microphone to stay in the same position as receptionists move their heads and speak, so voices stay consistent to callers. Noise-cancelling technology in microphones can remove up to 75 percent of background noise, filtering out sounds of barking dogs and other ringing phones.2

Ask your phone equipment vendor about headsets it offers or visit specialty websites such as www.headsets.com and www.hellodirect.com. Look for headsets with multiline function, long battery life, length of range and comfort.

Get quality, comfortable office chairs.

Do your receptionists sit in mauve-colored office chairs that you bought when you started your practice in 1995? Your hospital is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. In 20 years, that’s 65,520 hours of operation — beyond the life of the chairs.

If you sit in an office chair eight hours a day, five days a week, a quality chair should last an average of 10 years with normal use and regular care, according to Tom Reardon, executive director of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association.3 Check the manufacturer’s warranty length—that’s typically the lifespan of the chair.

In a veterinary clinic where employees work significantly longer hours with several shift employees sharing chairs, the chair's life will be considerably shorter.3 Buy ergonomic chairs and place stickers underneath with the purchase date so you’ll know when to replace them.

If you see tears and stains on fabrics or chunks of armrests missing, it’s time to go shopping. Worn chairs that clients see could communicate that your medical equipment also is out of date. Invest in ergonomic chairs with adjustable-height armrests.

Provide ongoing client-service training.

Licensing requirements keep your technicians and veterinarians focused on continuing education. But your reception team needs to continually polish telephone and customer-service skills. If you practice in Pennsylvania, veterinarians need 30 hours of continuing education every two years while technicians need 16 hours.

Ask receptionists at your hospital to earn at least eight hours. Incorporate CE requirements into performance reviews — to be “raise eligible,” staff must complete a specific number of training hours each year. Learning could include webinars, conferences, in-clinic lunch-and-learns and sponsored dinners.

If employees are constantly growing their skills, they are constantly growing your hospital.

References

  1. Tumblin D. Benchmarks 2009: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Veterinary Economics, December 2009.
  2. Benefits of Headsets. Accessed 09-23-15 at http://bit.ly/1iIgYAd.
  3. Gallagher Ardis, M. Is it time for a new office chair? Accessed 09-23-15 at http://bit.ly/1KONuYd. 
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