Vet Receptionists: Why you need to be strong for your clients

When a client enters the veterinary clinic, find out why they need you to be so strong

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Starbucks: love ‘um or hate ‘um, just admit there are times when you WILL pay $5 for a cup of coffee. Maybe you like yours as a double shot, soy, half-decaf, with a squirt of vanilla and hold the foam. My order is never that complicated (nonfat WITH whip), but I still remember the first time after I moved here to Appleton that they remembered not just my name, but my order too. I felt, well, at home.

That’s what makes Starbucks special. Anyone can make a cup of coffee (well, truthfully, it does look rather complicated with all the hissing and bubbling), but Starbucks’ success is as much based on their coffee as it is on the fact that they pride themselves on knowing YOU. THAT is what you pay the five bucks for: To be known, to be remembered, to be special.

Change scenes to a typical veterinary practice, with a busy front office, clients waiting to check out, clients waiting to check in and phones ringing. It’s crazy. Yet you walk in, someone immediately makes eye contact with you, says they will be “right with you.” Magically, in all that chaos, they call you by name! They behave as if they remember you AND your pet! You are special, you are expected, you are welcomed. The welcoming part isn’t the “I’ll be right with you,” it is what follows: The “…Ms. Jones, and it’s so good to see Charlie today!”

In this series of articles directed to you, the veterinary practice receptionist, we will discuss some of the mechanics of getting the job done.  We’ll talk about phone etiquette, prioritizing duties, handling worried clients, being part of the healthcare team, but the most important thing will be the spirit in which you do your work. THAT is what the client feels. While “the back” may be all about providing a service to an animal patient, YOU are all about providing an experience for the owner. An owner who comes to you in times of doubt and often despair, and needs you to not only recognize their face and their pet, but their emotions and vulnerability.

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Do not be mistaken: This does not just apply to “emergencies.” This applies to every single one of your clients. If you take nothing else away from reading this article or the ones to follow, take this to heart:  Every single client that walks through your door has a worry, and it is YOUR job to find out what it is and make them feel better.  If you think that clients are coming in because they get your reminder in the mail, or the phone call or even the email or text message, you are wrong.  They come in because they are worried.

Don’t believe me? Think of these folks:

  • The “wellness visit” for the geriatric cat: you maybe have not seen this cat for, well, years unfortunately, but now they are here for a “wellness visit.”  Well, no they’re not. They are there because this beloved 17-year-old cat is finally showing her age.  She is slowing down, she is picking at her food more, she is meowing in an odd sort of way.  She is getting old, and now this client cannot deny it any longer. What can, no, SHOULD, you do for this client?  Well hang around, we’ll get to that in this series.
  • The “puppy visit” for the rambunctious, 12-week-old Golden Retriever.  It’s time for their next puppy shot, which seems simple enough. Well, that’s not all. They are also there because Mom hasn’t slept the night through for six weeks. The puppy that was supposed to bring the family together is tearing the family apart because Dad is yelling at the barking, the kids are complaining because the puppy is constantly bothering them and Mom is the one who somehow has to fix all this.  This client will expect to leave with much more than just a puppy shot.
  • The “routine neuter” for the 7-year-old Labrador. There is nothing “routine” about this, however.  Dad has known for, well, years, that his “Tough Guy” has needed to have this unspeakable surgery performed.  But Dad is having a real hard time with it.  After all, he is worried that his Tough Guy will change, and he’s not sure how. He can only imagine, and his imagination is far worse than anything we could ever imagine.  When he comes at 7:15 a.m. to drop off for surgery, there is a look on his face that is unmistakable: He is scared to death for his buddy.  You can’t let him leave feeling like that, now can you?
  • The “recheck” for the 11-year-old Toy Poodle who is just not himself, still.  It’s been a long haul already, visits and test going back months now perhaps. A simple question of, “why is he not eating?” has led to months of worry and frankly, hundreds of dollars spent that the little old lady who owns Pudding just cannot afford.  The medications alone have been hard to pay for, and now she is back. Pudding is still not eating, and the doctor mentioned something last time about an ultrasound? Some radiographs?  How much is that all going to cost?  There is no way to put a dollar value on Pudding, but here it is, and tough decisions need to be made.
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To you, the reader, I have to tell you that with my years of experience (on top of YOUR years of experience) humble me when I think of these clients.  They are fictitious, but representative of hundreds of people I have met through the years, and just writing about their worries brings tears to my eyes.  These people NEED you, and you need them: That’s why you do the tough work that you do. The front office is not for the weak-hearted.  You are strong, stronger than anyone else in the practice truth be told, and now, you must be strong for your clients.

Shoot, if a barista at Starbucks can make me feel special for buying a $5 cup of coffee, just imagine what YOU can do!

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