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.


*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.


  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.


*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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