Columns , Communication

Care repair

When client service falls short, remember the expression “Notice something, say something, do something.”

Care repair
Feelings of anger, frustration, impatience, sadness, nervousness and fear will almost always be evident in a person’s facial expressions and body language.

Something occasionally goes wrong at any business, but how employees respond to the situation can make the difference between losing and retaining a client. With planning and training, you can create a team that knows how to make things right when things go wrong.

A significant part of the planning involves establishing that you have a client-focused veterinary practice. This doesn’t mean following the motto “The client is always right.” Rather, it means reminding the team that one primary business goal is to always make sure the client feels cared about. Pet owners can be quite forgiving when mistakes are made if the veterinary team is compassionate and competent.

Even when service standards and protocols are in place, mistakes are inevitable. In these instances, team members need to know how to respond. Your team will be successful if it follows this three-step process: Notice something, say something, do something.

1. Pay Attention

One way to help teams respond effectively to service errors is to train employees to pay attention to clients and anticipate their needs. Observant teams better understand a pet owner’s preferences so that service can be tailored to exceed expectations. Moreover, team members are more likely to respond quickly when a service lapse occurs — and before dissatisfaction is verbalized — because they pick up on early cues that a client is unhappy.

To cater to the needs of different pet owners, think of what they value in the client service experience.

For example, one client might value efficiency over all other aspects of service. For this client, employees should keep the conversation short and focused. They should keep the client updated on wait times and always set realistic expectations.

Another pet owner might tend to be anxious and slow to decide. This client needs reassurances and might require that the value of a service be explained three times.

Alert team members learn to pay attention to a client’s non-verbal communication. Feelings of anger, frustration, impatience, sadness, nervousness and fear will almost always be evident in a person’s facial expressions and body language. Make sure to respond to these non-verbal signals so the client knows that the team cares. Asking questions to clarify the pet owner’s feelings or concerns might be necessary.

2. Choose Your Words Carefully

Knowing what to say and how to say it when something goes wrong is an invaluable skill that anyone can learn. Make sure employees understand the difference between an apology and an empathy statement.

Apologies should be offered if the hospital made a mistake. An example might be “I apologize that we neglected to send home Sophie’s blanket and treats with her.” On the other hand, an empathy statement conveys compassion and understanding without assigning fault. For example, you might say, “I don’t have Jake’s appointment on our schedule. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience and breakdown in communication.”

In many instances, an apology and an empathy statement are appropriately used together. An example would be if a doctor didn’t call a client as promised because she was called to an emergency. In this instance, a team member can say, “I’m so sorry Dr. Smith hasn’t called you back. The reason is that she is with an emergency — a patient was hit by a car.”

In addition, make sure team members know how to deliver the message. When conveying an apology or empathy statement, body language and sincerity are paramount. Making eye contact, leaning forward and displaying a caring expression convey genuine concern for the client’s feelings. Likewise, words matter. For example, “Sorry ’bout that” won’t convey the same concern as “I am so sorry you have been inconvenienced.”

3. Take Action

People are generally understanding when mistakes or poor service occur infrequently. This is especially true if they perceive that someone genuinely cares about their feelings and takes action when things go wrong.

Plan ahead so the team knows which actions to take when a client needs assistance. Hold brainstorming sessions with employees to go over things that might go wrong, such as long wait times, providing erroneous information, failing to prepare prescriptions on time, a schedule error and forgetting to add services to a treatment plan. Remember that mistakes happen even if protocols designed to minimize lapses are in place.

Next, train the team to react properly in different situations. Taking action to make things right is referred to as service recovery — the process of trying to return a customer to a state of satisfaction when a service hasn’t met expectations. The challenge can be in deciding which action is appropriate. The options should be routinely discussed with team members.

Here are reasonable actions a practice might agree to take:

  • If a prescription isn’t ready as promised for a client who is in a rush, consider having an employee drop off the prescription at the pet owner’s home at the end of the day.
  • If the team neglected to give a requested bath to a boarded animal, offer a complimentary bath right away or a free one at the next visit.
  • If a client was significantly inconvenienced because of an excessive wait time, offer a $25 credit on the account or provide a free product such as shampoo or treats.

A team member who takes action should signal it to the client with phrases such as, “Mrs. Jones, what I’ll do is …” or “I’m going to [insert action step] for you.”

In many instances, service recovery simply means conveying empathy and offering assurances. For example, if a client picking up a pet had to wait to talk to the doctor due to an emergency, an appropriate response might be: “I’m sorry for the delay. I know your time is valuable. Let me go see how long it will be before Dr. Smith can talk to you.”

Fortunately, a team trained to “Notice something, say something, do something” when things go wrong can build client loyalty and increase referrals. This is because of the service recovery paradox, which refers to a situation in which customers might think more highly of a business that acts to correct a problem than they would have if the problem never happened. The concept is that people form opinions based on whether they think a service provider cares and has gone above and beyond to help them.

Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a speaker, business consultant and second-generation veterinarian. She is the author of “101 Practice Management Questions Answered” and serves on the Today’s Veterinary Business editorial advisory board. Protection Status