Are you Grumpy or a Golden Retriever Over the Phone?
By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians
Your client service representative 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.