Client Service is a Dying Art Form
Be the (Service) Oasis and Not the Mariage
It’s no secret (Service) why the lines at Chick-fil-a are long, or why people spend five dollars for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Sure the product is good, but you could get something similar elsewhere for less. The premium spent, is for the experience. It’s a nice feeling when you walk in and are greeted by a smiling employee that looks happy to be there. It’s a stark contrast to the other guys whose employees look like they would rather be just about any place else and can’t even be bothered to look up from their cell phone to notice your presence.
Sure, veterinary hospitals are in the business of saving lives, which is a bit different than selling coffee and chicken sandwiches…..or is it? In a market where you are not the only veterinary hospital in town, what sets you apart? You offer vaccinations, they offer vaccinations. You spay and neuter, they spay and neuter. So, what makes a pet owner choose your hospital over another? Certainly cost can be a factor, and you will lose some pet owners to the low-cost leader in your area. (While being the low-cost leader works for some, it may not be for you.) But just like with chicken sandwiches and coffee, people will flock to excellent customer service over low cost (almost every time).
How do we extrapolate the “My Pleasure!” mentality to the veterinary hospital? It starts with first impressions; phone calls and those staffing the front desk must convey top-notch customer service ideals at every turn. But it can’t stop there. Every person in your practice needs to understand not only why customer service is important, but how to provide great customer service too.
Phone etiquette is becoming a lost art, in part because text messaging has taken the place of verbal communication for many. Staff members answering the phone need to take a breath, slow down, smile (yes you can hear it through the phone!), and speak clearly. It is important to take the time to speak using actual words, yes actual words. No uh-huhs, ummmms, or nuh-uhs allowed. Instead use phrases like; certainly, of course, or I would be happy to help you with that! Avoid using negative words like no, can’t, or won’t. This one is a bit more difficult, but it helps to set the tone when telling a client that you are not able to accommodate their request. Instead, tell clients what you can offer in place of their request.
Greet people right away and make eye contact. It’s incredibly frustrating to walk into a business and not have a clear understanding of what to do next. It is especially important to acknowledge when you are on the phone and a client walks into your hospital lobby. A simple smile and wave to let them know that you see them and are welcoming them in, makes a huge difference in client perception. Having a way to signal another team member, when you are on the phone, that a client needs assistance, is even better. That way, they don’t have to wait just for you to get checked in for their appointment or to pick up medications.
Put yourself in their shoes and find ways to offer assistance. If it’s raining, consider helping your clients in with an umbrella or having towels waiting to dry off wet pooches. If a client has a larger item to carry, such as pet food, pick it up and carry it out to their vehicle. Hold doors, charge cell phones, offer coffee, clean up after their pet for them, or bring geriatric dogs something comfy to lie on. Go the extra mile!
Real Life Example
I once observed a stellar receptionist go the extra mile for a client with an emergency. They were being referred to a specialty hospital and needed to go right away. The client had several small children in tow and looked understandably frazzled. When it was time to leave and head to the specialty hospital, the receptionist walked the client to her vehicle, handed her a map to the specialty hospital, gave her a bag of snacks and water bottles for the kids, and even arranged for the specialty hospital to meet her in the parking lot to assist her in getting her dog in the building upon arrival. This receptionist found a way, in the midst of a very emotional and stressful experience, to calm the storm for this client. That is what sets great hospitals apart from the rest. They do what is needed to make every interaction about the client and patient, and not about themselves. In a world focused on me, me, me, that is an incredibly refreshing experience.
Communicate with your clients. It seems simple, but one of the major reasons people change veterinary hospitals is poor communication. They weren’t told how much their bill would be or weren’t updated after a change in the treatment plan. They didn’t understand the number of follow-up visits involved with their pet’s diagnosis. They weren’t told about potential side-effects. No one called to tell them the doctor was running an hour behind. Sure, some conversations can be difficult, but it’s best to be up front every time, especially if a mistake has occurred. Take the time to talk. Be up front so that clients know what to expect. Being a staff built on integrity will never bite you in the rear end.
Be open and direct about your customer service expectations. Practice these skills regularly using role-playing exercises. Have someone play the client and throw several different scenarios out there. It may seem silly, but practice makes perfect! Having the ability to remain poised and ready for any situation is a skill worth rehearsing!
Discuss, as a team, ways to improve customer service and impower hospital staff to implement them. Give hospital team members the ability to resolve customer service issues, without needing to go to management every time. Provide parameters if you like, but don’t keep the reigns too tight. Allow staff members to use their best judgement to resolve issues and provide awesome service to your clients. Even if you don’t agree with how they handled a particular situation; listen to your team, suggest an alternative for next time, and move on. Giving your hospital’s team the empowerment to make decisions on their own, gives them ownership in the customer service of your hospital, but it also makes them aware of the consequences when rules aren’t followed. Hospital procedures are put into place for a reason, and it’s certainly easier to not adhere to the rules if you aren’t the one having to deal with consequences of upset clients. Giving your team the ability to resolve issues, takes away to temptation of turfing everything to management for resolution. Having to deal with the aftermath of not adhering to hospital procedures or protocols, gives team members a cause and effect understanding that is much more effective than management talking until they’re blue in the face.