4. Training inadequately
Sometimes the desire to please clients can get in the way of taking care of pets. Inexperienced or poorly trained receptionists
don't always realize that the best way they can help clients make good decisions for their pets is by providing accurate information
that is consistent with a hospital's protocols. For instance, when a client asks how important it is to have a pet's teeth
cleaned, an inexperienced receptionist might say, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's expensive and it can usually wait." That's
bad information and is most likely a training issue. Does your training program include information on the benefits of different
procedures? Or, why the veterinarians at your practice believe in the protocols? Why they feel that they're the best for pets?
Do you train your team on how to make the value proposition with clients? If your current training doesn't address these things,
more conversations like the one above are bound to occur.
Another serious mistake comes from more experienced receptionists who have been with the practice for awhile. They think they
know what the doctors would say and because the doctors are often busy, they try to help clients by giving them a quick answer.
For instance, callers might ask what to do if their dogs or cats have been vomiting. In situations like this, it's not unusual
for seasoned receptionists to say, "Why don't you just withhold food until tonight and see how they do?"
By responding like this, receptionists think they're helping clients and sparing their veterinarians. In reality, it's never
a good idea for a receptionist to assume he or she knows what the doctor would say or do—it could cause harm to pets and a
result in a malpractice suit against the hospital. Remember, if it's important enough to the client to call, it's important
enough to respond with accurate information. Team members should check with the doctor or make an appointment for the pet.
If the doctor is not immediately available, they should check with him or her later on, and call the client back to explain
what the doctor said.
5. Staying on the phone too long
Sometimes, in an effort to be nice and bond with callers or because the callers keep extending the conversation, receptionists
end up spending too much time on the phone. This can compromise client care in other areas because it interferes with their
work and the attention they could be giving clients who are in the office.
Team members who spend time on the phone with callers can usually benefit from training on how to tactfully take control and
end calls with overly chatty clients. It helps if staff members understand that part of their job is to put themselves in
charge of the calls. They need to assess the true nature of the call and identify an outcome that will satisfy the client
and get him or her off the phone. They also need to demonstrate interest and empathy so they don't appear abrupt or uncaring.
Learning how to spot the difference between open and closed questions as a tool for managing conversations is a good start,
but it's not enough. It's also important to set empathy checkpoints: Did they use the clients' and pets' names? Did they ask
questions to understand the problem? This can help ensure that management of the call doesn't turn into a task of just getting
the clients off the line.
Telephone mistakes like these happen every single day. They can waste time, alienate callers, impact appointments, and some
mistakes can even put pets and the practice at risk. These mistakes should give you a better idea of the common mishaps that
training can address to help staff members excel when they're on the phone.
Special thanks to Marsha Heinke, DVM, EA, CPA, CVPM, and her team at Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc., and to Denise Tumblin, CPA,
and her team at Wuitchett, Tumblin and Associates for information from their secret shopper work.
Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, is a veterinary business consultant and nationally known writer and speaker.She says her job is to help practices "go and
grow" with training, marketing and new ideas. She is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, an adjunct instructor for AAHA,
and a founding member of VetPartners (formerly the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors).