Be Speedy When Answering Incoming Calls

Client Service Skills, Phone Skills

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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