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Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone frenzy? 7 ways to cut call volume

Call volumes have more than doubled at practices nationwide, according to GeniusVet survey data (1). Front-desk teams are struggling to answer the onslaught of calls to schedule the three-month backlog of checkups and elective procedures, refill medications, and curbside arrivals. Clients’ phone experiences have rapidly deteriorated, with calls frequently rolling into voicemail when employees can’t keep up.    

You need to fix phone experiences now or risk losing client relationships and revenue. Here are strategies to stop the phone frenzy: 

1. Have clients text (not call) when they arrive for curbside appointments.  

Signs instruct clients to call your hospital upon arrival for curbside care, resulting in more call volume. Switch out the “Call us when you arrive” sign for “Curbside appointment? Text this: ARRIVED, your name, your pet’s name, parking spot #.” Reply to confirm the arrival and explain you’ll text again when your nursing team is ready to go to the client’s car. 

2. Reduce prescription refill calls.    

You get 50 or more calls a day for prescription refills. Why do clients wait until the last pill is gone before calling for refills? Because you don’t remind them! Turn on refill reminders in your practice-management software for every drug that clients will need to repurchase, from preventatives to allergy medications.   

Text this: “Max needs a refill of <brand> for flea and tick protection. Click here to refill in our online store with home delivery OR reply Y to refill and get curbside pickup at our hospital.” 

The nurse who fills the medication will send a text to the client when it’s ready: “Max’s medication has been refilled and is ready for pick up. Please park in our curbside pickup spot and text us when you arrive. We’re open until 6 p.m. today.” 

3. Designate a parking spot for pick up. 

Just as restaurants have reserved parking for to-go orders, do the same for clients picking up medication and food. Post a sign instructing clients to text you upon arrival for contactless pick up. Clients can push their trunk release buttons for your staff to load items. Have a local sign company print your curbside parking signs. To design your sign, use free websites such as www.canva.com.   

4. Get text- or email-to-pay solutions. 

Don’t take credit card numbers over the phone and get slammed with the extra 2 percent merchant fee for manually entered credit cards. Ask your practice-management software or third-party providers about text- or email-to-pay options. Also check with your local business bank about mobile payment devices.  

A Weave survey found 30 percent of small business customers would “frequently or always” pay with a text from their phone if they could (2). Among buyers under age 35, customer preferences doubled to 62 percent.   

5. Offer online and app scheduling.  

The average veterinarian sees 30 patients daily. That’s 30 scheduling calls at eight minutes each, totaling four hours of talk time. Update text and email reminders with links to online scheduling or prompt clients to download your clinic app.  

Many hospitals are scheduling appointments two to six weeks out. To end the backlog chaos, send reminders six to eight weeks in advance and use forward booking. Text this: “<Pet name> will be due for a checkup Feb. 15. We are experiencing increased appointment requests. Book now to ensure your first choice of time, day, and doctor. Click here to book online or download our app.”  

Email reminders need powerful subject lines that motivate clients to forward book. Use the pet’s name and a benefit statement. Here’s a strong subject line:<Pet name> needs a checkup soon | Book now for best availability.” The body of your email would explain: “Because many pets became overdue when COVID safety guidelines limited us to urgent care and emergencies, we are experiencing increased appointment requests. <Pet name> will be due on Feb. 15. To ensure your first choice of doctor, time, and date, we need to forward book your pet’s appointment now. Click here to book online or download our app.”  

6. Update your voicemail greeting to set expectations. 

A generic voicemail greeting may be leaving clients confused and even angry. Clients think, “Why aren’t they answering phones during business hours? My pet is sick, and I need to talk to someone NOW!” 

To stop the disappointment, update your recorded greeting. Tell callers what specific information they need to leave in their messages and when to expect returned calls. Record this: “You’ve reached the voicemail of <Hospital Name>. Our client care team is helping other clients and is unable to take your call. Instead of putting you on hold and taking up your valuable time, please leave your name, pet’s name, phone number, and how we can help you. You also may text us at 555-555-5555. We will return your call or text within 15 minutes.”  

Giving callers two options of leaving a message or sending a text will have them feel in control and confident that they’ll promptly hear back from your team. Front-desk employees should watch for the flashing red voicemail light like it’s a siren. When you provide timely answers, clients will reward your practice with loyalty and positive interactions. 

7. Add direct-dial lines to reduce phone traffic on your main number. 

Set up direct lines for pharmacy, ask-a-nurse, boarding, and grooming. Have voicemail on each direct-dial line in case an employee isn’t immediately available to answer. You’ll spend $30 to $50 per month for an additional phone line but save time for clients and your front-desk team. 

Here is a sample voicemail greeting for your pharmacy direct-dial line: “You’ve reached <Your Veterinary Hospital>’s pharmacy line. Please leave your name, your pet’s name, the prescription you need refilled, dosage, and phone number. Leave your cell number and let us know if you prefer a text response. We will review messages at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Thank you!”  

Talk with your client care team about strategies that will save their sanity while improving client experiences. Embrace technology tools that will become long-term solutions. Hurry, the phone is ringing! 

References: 

  1. GeniusVets to Host “Defeating the Phone Frenzy” Webinar to Help Practices Improve Communication During COVID. PRWeb. Available at: https://www.prweb.com/releases/geniusvets_to_host_defeating_the_phone_frenzy_webinar_to_help_practices_improve_communication_during_covid/prweb17351746.htm. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
  2. A New Payment Solution Is Taking Over: 30% of Customers Prefer Paying With Phone Texts. Weave. Available at: https://www.getweave.com/a-new-payment-solution-is-taking-over-30-of-customers-prefer-paying-with-phone-texts/. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.

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Are you Grumpy or a Golden Retriever Over the Phone?

Are you Grumpy or a Golden Retriever Over the Phone?

Your receptionist is the first impression that callers have of your veterinary hospital,

whether they are returning clients or price shoppers who are about to become new clients. If Grumpy Gloria answers calls with negative or rushed tones, she could create negative impressions with pet owners who plan to spend hundreds with your hospital. Did you know that 42 percent of customers would switch businesses because of an unhelpful or rude employee? (*1)

Here are three phone skills for your reception team:

1. Project a Golden Retriever personality.

Golden Retrievers are one of America’s favorite breeds. Their smiling faces, loyalty, and eager-to-please social skills turn strangers into instant best friends.

While callers need to hear that you love your job of helping pets, remember that half of what you care for is on the other end of the leash—people. Pets can only get needed medical care if you effectively communicate with their owners. Answer every call with a warm, inviting greeting. Say, “Welcome to <Your Veterinary Hospital>. This is <name>. How may I help your pet today?”

Sharing your name lets callers know who is helping them. Develop personal relationships with clients so they will have the same trust and confidence in receptionists as they do in the medical team. Asking how you can help is an invitation for service.

A perfect telephone greeting is a combination of the right words and an upbeat attitude. Smile before you answer the phone and speak at an easy-to-understand pace rather than a hurried greeting. Even though you say the greeting hundreds of times each day, you create first impressions with callers every time you answer the phone.

One of the best ways to assess your personality over the phone is to record calls. Listen to multiple calls to see if you were friendly, a good listener, efficiently answered callers’ questions and turned 70 percent or more of inquires into booked appointments. You want callers to have a five-star telephone experience, whether they called on a busy Saturday morning or a calm Wednesday afternoon.

2. Personalize the call experience with caller and pet names.

Ask for names at the beginning of the call and then repeat them throughout the conversation. This allows you to establish rapport with callers and communicates that you’re listening. When a price shopper asks, “How much are shots for a new puppy?” respond with “I would love to share that information. May I ask your name and your new baby’s name?” Once the caller shares names, show you’re listening by saying, “Thank you, Bonnie. Let me ask you some questions about Marley so I can give you the information you’ll need.”

To assess the patient’s needs, ask questions such as:

  • How old is <pet name>?
  • Where did you adopt <pet name>? (shelter, breeder, stray, etc.)
  • Which vaccines has <pet name> received?
  • Has <pet name> had an intestinal parasite test to check for worms?
  • Which flea/tick and heartworm preventatives are you using?
  • Has <pet name> been spayed/neutered?

The price shopper’s answers will let you efficiently and confidently communicate your hospital’s protocols based on the pet’s life stage.

3. Set expectations during scheduling calls.

If the caller is a returning client, ask questions during the scheduling call to determine needs and select the right appointment length.

Let’s say a caller explains, “I just got my dog’s reminder postcard and need to make an appointment.” Respond with, “Thank you for calling to schedule your dog’s preventive exam. May I ask your name and your dog’s name?” Saying “thank you” shows appreciation for the caller’s loyalty to your hospital. Asking for names let’s you locate the correct medical record in your practice-management software. Scan the electronic record to confirm which services and products are due. This technique sets expectations and increases compliance. For example, you might say, “Max is due for his exam, vaccines, intestinal parasite screen, heartworm/tick screen, and refills on flea/tick and heartworm preventatives. Does Max have any health or behavior concerns you want to discuss with the doctor?”

Summarizing the services and products due will set expectations for care that will be delivered during the visit. Asking about other health concerns may have the caller share a sick-pet problem, which could change the length of the visit from a 20-minute checkup to a 30-minute sick-pet exam. If the caller shares that her senior dog has been having trouble with stairs and limps occasionally, schedule a 30-minute exam to allow time for x-rays, a diagnosis, and a conversation with the client about treatment choices. This technique lets you efficiently plan exam time, ensuring the doctor and technician won’t run over and cause a domino of late appointments the rest of the day.

Provide training for your front-desk team so scripts and techniques become second nature. You want employees to be confident communicators so you can deliver the medical care that every pet needs.

Reference:

*1 – Why lousy customer service costs millions every year. Retail Career Hub. Available at: www.retailcareerhub.com/blog/entry/why-lousy-customer-service-costs-millions-every-year. Accessed March 27, 2019.

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How to Efficiently Manage Scheduling Calls

How to Efficiently Manage Scheduling Calls

How to Efficiently Manage Scheduling Calls

An analysis of 1,000 calls to physicians and hospitals to schedule appointments revealed the average time to complete a scheduling call was 8 minutes. (*1) This call time exceeds the cross-industry best practice of 3.7 minutes. A third of call duration was unproductive time, with callers waiting on hold or transferring between employees. Without improvements in the scheduling process, physicians could expect the patient experience to deteriorate, driving people to seek treatment elsewhere.

Could pet owners experience the same service when calling your veterinary clinic to book appointments? Whether you get a tsunami of calls or have a chatty client on the phone, you must lead the pace of calls. Otherwise, you’ll spend 12 minutes scheduling an exam that should take 3 to 5 minutes.

To demonstrate how to manage scheduling calls, let’s look at a phone conversation to book a pet’s preventive checkup. Follow the tips to learn how you would lead the call for efficiency and provide five-star service.

Pet owner: “I need to schedule an appointment for my dog.”

Tip: Determine how quickly the patient needs to be seen. Strive to book preventive checkups within one week. If the pet is sick, schedule an exam today. If the caller doesn’t indicate the reason for the appointment, ask, “What will we be seeing <pet name> for?”

Receptionist: “What will we be seeing your dog for?”

Pet owner: “I received his reminder for a preventive checkup.”

Receptionist: “I’d be happy to schedule your dog’s checkup. May I ask your name and your dog’s name so I can access his medical record?”

 

Tip: Ask for caller and pet names at the beginning of the conversation so you can locate the patient’s record in your practice-management software. For example, my last name is Myers, and your hospital likely has multiple clients with my same last name. My dog’s name is Max, which is one of the most popular dog names. Locate the right record to see which services and products are due. Previewing services will set expectations for the client and let you choose the correct appointment length. Use caller and pet names about three times during the scheduling process to build rapport and show that you value the client’s loyalty.

 

Pet owner: “My name is Michelle Johnson, and my dog’s name is Scout.”

 

Receptionist: “Thanks, Michelle. I see that Scout is due for his exam, vaccines, diagnostic testing and refills on preventatives. Does Scout have any health or behavior concerns that you want to discuss with the doctor?”

 

Tip: To personalize the phone experience, the receptionist immediately repeated the caller’s and dog’s names. She gave a brief overview of services and products due to set expectations. If a patient is due for 10 services, don’t overwhelm the caller with too much information. Summarize four categories: Exam, vaccines, diagnostic testing and preventatives. The veterinarian and technician can explain the 10 services during the exam.

 

When scheduling checkups, ask callers, “Does <pet name> have any health or behavior concerns that you want to discuss with the doctor?” Her answer may require a longer appointment time. When the caller explains that her 10-year-old dog seems stiff and doesn’t enjoy walks, schedule a 30-minute exam for an arthritis workup instead of a 20-minute preventive checkup.

 

Pet owner: “No, he seems to be doing great.”

 

Receptionist: “That’s good news. Let’s schedule Scout’s exam this week. Is there a doctor you prefer?”

 

Tip: When a client requests a specific doctor, offer the next two available exams with that veterinarian. If the caller doesn’t have a preference, offer two exam choices with the doctor who is available first or with a new associate veterinarian who is building client relationships. To communicate your confidence in the new doctor, tell the caller, “Let’s schedule you with Dr. <Name>, who recently joined our team. He has a special interest in senior care and would love to see <pet name>.”

Pet owner: “Yes, I’d like to see Dr. <Name>.”

 

Receptionist: “Perfect. Let’s look at <his/her> schedule. Which day of the week do you prefer?”

 

Tip: Identify the desired day of the week. If the caller requests Thursday, search available exams on the next two Thursdays.

 

Pet owner: “Thursdays work best.”

 

Receptionist: “Would you prefer morning, afternoon or evening on Thursday?”

 

Tip: Identify a window rather than a specific exam time. If the caller requests 2 p.m., reply with “Let’s see what we have available in the afternoon.”

Pet owner: “Afternoon.”

 

Receptionist: “We could see Scout at 3 or 4 p.m. on Thursday. Which time works for you?”

 

Tip: Use the two-yes-options technique to guide the caller to exam times that will work well for your schedule’s flow. Aim for the scheduling pattern of preventive care/sick/preventive care. Whenever possible, sandwich a sick-patient exam between two checkups. Preventive care exams are more predictable and likely to stay on time. If you have the scheduling pattern of sick/sick/sick, appointments may run late the remainder of the day.

 

Pet owner: “3 p.m.”

 

Receptionist: “Dr. <Name> will see Scout next Thursday at 3 p.m. for a preventive checkup. We will confirm your appointment two days before and remind you to bring a teaspoon-sized stool sample for Scout’s intestinal parasite screen. Thanks for calling and have a great day!”

 

Tip: Restate the time, date and doctor at the end of the call. Increase compliance for intestinal parasite testing by reminding clients to bring stool samples twice: 1) During the scheduling call and 2) During the appointment confirmation call. Let the client know when you’ll confirm the appointment as a courtesy reminder. Say thank you to show your appreciation.

 

Quick-Reference Steps to Efficiently Scheduling Exams

  1. Determine the reason for the exam.
  2. Ask caller and pet names at the beginning of the call to locate the patient record in your software.
  3. Give a brief overview of services and products due to set expectations for the visit.
  4. Ask whether the pet has health or behavior concerns.
  5. Choose the right appointment length.
  6. Ask about doctor preference.
  7. Identify the day of the week.
  8. Identify the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening).
  9. Use the two-yes-options technique to guide the caller to times that will work well for schedule flow.
  10. Aim for the scheduling pattern of preventive care/sick/preventive care.
  11. Summarize appointment details at the end of the call (time, date, doctor and stool sample request).
  12. Let the client know when you will confirm the appointment as a courtesy reminder.

Reference:

  1. Insight Driven Health: Why First Impressions Matter, Accenture. Published May 2013. Available at: www.accenture.com/us-en/~/media/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Industries_11/Accenture-Why-First-Impressions-Matter-Healthcare-Providers-Scheduling.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2019.

 

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Be Speedy When Answering Incoming Calls

Be Speedy When Answering Incoming Calls

Be Speedy When Answering Incoming Calls

When I called a veterinary clinic at 10:30 a.m. Saturday as a mystery shopper, the phone rang 17 times. A frazzled receptionist answered, “Vet Clinic. Please hold,” followed by the click of being thrown into Hold Hell for 8 minutes. On Monday, I called the practice manager to discuss the service experience—and potential consequences to the business. What if an existing client had called with a sick pet and hung up after the fourth ring? The pet owner might transfer records to another clinic that was eager to help her sick pet. What if a price shopper called about a new puppy and hung up when no one promptly answered? The hospital would miss income from 8-, 12- and 16-week visits, along with the possibility of a lifetime of care.

If you’re slow to answer calls, pet owners might assume that your veterinary hospital is closed or too busy to care. The standard in the service industry ranges from answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds to 90 percent of calls answered with 10 seconds. (*1) A busy signal or more than eight rings is considered a call failure. (*2)

Follow a standard of service to answer calls within three rings. Answering on the first ring is five-star service. You don’t want to disappoint existing clients or lose potential new clients who are calling your hospital. A Communication Solutions for Veterinarians’ phone analysis of 3,000 calls to U.S. and Canadian veterinary clinics found most calls were answered by the second ring. (*3)

Another reason to answer with speed: You may get calls from pet owners who are experiencing medical emergencies with their pets—and seconds could help save lives. In the veterinary profession, we dually operate in the healthcare and service industries. How could you achieve this goal of answering calls within three rings?

Cross-train your entire team in phone skills.

If receptionists are flooded with a tsunami of calls, they need to reach out to managers, technicians and assistants who could pitch in for 5 to 10 minutes until the wave of calls passes. Every employee should be able to assist callers with scheduling exams and quoting prices. Everyone is responsible for the service experience at your veterinary clinic—not just receptionists. When employees support one another, you’ll satisfy clients while creating teamwork and respect among the team.

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 overwhelmed with calls, they ring the doorbell to alert technicians that they need an extra set of hands. Having an assistant briefly pitch in lets callers experience speedy service and relieves stress on the front-desk team. Buy wireless doorbells from hardware or home-improvement stores for $20 to $60.

Use headsets.

Because receptionists answer hundreds of calls each day, headsets can reduce unnecessary back and neck pain and fatigue caused by cradling phones on shoulders. The American Physical Therapy Association, doctors, chiropractors and physiotherapists recommend using headsets. Studies show that using a headset instead of holding the phone can improve productivity up to 43 percent. (*4)

Headsets let receptionists use computers efficiently to schedule appointments. Let’s say wearing a headset saves 1 minute per scheduling call and a receptionist schedules 15 exams today. If you save 15 minutes in productivity, the additional time could be spent on overdue reminder calls that generate even more exams. While wearing a headset and talking with a client, the receptionist could walk to the pharmacy to confirm that the pet owner’s prescription refill is ready while also eliminating the client’s hold time.

Wearing a headset enables the microphone to stay in the same position as receptionists move their heads and speak, so voices stay consistent to callers. Noise-cancelling technology in microphones can remove up to 75% of background noise, filtering out sounds of barking dogs and other ringing phones. (*4) Ask your phone equipment vendor about headsets that are compatible with your system or visit specialty websites such as www.headsets.com and www.hellodirect.com. Look for headsets with multi-line function, long battery life, length of range and comfort.

Record telephone calls.

Business management guru W. Edwards Deming said, “You can expect what you inspect.” Few veterinarians know what callers experience when contacting their hospitals. No matter how much time and money you spend on marketing your clinic, the moment of truth is when your receptionists answer calls—and welcome or turn away potential clients.

One of the best ways to assess your service over the phone is to record calls. Listen to multiple calls to see if receptionists were friendly, good listeners, efficiently answered questions and turned 70% or more of inquires into booked appointments. When you record calls, you can share praise or coach when improvements are needed.

You want callers to have five-star telephone experiences, whether they called on a busy Saturday morning or a calm Wednesday afternoon. The next time your phone rings, answer with Greyhound speed and a Golden Retriever smile.

References:

*1 – Call Center Helper Forum. Acceptable wait time? Available at: www.callcentrehelper.com/forum/topic/accepatable-waiting-time. Accessed March 27, 2019.

*2 – Arnould EJ. White paper on “Retail Telephony: Dynamics and Costs of Inbound Call Failure,” Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, University of Arizona, August 2006. Available at: https://www.fujitsu.com/ca/en/Images/inbound-retail-telephony_whitepaper.pdf.

*3 – Data on file. Communication Solutions for Veterinarians Inc. Accessed March 27, 2019.

*4 – Benefits of Headsets. Available at: www.headsets.com/headsets/guide/right1.html. Accessed March 27, 2019.

 

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