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Hey Clients: Don’t Be Jerks

Client Service Skills

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

You want to tell every client, “Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be late. Don’t no-show.” Frustrated with clients’ bad behavior, more hospital managers are implementing and enforcing client relationship rules. Your practice needs six policies to set expectations for new and existing clients:

1. scheduling policy

 A client can’t just show up with three dogs and request nail trims. Make scheduling easy so they are more likely to book. Let clients schedule appointments online, over the phone, or through mobile app. A study found 65 percent of appointments made through the PetDesk app were after clinic hours.[1] Effective appointment management lets you maximize patient capacity, reduce wait times, and pre-block urgent care slots. Except emergencies, every patient must have an appointment.

New or existing clients answer 20 questions when submitting the online appointment request form at Tipp City Veterinary Hospital in Tipp City, Ohio (https://tippvet.com/request-appointment/). Details let client service representatives (CSRs) choose the right appointment type and length, set up new client and patient records, and add info to existing patient records. Clients also get a link to its Client Rights & Responsibilities webpage with hospital policies (https://tippvet.com/client-rights-and-responsibilities/).

When new clients schedule appointments, explain that you will need medical or adoption records in advance. Share instructions when booking and in confirmations.

  • If over the phone: “To prepare for your new patient appointment, our medical team will need your pet’s records at least 24 hours in advance. We will review your pet’s medical history, vaccination due dates, and medications. May I get the name of your previous veterinary hospital and a phone number or email so we may contact them today? If you have your pet’s records, email them to records@vet.com. If we don’t get records by <date>, we will contact you to reschedule.”
  • If booking online or through an app: When clients submit requests, have a field where they enter the previous veterinary hospital name and phone number/email. If consent to release records is required, add a checkbox next to the statement: “I authorize <Your Hospital Name> to request and receive my pet’s medical records.” AVMA offers a state-by-state chart on confidentiality of veterinary patient records and whether authorization is required at https://www.avma.org/advocacy/state-and-local-advocacy/confidentiality-veterinary-patient-records.

Sample scheduling policy: “We see patients by appointment only. Walk-in urgent care and emergency patients will be triaged and seen based on medical priority or referred to a local veterinary emergency hospital. Call us before seeking care because we have limited urgent care appointments reserved in daily schedules. If we have reached maximum patient capacity, we will refer you to an emergency hospital so your pet may receive timely care. Schedule appointments by phone <555-555-5555>, book online <link>, or through our app <link>. For after-hours emergency care, contact <ER hospital name, phone, and website>. Our veterinarians are not available for consultations outside of scheduled appointments and subsequent follow-ups. If you want to speak directly to a veterinarian about your pet’s health concern, please schedule an appointment or telemedicine consult. If you are unsure whether you need to consult with a doctor, call our client service team.”

2. LATE POLICY

When clients are late, they wreck your schedule and cause a domino of late starts for subsequent appointments. A late policy can help prevent habitually tardy clients.

Sample late policy: “We ask you to arrive before your scheduled appointment time so you may benefit from your full exam time. New client and patient history forms should be completed in advance to help our medical team prepare for your pet’s visit. A grace period of __ minutes will be granted for unforeseen delays that you may encounter while traveling to our hospital. If you arrive more than __ minutes late for an appointment, we will offer options of being seen as a work-in, day admission, or rescheduled if our schedule permits. We strive to ensure clients and patients are seen in a timely manner and appreciate your on-time arrival. Clients who have three or more late arrivals for appointments cannot schedule future appointments and will only be seen as emergencies or day admissions. Additional fees will apply.”

To keep exams on time, text clients when they are 5 minutes late: “We expected to see you at <time> for <pet name>’s appointment. Reply YES and your expected arrival time if you’re on the way here, or RS to reschedule.” Discover five options to see late clients once they arrive in “Handling Late Clients Through New Policies” in the March 2022 issue of Veterinary Practice News (https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/handling-late-clients-through-new-policies/).

3. NO-SHOW POLICY

Missed appointments leave empty exams that could have benefited other patients and crush your profits. The average no-show rate is 11 percent.[2] The lost annual income is $66,000 per full-time veterinarian who sees 3,000 appointments per year with an average doctor transaction of $200. Sending a series of confirmations and requiring online forms in advance can significantly reduce no-shows. Get confirmation templates in “Four Ways to Help End the No-Show Crisis” in the February 2022 issue of Veterinary Practice News (https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/bizbuilder-feb-2022/).

Set alerts in clients’ records so you can identify when no-show behavior becomes chronic. Contact clients after the first no-show to reschedule and have them prepay the next exam fee. Explain, “We are happy to reschedule your pet’s exam. I see that you missed a previous appointment. To reschedule, I will have you prepay the exam fee now. This is a once-time prepaid exam fee. Once you keep this appointment, you may schedule future exams without advanced payment. If you miss this prepaid appointment, you will forfeit the exam fee. We both want your pet to get timely care.” Consider a three-strikes rule, firing clients who miss three appointments.

Sample no-show policy: “If you are unable to keep an appointment, notify us by phone at least 24 hours in advance to reschedule and so we may help another patient in need. Missed appointments will require prepayment of the exam fee when rescheduling. When this prepaid appointment is kept, the fee will be applied to the invoice. If the prepaid appointment is not kept, the fee will be forfeited. If you miss three appointments, we will terminate of our veterinary-client-patient relationship.”

4. PAYMENT POLICY

Be transparent about fees and share prices whenever clients ask whether it’s a checkup or emergency. Before any patient is hospitalized for an illness, surgery, or dentistry, provide a treatment plan that explains services and fees and get signatures on consents. Let clients know all the payment methods you accept. Include links or QR codes for third-party financing on treatment plans, invoices, clinic signage, website, and social media.

Sample payment policy: “Payment is required when services are provided. Prepayment may be required prior to services such as emergencies, infectious disease cases (i.e., Parvo), and new clients. For your convenience, we accept cash, checks, and credit and debit cards. We offer financing options through <third-party vendor>. We provide treatment plans with services and fees for hospitalized patients and surgical and dental procedures. If medical circumstances unexpectedly change, we promise to keep you informed on care as well as costs. You may ask about the cost of your pet’s care any time.”

5. MUTUAL RESPECT POLICY

You’ve seen the jerk who berates your CSR and then flips personalities when speaking with a doctor or manager. Protect your team’s mental health and create a positive workplace with a mutual respect policy like Tipp City Veterinary Hospital’s.

Sample mutual respect policy: “Our compassionate and knowledgeable team can answer your questions and concerns, including our client service representatives, licensed technicians, veterinary assistants, managers, groomers, boarding staff, and trainers. All team members should be treated with the same respect as our doctors. If team members are relaying advice or information, they have been authorized and trained by the doctors to provide this communication. We take pride in mutually respectful relationships that benefit you, your pet, and us.”

6. MEDICAL RECORDS AND VCPR POLICY

A veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) exists when the veterinarian knows the pet well enough to be able to diagnose and treat any medical conditions the animal develops, according to the AVMA.[3] Most state practice acts and laws reinforce this VCPR, requiring exams at least annually. View your state’s VCPR law at https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/2019-12/VCPR-State-Chart-2019.pdf. The policy at Port Royal Veterinary Hospital in Port Royal, S.C. also explains access and transfer of medical records (https://www.portroyalveterinaryhospital.com/hospital-forms).

Sample medical records and VCPR policy: “By law, we must establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to provide medical care for your pet. This is defined in <state law code> as our doctor physically examining your pet within the past 365 days. A VCPR is required to request refills of prescription medications and food, ask questions about health status or behavior, and request certain services such as telemedicine. We cannot provide these services if we do not have a legally valid VCPR. You are entitled to a complete and thorough copy of your pet’s medical records at any time, including transferring them to a third party for adoption of new pets, housing verification, or scheduling of boarding, daycare, training, or veterinary specialist appointments. Medical records will be transferred by your request on the next business day. Record transfers may only be made by the listed agent(s) on the account. Upon termination of the VCPR, we will transfer pets’ records by email to a veterinary hospital of your choice.”

Make it easy for new and existing clients to know your policies upfront. Here’s where to share policies:

  • Every form that clients complete and sign, including new client registration, day admission, hospitalization, patient histories, treatment plans, and surgical and dental consents
  • Website
  • Links in text and email confirmations
  • Social media

Policies let clients know how to interact with your team. Don’t hesitate to fire jerks. You deserve healthy, long-term client relationships.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

Enroll your team in the online course: 7 Strategies to Calm Angry Clients.

About the Author: Best known as the “Queen of Scripts,” Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has taught communication and client service skills for more than two decades. As founder of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, she teaches practical skills through online courses, onsite coaching, and conferences. Wendy was a partner in a specialty and emergency practice. Visit YouTube.com/csvets and Csvets.com for more.

References:

1. Best Practices for Scheduling Appointments at Your Veterinary Clinic. PetDesk. Available at: https://petdesk.com/blog/best-practices-for-scheduling-appointments-at-your-veterinary-clinic/. Accessed Aug. 2, 2023.

2. What Pesky No-Shows Actually Cost Your Veterinary Practice. Pet Desk. Available at: https://petdesk.com/blog/what-pesky-no-shows-actually-cost-your-veterinary-practice/. Accessed Aug. 2, 2023.

3. Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship FAQ. American Veterinary Medical Assocation. Available at: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/veterinarian-client-patient-relationship-vcpr-faq. Accessed Aug. 2, 2023.