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
You’ve undoubtedly heard the question, “Do you want it done fast or right?” You might respond, “Both!” Here’s another question: Would you rather have a client service representative (CSR) spend three minutes or six minutes quoting fees over the phone to a potential client? Given how busy your practice is, you’d prefer three minutes. But if I told you the six-minute call ended with an appointment because the pet owner was impressed with the team member’s friendliness and knowledge, you’d likely be OK with the extra three minutes. You value both efficiency and quality service.
I recently completed a mystery-shopper call in which one of the hospital CSRs scored remarkably high. The person engaged me, communicated the value of the veterinary services and knowledgeably answered my questions. And yes, the call was a few minutes longer than most of my anonymous inquiries, but it was also efficient. If I were an actual potential client, I would have wanted to take my beloved pet to the practice.
One of the most significant difficulties involving front office teams is when they don’t know how to be efficient and engaging with clients simultaneously. In part, this is because practice leaders don’t always fully appreciate the link between efficiency and providing the training that CSRs need to excel.
Consider your front office team. Most practice owners and managers say they want their CSRs to provide exceptional client care and book appointments. When this happens, visits go up, more pets get the care they deserve and the business makes more money. But the message that CSRs often hear is “Work faster” and “Get off the phone as quickly as possible,” which can cause stress and frustration. If you want an efficient CSR team that attracts and retains clients, look closely at your training program to see how well it achieves your desired outcomes.
Carve Out Time
The greatest challenge for most veterinary practices is not having an organized and comprehensive training system. Without one, managers arrange a training plan every time someone is hired, so new hires struggle to get up to speed. Trouble also arises if other team members don’t help with the training. For example, veterinary nurses and assistants might resist training CSRs about client education if the task isn’t one of their job duties. Another problem is not allocating time for training. The key is to have a structured program that schedules short, focused training periods.
A lack of consistency with your training is also a problem. Let’s say your CSRs hear that they can refill certain medications, but later they’re informed that they must get approval from a doctor. It’s difficult to learn, much less be efficient, if CSRs hear different instructions about hospital protocols from various co-workers. Additionally, efficiency is a challenge if the front office team has to learn and remember each doctor’s preferences.
Lastly, a significant pitfall is neglecting to train CSRs about client education. Efficiency goes up when CSRs know how to confidently answer pet owners’ questions, such as “Can I get more heartworm prevention?” or “What does it cost to get my dog’s teeth cleaned?”
Here are four essential elements of great CSR training.
1. Defined Orientation/Onboarding Protocols and Procedures
Start new hires off on the right foot by welcoming them to the practice and adhering to a detailed orientation process for at least the first week. Make sure you identify who will train new hires and when. The onboarding should last at least 90 days. During this introductory period, set clear expectations for both the trainers and the new CSRs. Try to include multiple team members in the training program. This promotes teamwork and avoids putting all the responsibility on only one or two people.
2. Separated Training Modules
If your practice is short on staff, throwing new hires into action as soon as possible and training them in multiple areas right away is tempting. This approach usually overwhelms people and causes poor retention of information. Instead, break training into phases scheduled at specific times so that new employees can focus on what they’re learning. Typical modules include:
- Learning the practice management software.
- Scheduling patients.
- Answering phones.
- Admitting and discharging patients.
- Engaging pet owners through good communication.
- Answering common questions.
3. Tools and Resources
Often, CSR training is too brief and too passive. New hires watch a co-worker and then assume the job duties without spending enough time to gain the requisite knowledge and skills. Instead, give team members weekly assignments to aid in the learning and build accountability. Consider:
- Handouts and written protocols that augment verbal instructions.
- Educational videos and webinars.
- Coaching sessions that pose questions and present case examples.
- A list of frequently-asked client questions and the answers.
4. Progress Tracking
Every training program should include assessments designed to ensure that team members gained the knowledge, skills and proficiency they need to excel. Checklists are an excellent way to monitor progress and document the completion of training modules. Moreover, team members can use checklists to track their use of specific communication skills and note any questions.
Trainers can set up short weekly meetings to discuss what went well during client conversations and focus on improvement opportunities. Quizzes are an easy way to track learning and competence. For example, multiple-choice questions and fill-in-the-blank or verbal quizzes help test knowledge of the client education topics that every CSR should know.
Training systems should include formal reviews as well. Schedule reviews of new hires for every week during the first month of training and then every two weeks starting in the second month. This is followed by a review at the end of the 90-day introductory period.
Not everyone is a good fit for a CSR position. How do you know when a team member doesn’t seem to get it? First, if a new hire isn’t making substantial progress during the 90-day introductory period, dismissal is usually best. Second, consider termination if someone exhibits behavior that violates the practice’s core values or isn’t consistent with exemplary service. You can train communication skills, but you can’t teach someone to care about clients and be of service.
CSR Recruitment Tips
Always conduct an initial phone interview with a CSR job candidate. This way, you will know immediately how the person sounds on the phone. Then, during a formal interview, ask these questions to assess the person’s fitness for the job and alignment with your practice’s core values:
- “Tell me about a time when you encountered an angry customer or client who took out their anger on you. What was the situation, and how did you respond?”
- “How would you demonstrate compassion to a client who has financial limitations?”
- “Describe a time when you didn’t have the answers or knowledge to respond to a customer or client request. What did you do?”