Is Your Clinic Receptionist Losing $6,000 Per Month?

When a phone shopper calls your veterinary hospital, does a confident receptionist answer?

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When a phone shopper calls your veterinary hospital, does a confident receptionist answer? If grumpy Gloria quotes a price and hangs up without scheduling the exam, she could be costing your clinic $6,000 per month.

Let’s say your clinic gets 10 phone-shopper calls this week, and your receptionist schedules eight appointments. Most calls are from new pet owners who need preventive care or spay/neuter surgery.

Your practice can’t afford to lose more than $71,000 annually in new patient care. Phone shoppers aren’t just checking prices—they’re looking for long-term relationships with your practice.

At Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, we have provided phone-skills training to more than 3,500 veterinary staff (www.csvets.com/training.htm). During screening calls to determine employees’ current skills, we listen for attitude, confidence, what information is provided, and most importantly, whether they ask for the appointment. Out of 3,500 calls, the average score is 2.5 on a 5-star scale, which is below average.

Only 6 percent of receptionists asked for the pet’s name and used it during the conversation. Only 46 percent asked for the appointment.
Elevating phone skills of your front-desk staff not only improves client service, it significantly affects your bottom line. Your goal should be to convert 80 percent or more of inquiries into booked exams and procedures.

Open with a great greeting. Callers need to hear the smile in your voice. Remember, callers can’t see you but can hear the stress behind a rushed greeting such as, “Myers Vet. Please hold,” followed by a click.

Slow down, sit up straight in your chair, and smile before answering the phone, no matter how crazy the day gets.

A good greeting includes four elements: Salutation, location, identification and invitation. “Thank you for calling Your Veteinary Hospital. This is Your Name. How may I help you?”

Ask callers’ and pets’ names in the beginning of phone conversations, and use them throughout discussions. This technique bonds phone shoppers to your hospital and personalizes calls rather than sounding like spiels: “Thank you for calling our hospital. I’m happy to answer your questions. May I ask your name and your pet’s name?”

Ask questions to determine needs. New pet owners may inquire about shots, but may not know their best friends need exams, intestinal parasite tests, parasite preventives, nutrition counseling and other services. Ask questions to determine needs such as:

• Where did you adopt your pet?
• How old is your pet?
• Which vaccines has your pet had?
• Which flea/tick and heartworm preventives are you using?
• Has your puppy been spayed or neutered?

Answers will guide your conversation about what the pet needs based on your hospital’s standards of care.

Present service first, price last. No matter how busy you are, don’t jump to the price just to get the caller off the phone. Investing two to five minutes in establishing a relationship can win a new client who could spend hundreds of dollars with your practice on the first visit.

Once you have determined the caller’s needs, explain the services and products the pet will need, and then state the total or a range. Talk about new-client gifts such as complimentary pedicures, free exams for new patients or free puppy/kitten kits.

Explain the dollar value of your puppy/kitten kit. “You’ll receive a free educational booklet, a slip leash, a sample of premium food, and free doses of flea/tick and heartworm prevention. This gift is valued at $____.”

Share two distinguishing features of your hospital. Make your practice memorable. Relate two qualities to the service that she is inquiring about. If a caller asks about preventive-care services, share these two features: We offer convenient hours on evenings and weekends, and on your first visit, you’ll get a baby gift that includes (list items), which is a value of $___.

If the caller is asking about a spay or neuter, explain: We include pain medication and pre-surgical blood work to make sure your pet is healthy, and we also monitor your pet’s heart rate, level of oxygen in the blood, and body temperature during surgery.

Ask for the appointment. Don’t just provide information and hang up. Ask for the appointment with phrases such as “When would you like to schedule your pet’s exam?” instead of “Do you want to book an appointment?” The word “when” assumes a “yes” answer compared to “do you,” which offers a yes-or-no option.

Offer to send the caller information. If the caller doesn’t schedule an appointment, say, “I would be happy to mail/email you information on the services we discussed for (puppy’s name).”

If the caller schedules an exam, say, “I would be happy to mail/email you information on the services we have discussed for (puppy’s name). I also will enclose our new-client registration form or email you a link so you can complete paperwork at home.”

Invest in training your receptionists on how to convert more phone shoppers into new clients. When your staff welcomes more new patients, you’re being patient advocates—getting more pets the veterinary care they need. As a bonus, it enhances your practice’s health. 

Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians and is a partner in Animal Hospital Specialty Center in Highlands Ranch, Colo. You may reach her at wmyers@csvets.com or www.csvets.com.

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