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What Did Your Receptionist Just Say?!

Your front-desk team helps you book appointments and track new clients … but only if they’re saying the right things.

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During a mystery phone shopper call about a spay, I asked the receptionist why pre-anesthetic testing was necessary. She replied, “To make sure your pet’s liver and kidneys could process the anesthesia, and so we don’t have any problems with her crashing on the operation table.”

A prospective client might wonder how often pets crash but simply reply, “Thanks for the information. Bye.”

This shocking service experience should alert the practice owner that his front-desk team needs immediate phone-skills training so they can accurately describe services and attract new clients daily.

Here are real-life horrors we’ve heard during 15 years of mystery shopper calls to veterinary hospitals—and how to correct them:

  • “Once we send pets home after surgery, we don’t want to take away all of their pain. I know that sounds really mean. If they’re not hurting, they’re going to be running and jumping up on everything. If they have a little bit of pain, it slows them down.”

Promote how you proactively manage pain so pets will experience comfort while recovering. Say, “A spay is similar to a hysterectomy for women. That’s why we include pain-relief medication, and we will send you home with ongoing medication for a restful recovery.”

  •  “We’re really busy right now. Can I call you later?”

Hearing this, the phone shopper will hang up and dial another hospital with an employee who can invest five to seven minutes to answer questions, quote prices and book an appointment or surgery.

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

Cross-train receptionists, technicians and managers on how to convert phone shoppers into new clients and provide sample scripts and scenarios. Attend our one-hour webinar on “How to Say It: Talking With Phone Shoppers” and get phone-skills training programs.

  •  “Do you want to make an appointment, or are you still calling around checking prices?”

A Communication Solutions for Veterinarians’ phone survey of 3,000 calls to U.S. and Canadian veterinary clinics found that 53 percent of receptionists failed to ask phone shoppers to book appointments.

Your goal is to turn every inquiry into a new client. Don’t just provide information and hang up. Confidently ask for the appointment, offering the next two available times. Use the two-yes-options technique and say, “When would you like to schedule your pet’s exam? We can see you today at 2 p.m. or tomorrow at 10 a.m. Which better fits your schedule?”

  •  “I can’t quote prices for surgeries. You’ll have to leave a voicemail message for a technician, who will call you back.”

Besides demonstrating a lack of confidence in front-desk employees, your hospital will lose opportunities to acquire new clients if callers get this response.

Callers will contact the next hospital that can provide information now. To sustain a healthy, growing practice, a veterinary hospital needs 25 new clients per full-time-equivalent veterinarian each month. Client care coordinators should be trained on how to quote frequently shopped services, including exams, vaccines, spays and neuters.

  • “Do you have a pen? The exam would be $50. The distemper-Parvo vaccine will run you $15. Bordetella vaccine is $11.55. The rabies vaccine is $13.25. If you want to recheck the fecal because your puppy had hookworms, add $14.65.”

Instead of confusing a caller with itemized prices, state the total or a range. Use a quick-reference guide such as customized flash cards that provide questions to ask phone shoppers, scripts to describe services and lists of your prices.

  •  “The doctor decides on how many distemper shots he wants to give, depending on the age of the dog.”

Veterinarians should set protocols for the frequency of pediatric exams and core vaccines. Develop written standards of care and explain them during staff meetings where employees can ask questions.

Create guidelines for front-office staff that explain which services are delivered at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. Download the AAHA-AVMA Preventive Healthcare Guidelines.

  • “That would be something you would need to talk with a doctor about. I’m just a receptionist.”

This was the employee’s answer to the caller’s question about preventing intestinal parasites because the puppy had worms when adopted. The caller heard, “I don’t know anything and can’t help you.”

Have pharmaceutical representatives provide parasite training to employees twice a year so they can confidently explain products and how to protect patients. Say, “During your puppy’s first exam, you’ll receive a free dose of heartworm preventive that also protects him from intestinal parasites. Your puppy will continue to take monthly preventives for ongoing protection.”

  •  “I don’t know what to tell you about what veterinarians do for a spay. I’ve never seen one.”

This employee had never been invited to venture beyond the front desk. As part of new-employee orientation, have receptionists rotate through the lab, pharmacy, treatment area and surgical suite.

Letting non-medical personnel observe surgeries will give them confidence when describing services over the phone. An unsure receptionist should say, “That’s a great question. Let me find out the answer for you. Are you able to hold for a moment?”

  •  “We will hook your pet up to a pulse oximeter and electrocardiogram during surgery.”

Explain monitoring in easy-to-understand terms, avoiding medical jargon. Say, “We’ll monitor your pet’s heart rate, level of oxygen in the blood and body temperature during surgery.”

Veterinarians and managers should routinely listen to phone-shopper calls to gauge the level of service and accuracy of information that callers receive. Also provide ongoing training to enhance phone skills. An educated receptionist with a golden retriever personality will quickly grow your business. 

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