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

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

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

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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5 Reasons Clients Will Love Your Dental Experience

5 Reasons Clients Will Love Your Dental Experience

5 Reasons Clients Will Love Your Dental Experience

What if clients loved their pets’ dental experiences at your veterinary hospital?

Because most dogs and cats have periodontal disease by age 3, you will talk with clients multiple times about dental treatments over pets’ lifetimes.* Creating a positive experience for the first dental procedure will set you up for success when you have to present the need for future care. Here are five strategies for stellar client satisfaction with your dental services:

1. Tackle paperwork in advance.

Don’t wait until the morning of procedures to get signatures. Clients experienced road rage while driving to your clinic, chased the cat for 45 minutes trying to get it into the carrier, and are late for work. Have clients sign the treatment plan and anesthetic consent form on the day of diagnosis when they book procedures. At my recent seminar in Reno, Nev., a technician testified this tactic turned 20-minute dental and surgical admissions into 7 minutes.

A backup plan is to use text and email together.

Two days before the procedure, text the client to confirm the admission appointment: “See you tomorrow at 8 a.m. for <pet name’s> dental admission. No food after 10 p.m. Water is OK. We emailed consent forms to <client email>. Reply with questions.” The text prompts the client to check his email, where you may provide detailed fasting instructions and attach the treatment plan and consent form.

Your email message might say,

We will see <pet name> for a dental procedure tomorrow at <Your Veterinary Hospital>. Please withhold food after 10 p.m. tonight. Water is OK to drink to prevent dehydration. Your dental 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 form. 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.” The email sets expectations for the length of time needed for admission and gives benefits of completing paperwork in advance.

2. Create concierge check-ins and dump the habit of “drop-offs.”

Avoid the traffic jam at the front desk when six clients arrive at the same time for surgical and dental admissions. Set admission appointments every 15 minutes. In the nurse column of your appointment schedule, schedule each check-in. Surgery nurses will handle morning admission appointments.

When the procedure is booked,

the receptionist will choose a specific check-in time and set expectations for the client. Say, “Your pet’s dental procedure is scheduled for Friday. Your admission appointment will be at 8 a.m. with a nurse. Please allow 15 minutes to receive instructions on how we will care for <pet name>. We will text and email you two days in advance to confirm the procedure. If you didn’t sign the treatment plan and anesthetic consent form today, we will email them, so you may review and sign forms before the day of the procedure.”

Have complex cases check in first.

This allows time for preanesthetic screening as well as longer recovery. In the privacy of exam rooms, have clients sign consent forms, collect phone numbers, answer questions, and explain when you will text, email or call following procedures.

Let’s say you have five surgical and dental procedures scheduled today with admission appointments from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. Here is a sample admission schedule:


Admission time


7:00 a.m.

Cruciate repair, Max, 9-year-old Bulldog

7:15 a.m.

Grade 4 dental procedure with extractions, Bella, 14-year-old Toy Poodle

7:30 a.m.

Grade 3 dental procedure with extractions, Sammy, 7-year-old Golden Retriever

7:45 a.m.

Grade 1 dental procedure, Tiger, 3-year-old Siamese cat

8:00 a.m.

Neuter, Leo, 6-month-old Russian Blue cat


3.  Provide comfort with wakeup texts and photos.

On your anesthetic consent forms, ask clients, “How should we notify you when your pet wakes from anesthesia?” and let them check text, email or call. Your text should explain the patient is awake and resting, confirm the discharge appointment time, and include the nurse’s name, which personalizes service and communicates who cared for the patient. If clients have questions before picking up pets, they know which nurse to call and request, letting the receptionist quickly connect calls.

Avoid a snapshot of the pet with the cage door closed,

which look like the animal is in jail. Show your loving nursing care. Your text would say: “Alex is awake and resting. Dental treatment went well. See you at 4 p.m. for discharge appt. Call Kathy with questions, 555-555-5555.”

Never use a personal or practice cell phone to text clients

because you can’t legally document messages in medical records. Instead, use texting services that time and date stamp text conversations such as:


4.  Set discharge appointments and show value for professional services.

During admission, the nurse would tell the client, “Let’s schedule your pet’s discharge appointment after 4 p.m., when <pet name> will be ready to go home. You will meet with a doctor or nurse for 15 minutes, who will explain the results of the procedure, provide medication instructions, share images and x-rays, and answer your questions. Do you prefer 4:30 or 4:45 p.m.?” (Client responds.) “Because you requested text notification when <pet name> wakes up, we will text you a photo and remind you of the discharge appointment at 4:30 p.m. If you have questions today, here is my business card so you may ask for me.”

As with admissions, put discharge appointments in the nurse column in the schedule.

If a doctor will release the patient, put the appointment in that veterinarian’s schedule. Discharge appointments for routine procedures will take approximately 15 minutes. If a nurse will discharge the patient, a veterinarian may want to do the wakeup phone call.

Take time to give clients guided tours of before-and-after dental photos and x-rays.

Offer to share digital images because clients may boast about the quality of your care on social media and save them with pets’ medical records.


5.  Provide exam door to car door service.

Whomever discharges a hospitalized patient should escort the client to the car and get the pet safely inside. Show clients how to properly secure a cat’s carrier. Also share The Catalyst Council’s video on your website and social media.

Double leash dogs with two slip leashes to prevent escape,

walk the patient to the car, and show the client how to properly lift the dog inside, especially following orthopedic surgery or for senior dogs with arthritis. Once the patient is securely in the car, the nurse removes both leashes and tells the client, “I have an extra leash. Please put this leash in your glove box and use it in case of an emergency. If you have a medical emergency with your pet or need to rescue a stray animal, you can quickly have a leash ready. The leash has our phone number on it, so you may call to tell us you’re on the way. Thanks for letting us care for <pet name> today!” Order personalized slip leashes with your hospital name and phone number through Covetrus.

When you wow clients with positive dental experiences, they will appreciate that your service matches your medicine. Increasing clients’ confidence in anesthetic procedures will lead them to say “YES!” the next time dental care is necessary.


*Periodontal disease. American Veterinary Dental College. Accessed Nov. 1, 2018.

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