Practice Survival: 5 mistakes your veterinary office receptionist is making on the phone

Practice Survival: 5 mistakes your veterinary office receptionist is making on the phone

Communicating effectively over the phone is just as important as in person. Here's how to make sure your veterinary team does it right.
Sep 01, 2012

Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM
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?

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.