A positive customer experience is the core of every successful business. Good customer service can keep clients coming back for years, while a single negative experience can be enough to send them looking elsewhere.
Today, our veterinary practices are under more pressure than ever before. Understaffing, backed up schedules, and months of curbside-only service can put a strain on your clinic’s customer service.
Your veterinary practice’s “customer service” includes every aspect of the client and patient experience, from the moment they call to schedule an appointment to the moment they walk out your door or require follow-up. That means every interaction is an opportunity to strengthen your client relationships.
Here’s a refresher course for your team on how to improve client experiences at your clinic.
Why Customer Service Matters
Customer service can make or break a veterinary practice. No matter how excellent your staff is, poor bedside manner or a sloppy scheduling experience can drive pet owners away.
A client’s emotional experience at your office weighs heavily on whether or not they’ll return and/or recommend your veterinary practice to their friends and family. Happy clients will remain with you for years to come and be your best brand ambassadors. The inverse is also true: a poor customer service experience can quickly tarnish your reputation. Poor customer service might include anything from an impatient or “rude” phone call, to failure to adequately explain the plan of care.
Studies show that 50% of a customer’s experience is emotional and therefore having a great customer service team can build loyalty between you and the customer.
Customer Service Helps Pets, Too
It’s obvious that customer service is an important part of running a successful business, but good customer service can also lead to better patient outcomes. Good customer service involves taking the time to give each patient that comes through your door the attention they deserve, and listening carefully to their owners’ concerns. Moreover, clients who feel comfortable with your practice are more likely to follow your recommendations and bring their pet in for preventive care before more serious issues arise.
Who is Responsible for Customer Service?
When you hear “customer service,” you might think of your receptionist, or the person responsible for scheduling appointments and greeting clients. Don’t make the mistake of assigning customer service to just one member of your team. In reality, customer service is the responsibility of every person at your practice who interacts with clients or animals. That means everyone on your veterinary staff should be trained in customer service.
Tips and Tricks for Excellent Veterinary Customer Service
So, what constitutes good customer service? In addition to providing high quality care, a positive veterinary client experience is one in which the client feels valued and respected. Good customer service should be consistent – for every client, from every staff member, at every visit. Here are some ways to up your customer service game.
On the Phone
Smile – Instruct your staff to smile when answering a client phone call. It might sound silly, but smiling conveys warmth in your voice and can even affect your mood when entering the conversation.
Holds – When you can’t avoid putting someone on hold, take a brief moment to let them know why (“I need a moment to look up that information…” “I’ll need to check with the doctor…” “I am just finishing up with another client”) and ask permission (“May I place you on a brief hold?”). When you pick up after a hold, thank the customer for their patience and apologize for the wait, if appropriate.
Tone of Voice – So much is conveyed through tone of voice over the phone. If you’re distracted or frustrated, the customer will hear it in your voice. Even if you’re busy and stressed, give the client your full attention, patience, and empathy. They might be your 100th phone call of the day, but to them this is an urgent and possibly a very emotional matter. You can be compassionate while controlling the length of the phone call and directing the caller to the next step. Whether this is a new or returning customer, everyone deserves the same level of service.
Scheduling – If your schedule is backed up, express empathy and offer the next available appointment. If the client requires emergency care, you can make a referral. Before hanging up the call, confirm the date and time of the appointment, and the client’s contact information so you can send a reminder (or reach them to reschedule in case of an emergency).
Greeting – It can be difficult to juggle competing demands in your reception or lobby area. Your front desk attendants might have to discharge a patient, answer the phone, and check in another patient at the same time. Still, if someone walks through your door and is ignored, it starts the visit on a very sour note. Acknowledge the client’s arrival by making eye contact, smiling, and letting them know you’ll be right with them. Even if you need to complete a task before getting them checked in, taking a moment to acknowledge them is better than letting them feel invisible. When you do greet the client, use his/her name and the name of their pet.
In Your Waiting Area
Waiting – If the doctor or technician is not immediately available (as is usually the case in many offices), politely indicate that they may have a seat in your waiting area and the doctor/tech will be with them shortly. If their pet is anxious or uncomfortable around other animals that are present, offer to let them wait in the exam room. Always keep your waiting areas and exam rooms clean to create a good impression and put the client at ease.
In the Exam Room
Building Relationships – People love their pets, and choosing a veterinarian requires a good amount of trust. The exam or consultation is an opportunity to build rapport and trust with your clients as you evaluate their pet’s health and make recommendations for treatment. To make a personal connection, the vet tech and the doctor should use the client’s name and their pet’s name throughout the appointment. You might comment on positive aspects of the animal’s health to reassure the client and make them feel good about their role as a pet parent.
Communication – Communication is a two-way street. Seek to understand your client’s questions and concerns before offering your professional opinion. Ideally, a pet’s medical care should be a collaborative effort between pet parents and the veterinary team.
If the client is dropping their pet off at your office for a procedure, you can ease their anxiety by calling to let them know how everything went and that their pet is doing well. Then, you can explain next steps and what time their furry friend will be ready for pickup. This step will only take a few minutes but will do wonders for the client’s emotional state. This is one example of how you can show empathy for your clients (you understand how difficult it can be to leave your pet in someone else’s hands) and demonstrate your attention to detail.
In order for your staff to communicate effectively with clients, everyone on the team must be well-informed and able to give clear, consistent answers. Keep your team on the same page with regular meetings and internal communications about office policies and day-to-day operations.
Education – Educate clients about the value of the services provided. This will not only make them feel more empowered with knowledge about their pet’s health but will also reduce resistance when it comes to costs and billing. Explain the purpose of the treatments or medicines you’re recommending, especially if they will help prevent more serious (and costly) conditions in the future.
Discharge and Follow Up
When discharging patients from an appointment, make sure your client understands the next steps, including any medication instructions and potential side effects, changes in diet, or follow up appointments. Try not to rush them out the door, and take the time to answer any and all questions they may have.
If it’s appropriate, put a reminder in your calendar to call the client a few days later to check in on their pet’s progress. In busy vet’s offices, clients can sometimes feel like they’re being processed rather than listened to. Taking the time to follow up conveys the individualized attention all clients want, and reinforces your relationship.
If There’s a Problem
Inevitably, customer service problems will arise at your veterinary office. You might have a client who complains about the wait time, or is unhappy with some aspect of their visit. In these situations, it’s important to stay calm, listen to the client’s concerns, and have compassion. Rather than debating about who’s to blame for an error or miscommunication, focus on solutions. Identify the problem and what can be done to fix it, and share what will be done to prevent it from happening in the future. Then, take the opportunity to debrief with your team. Uncomfortable situations with a client can serve as opportunities to improve customer service for the future.