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Satisfaction guaranteed?
Fee increases and poor customer service may signal new troubles for veterinary practices


Staff cuts have hurt service

Note that in the story above only one receptionist staffed the "busy" hospital, and she was doing double duty in the back. In addition, the doctors' and staff members' shifts did not overlap, resulting in plenty of miscommunication and confusion between shifts. A poor doctor-to-doctor handoff produces an atmosphere of distrust for all parties.

Did this staffing situation help this practice or Freddie? If you answered yes, you have never owned a pet.

Many practices have cut staff in order to improve cash flow during the recession. Practices are also slowing their new hiring. Cutting payroll might look good on paper, but cutting too deep can result in poor service, which loses clients and profits.

Screen time has replaced face time

Computers have invaded every room of practice, including the exam room. This has made things better and worse at the same time.

On the upside, we have on-hand access to patient records and treatment plans. On the downside, computers can decrease our ability to engage and bond with our clients. When we spend more time peering into the screen and less into our clients' eyes, we appear detached and uncaring. If you do use a computer in your exam room, take care in its placement. If you or your staff must turn your back on a client to access the computer, you lose your effectiveness as a communicator.

Professionalism is at risk

We are in a serious profession, and we need to act professionally at all times. This includes all veterinary team members and veterinarians—from the front desk to the back rooms of the practice.

Meeting people professionally means not calling anyone "sweetie" or "honey." Professionalism means smiling and interacting with clients in a caring and compassionate manner. We all get tired and cranky. If you cannot be civil, take a break and relax. We are in a helping profession. People expect us to be on the top of our game.

Experience suggests that the discharge experience is deteriorating. Clients must be happy with the discharge experience—it is the impression that lasts.

Rx for low client satisfaction

We need a treatment plan here. To describe it, I'm going to borrow from The Rolling Stones' appropriately titled hit, "Satisfaction." This tune starts with three notes, and repeats them over and over throughout the song. To reverse our client downturn—to increase their satisfaction—we need to repeat three notes of our own over and over and over:

Note #1: Communicate. You can't over-communicate with clients and staff. Improving our communication skills in the exam room and within the staff will keep clients coming back. Staff meetings are imperative.

Note #2: Staff adequately. Your staff members are your most-valuable assets. Your practice can't operate effectively without them.

Note #3: Value services appropriately. Our fees must represent the value our services bring to the patient and the client. Implement increases fairly to protect perceived fee value.

It all adds up to satisfaction—just what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois and owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. He completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He also offers a broad range of consulting services. Dr. Lane can be reached at


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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