Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a speaker, business consultant and second-generation veterinarian. She combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. She is the author of “Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management.” Learn more at amandadonnellydvm.comRead Articles Written by Amanda Donnelly
Many veterinary practices are dealing with staff shortages, increased caseloads, more client demands and curbside care inefficiencies. This is why it’s imperative to streamline client communications while still focusing on building trust and rapport. Combining efficiency with client engagement is the key to enhanced loyalty and compliance.
Why Communications Are Inefficient
Let’s look at some of the reasons behind inefficient client communications. The first step is to determine what slows it at your hospital. Many of you will think of the increased call volume and respond, “The phone!” If you haven’t done so, be sure to implement digital solutions such as two-way texting to reduce the call volume. Because that alone won’t solve the problem, I encourage you to do a more in-depth assessment of the phone calls.
Inefficiencies also occur when a client service representative lacks the knowledge to properly educate a pet owner. These team members might not know how to answer preventive health care questions, for example, or how to respond to clients asking for medication refills. Or maybe they don’t know what to say about fees, dentistry procedures and your online pharmacy. Efficiency decreases when CSRs have to put calls on hold or call a client back while they find an answer.
Another problem occurs during appointments when team members don’t have the requisite knowledge and experience to educate pet owners or present a treatment plan. Exam room flow and curbside care are much more efficient when veterinarians can rely on the team to talk about topics such as vaccinations, parasite prevention, nutrition, supplements and discharge instructions. Moreover, client communications are more efficient when all team members can communicate the value of the practice’s services and products. If only one or two employees are trained on such matters, the doctors might have to take time to provide client education. Or clients might have to wait until a knowledgeable team member is available.
How to Improve Team Training
An easy way to fix inefficient client communications is team training. I bet you’re thinking, “How do I have time for training?” The two keys when you’re incredibly busy or short-staffed are to schedule short training sessions and focus on activities that deliver the highest gain. Start by determining your team’s knowledge gaps by having employees log questions that stumped them and for which they had to seek assistance. The logs should be updated daily. Alternatively, you could query team members at daily standing meetings, eliminating the need for a log.
After two weeks of tracking, managers should have a good idea about the training priorities. Let’s say you determine that the CSR team receives a high number of calls about sick pets and some employees don’t know whether the pet needs to be seen right away. The best approach is to give the team a few questions to ask pet owners. In addition, you can set up a series of weekly standing meetings facilitated by a member of the technical team. During these 10- to 15-minute meetings, the training should focus on what constitutes an emergency, the best questions to ask and a review of previous phone calls.
How to Engage Clients Efficiently
Given the time constraints of busy, overworked teams, the tendency is to cut client conversations short whenever possible. This plays out in several ways:
- CSRs rush phone calls.
- Team members skip the friendly small talk they might normally engage in.
- Teams become task-oriented rather than concentrating on making client connections.
- Doctors avoid asking too many questions and instead focus on telling a pet owner what they think the client needs to know.
While building trust and rapport takes time, the failure to do it can leave clients feeling neglected. They might falsely conclude that your team members lack compassion. The result is that client communications can take longer. Someone might have to take the time to calm an angry pet owner or call a client whose questions went unanswered.
Also, be strategic. This means using specific communications that help teams connect with a pet owner but don’t substantially lengthen the conversation when the practice is extremely busy. Bear in mind that to build trust and connect on a deeper level, teams need to ask open-ended questions and, when appropriate, communicate the value of the services. The idea isn’t to abandon the communications but rather to leverage the team’s ability to make the most of the limited time with clients.
Here are three easy, quick ways to connect with pet owners.
- Greet pet owners in a way that conveys you’re happy to see or hear them. The first way to do this is to slightly raise the pitch of your voice. When the pitch goes up, the greeting sounds more energetic and welcoming. A monotone voice can convey disinterest. Second, use the eyebrow flash, which means raising your eyebrows when you say hello. This naturally causes most people to increase the pitch of their voice and open their eyes, which conveys interest. Also, refer to my last article, “Words Matter” (bit.ly/3oUGYdI), in which I outlined specific phrases that are welcoming and tailored to the client.
- You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That doesn’t work with pet owner communications if you want to build rapport. For our purposes, a better mantra is, “Say something nice to every pet owner and make sure it’s genuine.” When someone says something nice and we sense they mean it, the comment is more memorable. Don’t forget that for comments to be meaningful during in-person interactions, you must make eye contact. Here are examples:
- “Oh, my gosh, I’ve never seen a Papillon before. She’s gorgeous.”
- “Thank you for telling me that. I can see how much you love Ginger.”
- “You are such a great pet parent. We’re so happy we get to provide the best care for Chloe.”
- Keep clients informed. Updating pet owners about wait times, an animal’s status or when to expect a call from the doctor usually takes a few minutes or less. Using text messages is one of the best ways to streamline such communications. Another is to create a protocol to call clients before they’re likely to call the hospital. If team members call soon after a surgery or procedure, the volume of calls from clients wanting to know about a pet is reduced.
Identifying inefficiencies with client communications and implementing training solutions have a greater likelihood of enhancing client retention and compliance. Moreover, those actions will help more pets get the care they deserve.
A great way to increase efficiency is to designate an experienced team member each day to support the team of client service representatives. This way, they have a go-to person for questions.