Could a Bad Phone Call Cost Your Clinic $11,000?

Client Service Skills, Hospital Management, Revenue Growth

On a busy Saturday morning, a price shopper calls your veterinary clinic and asks, “How much are shots for a new puppy?” With three clients already holding, the frazzled receptionist says, “We’re really busy right now. Can I call you back in 10 minutes?” The price shopper responds, “No thanks, I’ll try another animal hospital.”

The caller phones a neighboring veterinary hospital with a friendly receptionist who answers questions and books the puppy’s first exam. Quick and welcoming service earned the second hospital nearly $11,000 in lifetime preventive care for the puppy—and the new client has three dogs.

A new client who visits today with an 8-week-old puppy and returns for preventive care over the dog’s 12-year lifespan will spend thousands with your practice. Based on average fees from the AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 10th edition, here is an overview of preventive care spending for one new canine patient: (*1)

Preventive care servicesAverage paid per visit# of times deliveredSubtotal
Adult, age 1 to 6$1256$750
Senior, age 7 and older$1866$1,116
Dental treatments$51610$5,160
Heartworm, flea/tick preventatives annual cost
 (Average of $25 per month)

The practice would receive additional income if the dog needed additional care for emergencies, a therapeutic diet, long-term drugs, ear infections, spay/neuter, illness or chronic conditions. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics, 37% of households own dogs while 30% own cats. (*2) Dog owners average 1.6 dogs while cat owners have 2.1. You can estimate the number of pet owning households and number of pets in your community with the AVMA’s pet ownership calculator.

This receptionist’s failure to welcome a new client may have resulted in lost medical care for multiple pets. Practice owners and managers need to invest in telephone training so receptionists can confidently respond to price shoppers, no matter how busy the day gets. Here’s how to handle shopper calls during peak call volume times:

1. Ask if the caller can hold.

Price shoppers often call before or after work, during lunch breaks and on Saturdays—so you will always be busy when potential new clients contact your hospital. Never offer to call the price shopper later. Even if you return the call within 10 minutes, she will call another clinic. Say, “Are you able to hold for a moment? We’d love to share information on what your new puppy will need.”

2. Cross-train your entire team.

If the front desk is flooded with a tsunami of calls, they need to reach out to managers, technicians and assistants who can pitch in for 5 to 10 minutes until the wave of calls passes.

Designate a staff member as a floater who can work at the front desk as well as assist in exam rooms. Because the floater is cross-trained, she can float between the areas of the hospital where demand is the greatest. For example, the floater might help manage calls when one receptionist takes her lunch break and then assist with evening surgical and dental discharges when patient pickup volume is high.

Cross-train receptionists, technicians and managers on how to convert phone shoppers into new clients and provide sample scripts and scenarios.

3. Install a wireless doorbell for front-desk staff to holler, “HELP!”

Animal Hospital of Richboro in Richboro, Penn., has a wireless doorbell at the front desk with a chime in the treatment area. When receptionists get a tsunami of calls, they ring the doorbell to alert technicians that they need an extra set of hands. Having an assistant or technician pitch in for five or 10 minutes lets clients experience prompt service and relives stress on the front-desk team. Buy wireless doorbells from hardware or home-improvement stores for $20 to $60.

To sustain a growing practice, a small animal hospital needs 25 new clients per full-time-equivalent veterinarian each month. (*3) A two-doctor practice should target 50 new clients per month or 600 annually. The practice manager should monitor new client numbers monthly to identify trends.

If your hospital is not achieving the benchmark of 25 new clients per doctor per month, you need to provide phone-shopper training and evaluate marketing programs. Track the source of new clients in your practice-management software so you know which marketing programs are delivering results. If most of your new clients are coming from Internet searches, invest more dollars in search engine optimization to get top Google rankings as well as positive online reviews.

When interested pet owners contact your hospital, you need well-trained employees who can respond with friendly attitudes and book more new client exams. Price shoppers are not checking prices—they are looking for long-term relationships. Shoppers are seeking a veterinarian who they can trust whether their pets need preventive care, are sick or require emergency care. Pet owners stay with a veterinary hospital an average of five years, according to the Well-Managed Practice Study from WTA Veterinary Consultants. (*4)

Look beyond one price shopper call. What will you do to welcome more new clients who will seek at least five years or perhaps a lifetime of care from your practice?


*1 – AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 10th edition, AAHA Press 2018:39,47,48,99.

*2 – U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics. Available at www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-pet-ownership.aspx. Accessed March 27, 2019.

*3 – Glassman, G. Q&A: When to add an associate to your team. Veterinary Economics: March 2010. Available at http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com/vetec/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=660456. Accessed March 27, 2019.

*4 – Tumblin, D. Client visitation and retention. Veterinary Economics: March 2006. Available at: http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com/client-visitation-and-retention. Accessed March 27, 2019.


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