Veterinary team members have more contact with clients over the phone than they do in person. Yet practice owners and managers
give them very little oversight on how to communicate with clients over the phone. While you're occupied elsewhere in the
hospital, your busy or poorly trained receptionists often don't realize the mistakes they're making. How do you know if your
team is handling phone calls properly and what impressions are you leaving with pet owners on the other end of the line?
Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM
In my career, I've had the opportunity to make secret shopper calls, listen to audiotapes, and read transcripts and reports
of calls between pet owners and staff members. Over time, a clear pattern emerged, revealing five common mistakes that even
those veterinary practices with well-intentioned, well-trained staff members make. Here's a list of the five mistakes observed
through our secret shopper calls. Hopefully, these mistakes will provide ideas for additional training and coaching to improve
this critical communications area.
1. Sending the wrong message
Have you ever called a veterinary practice and heard a disinterested voice answer, "Hello. X-Y-Z Veterinary Hospital, Jane
speaking. How can I help you?" Even though the words were right, the tone was wrong. The real message the caller receives
is: "I'm mindlessly answering the phone, and I have other things I'd rather be doing than talking to you." It's hardly the
warm, welcoming, interested-in-you spirit most practices want to convey. Most veterinary practices rely on scripts to get
the job done. While scripts are helpful, staff members need to understand not only what they're talking about, but also that
the way they deliver their words matters.
Phone communication is challenging. When people are talking on the phone, communication is limited to words, tone, energy,
and warmth of the voice. There are no visual clues like body language, facial expressions, and eye contact to help deliver
the message. On the phone, words comprise only 20 percent of what we communicate. The rest of the message is delivered through
other audio components (tone, warmth) and these are the messaging tools practice owners most overlook in training.
Practice owners can create a true competitive advantage by training beyond the words and teaching team members to engage with
callers. How would they act and sound if a good friend was on the other end of the line? Would they rush through the conversation
or treat the caller indifferently? Pet owners who call are friends of the practice. They're trying to give you business by
entrusting their pets to your care. Team member training includes helping them understand that callers should feel like welcomed
friends when they call.