Tell, Don’t Ask to Fix Compliance Blunders

Tell, Don’t Ask to Fix Compliance Blunders

Wishy-washy conversations may cause clients to dismiss necessary follow-up care and to refill medications, putting patient care and practice revenue at risk. Pet owners expect clear, specific guidance from your veterinary team. Here are common compliance blunders and how to correct them:


Compliance blunder: “Do you need any refills today?”

Veterinarians sell 62 percent of pet medications, reports the market research firm Packaged Facts. Eight out of 10 clients trust what their veterinarians say about pet drugs. (*1) Compliance starts at check-in. Receptionists should view drug-purchase history when clients visit for appointments, boarding or to pick up food and medications. The AAHA compliance study found only 55 percent of dogs get year-round heartworm preventatives. Only 30 percent of practices send reminders to refill chronic medications. (*2)


How to fix:

Tell, don’t ask. See when preventatives were last purchased and how many doses were sold. Some clients also may share medication between pets. If only a few doses remain, prompt the client to refill the prescription now. If the client visited five months ago and bought a six pack of heartworm prevention, one dose is left. Tell the pet owner, “I see that Max has one dose left of his heartworm preventatives. Let me tell you about our rebates so you may save the most.”

Check all pets in the family to see which need refills for preventatives and chronic drugs. The average American family has two pets (1.6 dogs and 2.1 cats), according to the American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. (*3) I may be visiting for my cat Alex’s checkup, but my second cat, Caymus, needs his medication for cardiomyopathy refilled. My veterinarian is 15 minutes from my home, which turns into 30 to 45 minutes each way during rush-hour traffic. Ensure timely refills, help me avoid road rage and improve your refill compliance.

If your hospital has an online store, guide clients to set up accounts and auto refills during today’s visit. Tell the pet owner, “You can pick up future refills at our hospital, or I can help you set up auto refills through our online store now. Your pet’s preventatives will be automatically shipped each month until the next heartworm test is due. Do you prefer to get medication now or have it delivered to you with free shipping?”


Compliance blunder: “Do you want to schedule a recheck?”

Medical progress and pediatric exams have specific follow-up timelines. Clients may perceive a “recheck” as free and optional. About 75 percent of practices “always” or “most of the time” forward book patients’ progress exams, according to a Veterinary Hospital Managers Association survey. (*4)


How to fix:

Lead the client to book now because the appointment reminder will print on today’s receipt. Your busy hospital also may be booking exams one to two weeks in advance. If the client doesn’t book now, an appointment may not be available when follow-up care is due. Use the term “medical progress exam” to stress the urgency and importance of follow-up care. Tell the pet owner, “Dr. Patten needs to see Max for a progress exam for his skin infection in two weeks. Let’s book the appointment now so you get your first choice of time and day. Two weeks from today would be Thursday, Nov. 15. Does this same time, 9 a.m., work for you?” If the client is here at 9 a.m. on a Thursday, she may be able to return at a similar time and weekday. Book the appointment with the same veterinarian, ensuring continuity of care and efficient use of exam time.

Because you follow specific timing of vaccines, diagnostics and deworming for pediatric patients, book the next puppy or kitten exam today. Tell the pet owner, “Dr. Jeff needs to see your kitten again in three weeks, which would be Nov. 15. Does this same time, 1 p.m., work for you?”

Every practice has a mind-erase hallway that connects exam rooms to the front desk. Clients may forget to schedule follow-up care on the way to the checkout counter. To bridge this gap, choose from three strategies:

  1. If you have computers in exam rooms, the technician or veterinarian should book the next exam now. Nervous about a doctor using the appointment scheduler? Train to trust!
  2. Use a travel sheet or alert in your practice-management software. Hospitals with paper or paper-light records could use laminated travel sheets to note charges, reminders and follow-up care to be entered.
  3. Walk the client to the checkout desk for a verbal handoff. The technician or veterinarian would tell the receptionist, “<Client name> needs to schedule a progress exam for an ear infection for <pet name> on <date>.”

Create Level 1 and Level 2 progress exams,

depending on the amount of exam time needed for follow-up care. Level 1 progress exams would be 10-minute appointments for conditions such as ear infections, while Level 2 progress exams are more complex cases such as diabetes and would be 20 minutes. When scheduling follow-up exams, strive for same day, same time and same doctor.


Compliance blunder: “Do you want to book the dental procedure that the doctor recommended?”

The patient’s dental disease will get worse, and the price of treatment will significantly increase over time. Replace the wiggle word of “recommend” with the action word of “need.”


How to fix:

Schedule the procedure on the day of diagnosis. To guide the pet owner to book now, offer the doctor’s next two surgical/dental days. Schedule the procedure with the same veterinarian who diagnosed the condition because he will be familiar with the case and enjoy production pay. Booking with the same doctor also increases clients’ confidence.

If the client will check out at the front desk, the receptionist should schedule the procedure first, and then collect payment for today’s services. Lead the client with the two-yes-options technique. Tell the pet owner, “Dr. Lavallee diagnosed Caymus with Grade 1 dental disease. Let’s schedule his procedure first, and then I will get you checked out for today’s services. We can perform the dental treatment next Monday or Wednesday. Which fits your schedule?” Provide fasting instructions and let the client know you will call, email or text to confirm one day before the procedure. An appointment reminder for the procedure will print on today’s receipt.


When you confidently explain needed follow-up care and refills, you will guide clients’ decisions. The result is healthier patients and practice revenue. Get more training in my online CE class on “Are Your Wiggle Words Killing Compliance?” Enroll at here.


*1 –  Niedziela, K. Veterinarians Sell 62% of Pet Drugs. Today’s Veterinary Business. Published September 2017. Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/veterinarians-sell-62-pet-drugs/.

*2 – Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level. American Animal Hospital Association, 2009, pp. 11, 19.

*3 – 2012 American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-pet-ownership.aspx.

*4 – DVM360.com staff. VHMA Files: Forward Thinking, How to Use Forward Booking for Your Practice. Published Jan. 22, 2015. Accessed Sept. 17, 20158 at http://veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/vhma-files-forward-thinking.

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Stop Clients’ Bad Habits of Emergency Refills

Stop Clients’ Bad Habits of Emergency Refills

The habit is predictable. Every day, multiple clients call your veterinary clinic within minutes of closing time to request prescription refills. “My dog took his last pill this morning, and I need a refill today. I’m on the way to your hospital now. Could you wait for me?” pleads the pet owner.

You both want the dog to get timely medication, but why did the client wait until the last dose was gone before contacting you? To avoid the stress of urgent refills, take a preventive approach with these strategies:

Alert clients when refills are coming due.

My cat, Caymus, takes benazepril daily. I refill his medication every three months. When you dispense his next prescription, create a refill reminder for 11 weeks, when one week of doses would remain. Alerts could be phone calls, emails, texts or app messages. Send alerts through your practice-management software or third-party providers.

At Blue Sky Animal Clinic in Loveland, Colo., Practice Manager Chrystal Bell wanted to be able to call and text from the same phone number her clients knew. Zipwhip lets you use your existing business phone number to send and receive texts. Now clients text refill requests to Blue Sky Animal Clinic’s main phone number. Employees reply when messages pop up on the desktop screen.

Push notifications also let you tell clients when they need to repurchase. A VitusVet call study found the average client service representative (CSR) answers 600 calls per week at a veterinary hospital.1 While more than 60 percent of calls generate revenue through appointments and prescription refills, the average veterinary hospital is missing $123,000 of gross revenue due to inefficiencies in phone-based customer service. (*1)

Links in your emails, texts or app can let clients request prescription refills electronically. Clients will enjoy the satisfaction of one-click refills, while your client service team will be overjoyed when you reduce call volume by 20 or more calls each day.


Enter the number of refills available.

If the veterinarian wants to perform a blood test every six months and the technician is filling a one-month supply, five refills of 30 tablets would remain. The number of refills will print on each prescription label, letting the client see the countdown of 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 refill left.

While I agree that veterinarians will need to approve each prescription refill, don’t punish clients with long hold times on the phone. Note the number of refills that are available in medical records, avoiding the find-the-doctor game each time clients call with refill requests. Tell the pet owner, “<Client name>, I see that you have five refills available. What time would you like to pick up your pet’s medication? I will have the doctor confirm the refill. I will only call you if the doctor has any questions or concerns. Otherwise, we will see you at <time>.” After speaking with the caller, the CSR could ask the veterinarian to approve the prescription and note the requested pickup time for the technician who will fill the medication.


Set up reminders for drug-monitoring tests.

Clients may become outraged when you decline their emergency refill request because blood work is due. To avoid confrontation, your medical team needs to proactively remind clients when future testing will be due. Veterinarians should set protocols for the frequency of blood tests for long-term drugs such as phenobarbital, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), thyroid medication and others.

When a technician fills a long-term prescription, enter two reminders: 1) drug-monitoring test and 2) Prescription refill. Let’s say your veterinarians want to perform blood work every six months for dogs taking NSAIDs. Set the reminder for 30 days before testing is due, which will trigger postal, email, text and/or app notices to the client. Your reminder should explain the reason for testing and lead the client to schedule now. The reminder would state, “Drug monitoring is necessary for <pet name> to continue to safely take medication and is required before the next refill. Please schedule your pet’s blood test before <date> so we may provide prompt refills.” If an exam also is due, schedule the appointment with a veterinarian. If the blood test is the only service due, make a technician appointment for the blood draw.

If clients haven’t responded to reminders, technicians would call one week before testing is due. Say, “This is <technician name> from <Your Veterinary Hospital>. We saw <pet name> six months ago, and Dr. <Name> needs to monitor his thyroid level. During a technician appointment, we’ll collect a blood sample and run the thyroid test. Drug monitoring is necessary for <pet name> to continue to safely take his thyroid medicine and is required before the next refill. <Pet name> will be out of thyroid medication next week. We could see you Monday at 10 a.m. or Tuesday at 5 p.m. Which choice is convenient for you?” Use the two-yes-options technique to guide pet owners to schedule.


Place a sticker on the vial when one refill remains.

When blood work will be due before the next refill, put a label on the prescription vial such as “Blood test required before next refill.” The prescription label also will note that zero refills remain. Use a bright-colored sticker rather than typing “Blood test required before next refill” on the label. Few clients re-read labels for chronic medications when dosing instructions remain the same.

The sticker alerts both clients and employees. When the client arrives to pick up medication, the CSR would see the sticker and say, “I see that this is your last refill before blood work is due. Let’s schedule a 15-minute technician appointment for the blood draw. We could see your pet next Tuesday at 1 p.m. or Wednesday at 11 a.m. Which choice works for you?” Schedule first before collecting payment for the medication because an appointment reminder will print on today’s receipt. In addition to using stickers on chronic medications, also put the “Blood test required before next refill” sticker on heartworm preventatives when a heartworm test will be due.


Set up auto refills.

Retail pharmacies such as grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS Health use text alerts when prescriptions are ready. Research conducted by the CVS Health Research Institute found that pharmacy customers enrolled in digital and online programs have better medication adherence and reduced healthcare costs. (*2)

Your veterinary hospital could use an auto-refill strategy for over-the-counter and prescription drugs. If a client buys six months of heartworm preventatives, set up one auto refill in five months when one dose will remain. Alert the client when the medication has been refilled with calls, emails, texts or app messages such as “Your pet’s heartworm preventative has been refilled and is ready for pickup. One dose remains, and we want to provide ongoing protection from deadly heartworms.” An auto-refill strategy would increase compliance for 12-month dispensing. Because a heartworm test would be due at the completion of one automatic refill, you would send reminders for the physical exam, heartworm test, prescription renewal and other services included in a preventive checkup.

An over-the-counter flea/tick product also could be set up on auto refill. Let’s say the brand has a “buy six, get two free” promotion. At month 7 when one dose remains, you would alert the client, “Your auto refill of <brand name> to protect your pet from fleas and ticks has been filled and is ready for pick up. Your purchase is eligible for two free doses, a value of $___, which we have included with your refill.”

Midwest Veterinary Supply’s partnership with MyVetStoreOnline.com lets clients set up recurring orders of any product, from food to medication (www.midwestvet.net/practice-solutions/home-delivery-solutions/mvso.html). The “Easy Dose It!” program sends clients a single preventative dose in the mail each month with free shipping.


Send dosing alerts.

During exams, show clients how to set up alerts on the day of the month that they need to give flea, tick and heartworm preventatives. Provide instructions through email blasts, e-newsletters and social media posts, too.


Offer refills through your online store.

When clients get refill notices, offer the convenience of online or app ordering. Ask your veterinary distributor about setting up your own online store. Clients get home delivery of medications and diets with auto-ship benefits and reminder emails. You set the price of all products. Clients pay your hospital’s retail price plus shipping, handling and applicable taxes.

Make this a hassle-free year of managing prescriptions. These strategies can graduate beyond prescription drugs. Think of every consumable product your hospital sells—diets, dental chews, preventatives, pet toothpaste—and create refill push notifications. You’ll improve client loyalty, patient care and the financial health of your pharmacy.


*1 – DiFazio M. Veterinary front desk workers are heroes too and here are the numbers to prove it. Published June 28, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2016 at http://content.vitusvet.com/blog/veterinary-front-desk-workers-are-heros-too-and-here-are-the-numbers-to-prove-it.

*2 – CVS Health introduces new digital pharmacy tools to help make medication adherence easier and more convenient. CVS Health, Nov. 18, 2015. Accessed Dec. 19, 2016 at https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-health-introduces-new-digital-pharmacy-tools-help-make-medication.

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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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Front-Office Hacks That Make Work Easier

Front-Office Hacks That Make Work Easier

Your client care team are masters of multi-tasking and problem solvers.

During my 22 years of coaching receptionists, I’ve discovered helpful tips and tricks that make running the front desk easier. You’re going to want to get started now:

1. Get wireless headsets.

Because receptionists answer hundreds of calls daily, headsets will reduce back and neck pain caused from cradling phones on shoulders. The American Physical Therapy Association, doctors, chiropractors, and physiotherapists advise using headsets. Studies show wearing a headset instead of holding the phone can improve productivity up to 43 percent.

Headsets let receptionists talk and type, speeding the time it takes to book appointments and process prescription refill requests. Headsets also can eliminate hold time. While wearing a wireless headset and talking with a client, the receptionist could walk to the pharmacy to confirm that the pet owner’s prescription refill is ready.  

A headset keeps the microphone in the same position as receptionists move their heads and speak, so voices sound consistent to callers. Noise-cancelling microphones can remove up to 75 percent of background noise, filtering out sounds of barking dogs and other ringing phones.*1 Ask your phone equipment vendor which headsets are compatible with your telephone system or visit www.headsets.com and www.hellodirect.com. Look for wireless headsets with multi-line function, long battery life, length of range, and comfort.

2. Chime when you need backup.

Animal Hospital of Richboro in Richboro, PA., 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 nurses that they need extra employees up front. Having a nurse briefly pitch in lets callers experience speedy service and relieves stress on the front-desk team. Buy wireless doorbells from home-improvement stores for $20 to $60.

3. Have new clients complete paperwork ahead of time.

If you wait until check-in, filling out the new client form will suck 10 to 15 minutes from the first exam. You’ll also have to interpret handwriting.

During scheduling calls, tell new clients, “To speed your check-in as a new client, please complete the form at <www.yourwebsite.com> so we may get information about you and your pet before the day of your appointment. The completed form will be immediately emailed to us so your pet’s medical record will be ready when you arrive, and we can start your appointment on time.” Include links to new client forms when confirming upcoming exams with text and email reminders.

4. Let clients book online and through apps.

Did you know the average phone call to schedule a healthcare appointment takes 8 minutes?**2 If a veterinarian sees 20 appointments per day, a client care coordinator invested 160 minutes or 2.6 hours per day to book those exams. In a four-doctor hospital, receptionists collectively spend 10.4 hours per day scheduling appointments.

Your practice-management software and third-party providers can let you offer online scheduling through your website. Clients request up to three appointment choices and provide the reason for the visit, so you know the exam length needed. You simply check the schedule and email the client with the appointment details. The exam also may be confirmed with automated text and email reminders, eliminating phone time. 

In the VitusVet app, a majority of appointment requests are sent between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. The busiest time for appointment and prescription refill requests is 5 a.m., when your hospital may be closed. When people are on their smartphones, they spend 70 percent of their time in apps.***3

5. Use text and email together to confirm procedures.

Cut check-in time in half when you set expectations before the day of surgical and dental procedures. Text the client, “See you tomorrow at 8 a.m. for <pet name’s> surgical admission. No food after ___ p.m. Water is OK. We emailed surgical forms to <email>. Reply with questions.” The text prompts the client to check her email, where you can provide detailed fasting instructions and attach consent forms and treatment plans.

Your email message might say, “We will see <pet name> for surgery tomorrow at <Your Veterinary Hospital>. Please withhold food after ___ p.m. tonight. Water is OK to drink to prevent dehydration. Your surgical admission begins at 8 a.m. with a nurse, who will spend 15 minutes reviewing the consent form, answering your questions, and getting phone numbers where we may reach you the day of the procedure. I’ve attached your treatment plan and anesthesia consent forms. To speed your admission, please bring these signed forms with you, or we are happy to answer questions during check-in. Please allow at least 15 minutes for <pet name>’s admission to our hospital. If you have questions, call or text 555-555-5555.”

6. Text or call late clients.

Tardy clients will delay your schedule and cause stress for the medical team who will scramble to catch up. When a client is 15 minutes late, text or call her. Text this message: “We expected to see you at <time> for <pet name>’s appt. Reply YES if you’re on the way, RS to reschedule.” Use texting services such as:

If calling, say, “Hello, <client name>. This is <your name> from <Your Veterinary Hospital>. We expected to see you and <pet’s name> at 3 p.m. Please call us to let us know everything is OK, or to reschedule your exam. We want to help <pet name> get the medical care he/she needs. You may reach us at 555-555-5555.”

If the client will be a no-show, you can move onto the next patient. If the client says she will be 15 minutes late, you can figure out how you’ll see the patient while she’s still traveling to your hospital. Depending on your schedule, you could shift the patient to another doctor if one is available, ask the client to wait and be seen on a work-in basis, or offer a day admission.

Avoid turning away a client who may have been unexpectedly delayed due to someone’s traffic accident that was beyond her control. Be a problem-solver and help patient care happen. The front-office team’s ability to be productive and efficient directly impacts the number of patients you see and hospital revenue.


*1 –  Benefits of Headsets. Available at: www.headsets.com/headsets/guide/right1.html. Accessed March 10, 2019.

**2 – 6 Ways to Schedule Patients Effectively and Efficiently. Solutionreach. Posted Aug. 18, 2017. Available at: www.solutionreach.com/blog/how-to-schedule-patients-effectively. Accessed March 10, 2019.

***3 – Postcard reminders: 3 reasons you’re kidding yourself. VitusVet. Published Nov. 8, 2016. Available at http://content.vitusvet.com/blog/postcard-reminders-3-reasons-youre-kidding-yourself. Accessed March 10, 2019.

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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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How Should You Respond to Crazy Clients?

How Should You Respond to Crazy Clients?

Clients will seek pet-care advice from friends, family, groomers, retailers, Dr. Google and anyone with perceived expertise. Don’t let quirky questions catch you off guard. Be prepared with savvy answers that position your veterinary team as medical experts and the No. 1 trusted source. Remember, you both want the pet to be protected and get preventive care.

When clients share comments that alarm you, respond like a professional. Here are two crazy client situations and how to respond:

Crazy Client: “I can get my vaccines cheaper at a shot clinic or the feed store.”

Your Clinic:

A receptionist calls a client about her pet’s overdue preventive checkup. The client shares that she plans to get her pet vaccinated at a shot clinic, which advertised $10 Rabies and $25 Distemper/Parvo vaccines. How should you respond and communicate value for your professional services?

Low-cost vaccine clinics entice pet owners with discounts, but savings may come with a trade-off. Pet owners may select vaccines like a drive-thru menu rather than having a veterinarian tailor the vaccines after performing a comprehensive physical exam, taking a thorough history and asking risk-assessment questions. Sick pets might be vaccinated if exams are not included. The low-cost clinic may not use vaccines with the latest technology, duration of immunity or safety improvements. If the pet has a vaccine reaction, can pet owners seek medical care at the low-cost vaccine clinic?

To respond professionally, use the “acknowledge, probe, answer and close” technique.


Indicate that the pet owner has an interesting point. Confirm your understanding of her concerns. Say, “I understand that you want to protect your pet while also saving money.”


Ask questions to determine the true reason for the pet owner’s choice and ask clarifying questions. Probing questions might include:

  • Will your pet receive a comprehensive physical exam from a veterinarian before vaccinations to make sure your pet is healthy?
  • Will the vaccines be given by a licensed veterinarian?
  • Will a veterinarian ask thorough history and risk-assessment questions to select appropriate vaccines for your pet?
  • Will the veterinarian use one- or three-year vaccines?
  • Will the veterinarian provide medical care if your pet has a vaccine reaction?
  • Will the vaccine clinic remind you when your pet is next due for vaccines and other medical services?


Use the “feel, felt, found” technique to gracefully tell a pet owner that you have a better solution. Respond with information to be considered.

  • Feel: The “feel” technique is designed to deflect the ego.  Say, “I know other clients who also appreciate saving on veterinary care.”

  • Felt: The “felt” technique shows empathy. Explain that you have felt the same way. Say, “I have felt that our hospital wants to make veterinary care affordable, too.”
  • Found: The “found” portion provides your response. By explaining what research you have found, you offer your answer with the least amount of confrontation. Rather than bad-mouth the vaccine clinic, explain your standards of care and prices. Describe preventive care plans with monthly payments or packages if you offer them. Say, “Our veterinarian will perform a nose-to-tail exam to make sure your pet is healthy and it is safe to give vaccines. During the exam, you’ll have an opportunity to discuss any health or behavior concerns with the veterinarian. The doctor will ask you questions about your pet’s lifestyle and activities so he can choose only necessary vaccines. We use safe, guaranteed vaccines with the latest technology and research. We offer vaccines with one- or three-year protection, and some vaccines are combined to protect against multiple illnesses in one shot, which is more comfortable for your pet. Your pet’s medical record shows that he is due for <describe vaccines>. For the comprehensive exam and vaccines, our fee is $____.”



Lead the client to make an appointment using the two-yes-options technique. Say, “Have I given you enough information to make a decision on your pet’s vaccinations? (Client responds.) When do you want to schedule your pet’s appointment? The doctor can see you today at 4 p.m. or tomorrow at 10 a.m. Which choice works for you?”


Crazy Client: “My indoor cat doesn’t need flea medication.”

Your Clinic:

A veterinarian examines a 5-year-old cat and asks the client, “Which flea/tick preventative do you use, and when did you give the last dose?” The pet owner explains that her cat lives indoors, and she feels flea medication isn’t necessary. Use the “acknowledge, probe, answer and close” technique in your response.


Indicate that the client has an interesting point and confirm your understanding of her concerns. Say, “I understand that you feel your indoor cat isn’t at risk for fleas.”


Ask questions to determine the true reason for her choice and ask clarifying questions. Some pet owners may assume their screened porch, deck, patio or fenced backyard is “indoors.” Probing questions might include:

  • When was the last time your cat went outside?
  • What other pets do you have at home? Do those pets go outside?
  • Does your cat hunt mice or has it ever found a mouse in the house or garage?
  • Does your cat like to nap on or play with your shoes?
  • After placing your cat in its carrier, do you ever put it on the ground?
  • Does your cat groom other pets in the home?

If the client answers yes to any of these questions, explain these are ways that fleas can get on indoor pets and into the home.


Use the “feel, felt, found” technique to gracefully tell a pet owner that you have a better solution. Respond with information to be considered.

  • Feel: The “feel” technique is designed to deflect her ego. Say, “Many of our clients with indoor cats feel their pets aren’t at risk for parasites.”


  • Felt: The “felt” technique shows empathy. Explain that you have felt the same way. Say, “I have felt that it’s easy to assume fleas may not be a big risk for indoor cats.”

  • Found: The “found” portion provides your response. By explaining what research you have found, you offer your answer with the least amount of confrontation. Say, “I have found that flea prevention is easy and affordable compared to the expense and frustration of a flea infestation. Flea infestations may take several months to bring under control because fleas can be found in carpets, beds, furniture, rugs, and on every pet in the home. Female fleas can produce 40 to 50 eggs per day, and adult fleas survive two to three months. Fleas also carry diseases that can be passed to people. Every pet in the home must be treated for several months before fleas get evicted, and it could cost hundreds of dollars.”



Explain your medical advice. Say, “Our hospital follows guidelines from the Companion Animal Parasite Council, which has dogs and cats—including indoor cats—on year-round protection throughout their lives. This prevents flea infestations on pets and in your home. Let me tell you about the flea product that would be best for your indoor cat and savings for year-round protection. (Explain product.) Are you ready to decide to protect your indoor cat from nasty fleas?”

When you communicate with confidence, share research and explain your professional services and products, you will guide clients toward smart healthcare decisions for their pets.


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