Mark Opperman is right when he says, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” To me, this means that your front desk team members need to be completely focused on client service at all times. This is especially true for those clients who are physically in your facility, as they rightly expect to be a focus of your attention. I’ve long believed that client reception is the most difficult job in a veterinary practice. In fact, I love the title “Client Service Representative (CSR)” as that’s really what they do. As one co-worker once told me, “Reception is an area…not a person.”
Why do I say this job is so difficult? There are many reasons but high among them is that it’s not easy to always be smiling, friendly, and “on.” To be calm in the face of upset clients and sick pets. Certainly you can and should hire for personality and bring on people who enjoy serving others, but on a busy Saturday morning when there’s a line out your door and the phone is ringing off the hook, even your best performers can be put to the test.
So you’ve hired the right people and are continually training them on the core values and standard procedures of your hospital…what are their biggest pain points? What tasks not only make your CSR’s job the toughest but also lead most directly to poor client service? I think there are three specific areas where modern veterinary hospitals put excessive burden on their CSRs, that lead to poor experiences for your clients:
1. Faxing/Emailing records
Your CSRs absolutely hate doing this. In fact few things make them roll their eyes with disgust more than the prospect of sharing records with another facility or client. Why? It’s a massive, time-consuming pain in the neck! Many practice owners/managers don’t realize just how much time your front desk team spends printing/faxing/re-faxing records, etc.. You might think, “Well, how hard can faxing a record be?” It’s not the faxing that’s the problem...it’s the re-faxing because the recipient’s fax machine ran out of paper, or it wasn’t clear enough, or they asked for the wrong patient, or you send the medical record and they wanted the vaccine dates, etc… Those of you who use email to share records don’t have it all that much better: creating a PDF through your practice software often takes 10-20 mouse clicks and really isn’t much simpler than faxing. Is this really the best use of your CSR’s time? If I told you that they’re spending at least 25% of their time on this each and every day, I bet you could do the math to figure out what the fax machine is costing you every year. And let’s be honest with ourselves here. It’s almost 2017. Who really wants to send or receive a fax ever again? It’s a terrible experience for all parties involved.
2. Too much reliance on the phone
Whether they mean to be or not, most veterinary clinics are highly telephone oriented at the very same time that consumer preferences are moving away from the telephone. This is an example of relying on outdated consumer preferences to the detriment of your business. Your reliance on the telephone is not what your clients want, and shouldn’t be what you want either. In fact, you should be begging them to do business with you online, as it is a more convenient, faster, and lower cost method of communication. Let’s say you wanted to make a simple appointment with YOUR doctor. Would you rather call them or text/email with them? The answer to this question is changing for your clients, especially Millennials, who are particularly telephone averse. Why is this important? If you don’t make it easy to do business with your practice through the channels which clients prefer (which are not necessarily the ones you’ve used for the last 50 years) you’re losing out on a LOT of business. How many non-emergent visits are you losing now (i.e. lumps/bumps/limping/red eyes) because you currently require your clients to pick up a telephone and call you? Even if they do call you, are they getting the “Is this an emergency or can I put you on a brief hold?” FAIL.
62% of Americans will not wait on hold more than 1 minute.
34% won’t wait on hold AT ALL.
It’s human nature: make something easier for people and they do more of it. Encourage clients to email you and have designated team members whose job it is to check your inbox at least hourly. If a client sends an email and nobody gets back to them for 24 hours, it’s almost worse than not having an email at all.
3. Bad intra-office communication
Utilizing hand-written messages is a perfect example of Lose/Lose: it’s harder on your team and, because it’s so error-prone, it also leads to bad service for your clients. Don’t want to use voicemail? Fine…there are plenty of free messaging solutions out there that work great. Slack is one of them and we use it here at VitusVet. Think of it like a texting platform for your office. CSRs can type messages on the desktop version and all of your employees can either use the desktop version at their workstation OR download the app on their personal smartphone. Mrs. Jones has a question for Dr. Leonard? Send her the details on Slack. Mrs. Jackson has a question about her bill? Send a message to the practice manager, who might be out of the office running errands...but she’s got her smartphone with her! Your CSRs (who are likely tech-savvy Millennials anyway) would much rather type these messages than hand write them, and a solution like this keeps everybody in the loop and leads to dramatic increases in productivity.
As if there wasn’t already enough pressure on small business owners like veterinarians, the bar has never been higher for what our clients expect from their service providers. In the Internet age, our clients have been spoiled by great service all around them. Clients expect more for their money, and have been trained by the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Zappos to expect fantastic service even from online providers. If you don’t provide it consistently and happily, they will go elsewhere. This holds especially true for Millennials, who are far less loyal as clients than their parents or grandparents are.
Make your CSRs lives easier and they can provide better service to your clients. Tie them up with paper shuffling and phone calls and they can’t. The same thing is true for clients. Make it easy to do business with you and you will get more appointments and refill requests. You can’t afford to give clients a bad experience when they actually visit your hospital. That’s when the pressure is really on, and where CSRs have a tremendous ability to either create or destroy value in the eyes of your clients. Solving even one of the above problems dramatically simplifies life for your team while improving client service along the way. More revenue. Happier clients. More engaged team members. Less employee turnover. Win/Win/Win/Win is better than Lose/Lose any day!