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Columns, Leadership

From manager to momager

How becoming a mother changed my perspective on clients, co-workers and protocol.

From manager to momager
Finding out that the “doctor is running behind schedule” can wreak havoc with a client’s plans.

In our DINK (dual income, no kids) years, my husband’s and my parenting efforts were channeled solely on our dog, Marlie, an 11-year-old, gentle, playful chocolate Labrador. We took her on vacation, to the beach, on the boat and out for drinks. We invested in training, Tempur-Pedic bedding and annual preventive dentals.

After we had children, so much of that effort fell off. Our time, money and attention were reallocated to raising well-adjusted, contributing members of society, and our beloved fur baby fell in priority.

Many clients are experiencing similar household transitions, and it is critical for veterinary professionals to recognize this. What are we doing to accommodate these young families? How can we help them successfully meet their pet’s wellness and medical needs?

Take time to audit your patient care and hospital practices. From a client’s perspective, what systems and protocols are creating barriers to compliance? What could you do to ease the burden?

As a working mom of 1- and 3-year-olds, I have these requests.

1. Let Me Stay in the Car

I am much more likely to run an errand in a timely fashion if the place of business offers the convenience of drive-through services, allowing me to avoid schlepping heavy, sleepy or rowdy children in and out of the car. Groceries, pharmacy, coffee, dry cleaning — I prefer convenience over cost every time. Short of building a drive-through window, consider offering curbside options for veterinary clients simply purchasing medication or dropping off or picking up pets for boarding, grooming and technician appointments.

2. Let Me Pick My Appointment

Like most families, mine is perpetually on the go. Finding a gap in a schedule filled with work, naps, school, sports, pediatrician appointments and mommy-and-me classes to do things like take our pet to the veterinarian requires serious logistics. Ask clients a few open-ended questions and understand their most desired time slot before you pigeonhole them into the first available opening. For me, the difference in convenience between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. can be like night and day. Additionally, consider promoting forward-booking wellness exams to help busy clients prioritize routine visits. Many moms do this for pediatrician, dentist, OB-GYN and hairdresser appointments. Let’s add veterinarian to the list.

3. Value My Time

After I have master-crafted an appointment slot, finding out that what I thought would require 30 to 45 minutes of my time will actually take twice as long because the “doctor is running behind schedule” can wreak havoc on my day’s plan. Of course, valid scenarios occur that cause appointment schedules to run behind in our hospitals. But when that happens, the response should be, “All hands on deck.” Get creative about catching up and keeping client convenience in mind. What can the patient care team get started while the client waits for the doctor or an exam room? Would the client like to drop off the pet and run an errand while waiting? Should the next couple of appointments be asked if they want to arrive 10 minutes late or reschedule? Most importantly, apologetically communicate the delay to waiting clients so they can adjust their schedules accordingly.

4. Let Me Contact You After Hours

When I am up with the baby at 2 a.m., scrolling on my phone while I wait for her to fall back asleep, I do my best thinking. If it dawns on me that my pet is past due for an appointment or prescription refill, give me a way to take care of it while the need is fresh on my mind. Online scheduling and portals are great, but even emailing or texting would be sufficient. Likewise, ask me how I would like to be contacted for a follow-up. I am much more accessible via text or email, and I would bet many of your clients are the same.

5. Minimize My Homework

I feel relatively successful when the day is done and our family has managed to twice feed Marlie, keep her water bowl filled and not hear from the neighbors that she slipped out unnoticed and is at their house again. Unlike human medicine, our industry has managed to retain our laboratories, pharmacies and even retail space that can provide one-stop care for our clients. Let’s hold on to that and take things a step further by remembering to offer convenience services, such as long-term, hospital-administered drugs to prevent having to medicate at home and combining fragmented wellness reminders to prevent errant vaccine booster visits. Leverage support staff to handle paperwork like insurance claims, microchip registrations, travel documentation and coupon redemptions.

6. Give Me Clear Instructions

Too many times I have left one of my children’s many specialist appointments and tried to unpack the verbal barrage of information oddly presented in some wandering metaphor sprinkled with sarcasm and medical jargon I don’t fully understand. During this time I am trying to wrangle my toddler and answer his thousandth “Why?” of the morning. Let’s be better communicators at veterinary visits. Speak in bullet points. The client should walk away with marching orders: a basic understanding of what was done, what happens next, a specific timeline for completion and their role in the process.

7. Don’t Condemn Me

Mom guilt is real and ever-present. Don’t add to it. Even if you had the best intentions, the clear instructions you gave at the last appointment will not always be followed. When clients sheepishly call to schedule an overdue wellness visit, giggle nervously when their dog weighs in at an extra 20 pounds or say they are considering rehoming the cat because they are at their wits’ end due to inappropriate urination, embrace them. Thank them for contacting you. Congratulate them on choosing to take the moment to prioritize veterinary care. Show clients that you care, you understand and you are willing to help in whatever way you can.

Adjusting to the needs of families with children doesn’t end with the paying customer. In the next issue, I will offer tips for how your practice can successfully employ moms and dads of little ones.

Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is practice manager at Daniel Island Animal Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina.