Reception staff in veterinary clinics know this all too well. The telephone is the “soundtrack” that plays throughout the day as they schedule upcoming visits, sell items from the shop and collect payment. In smaller clinics, the “problem” of managing calls can be exacerbated because the vet and assistants are already maxed out on multitasking. In any case, telephone communication in the clinic becomes a stress factor, in addition to the other causes of burnout.
How many veterinarians and assistants complain that they can’t get any work done because of the telephone? The irony is that this annoying sound is what keeps the business alive. A ringing phone is a blessing, as these calls announce the constant stream of clients.Phone service is one of the cornerstones of customer loyalty and customer acquisition, in addition to online reviews. HR experts claim that the impression left by the voice that answers the phone and the attention the customer receives when calling has an 85% impact. Not bad, right?
Could you be understaffed?
As we said before, a high number of phone calls is a blessing for a veterinary clinic. In order to speed up and attend to these clients (or potential clients) as efficiently as possible, a veterinary clinic must first assess whether it has enough staff to handle its volume of calls.
It’s likely that the problem is understaffing. Considering that customer service protocols recommend not to let the call ring more than 3 times without answering it, it might be advisable to have one specially dedicated employee to free up the rest of the reception staff from this task.
Good call management reduces the stress of answering calls
Now let’s assume we already have this one person dedicated to just answering the phone. They will have freed up the rest of the team, but if they don’t have telephone management skills or a clear protocol, they will end up overwhelmed and eventually leave or quit the job due to stress.
In this article, we will not explain telephone protocols for veterinary clinics. If you are interested in this topic, in 2023 HappyVetProject is launching a free Communication Course for veterinary clinics where we’ll cover practically all aspects of successful communication with the client. And one of the modules of the course will be especially dedicated to telephone communication.Today we are going to talk about the most efficient techniques to reduce how much time we spend with each client so we have time to answer other calls, all without affecting the quality of our service.
Types of time-consuming phone calls that can overwhelm a veterinary practice
Conversations with clients can take a long time for a variety of reasons. We are going to analyse some of them and see how to optimise the time dedicated to each person in order to speed up freeing up the line.
1. Test results and feedback from inpatient cases
These are situations that can be stressful for reception staff. The guardian is concerned and these are often long calls where a lot of information is requested and has to be given.
In these cases, the centre should have a well-established protocol for managing these calls. It’s recommended to have a veterinarian available to attend to the guardians of hospitalised animals or to answer questions about treatments and tests that are being carried out. That way, the call is passed on to the person who will be able to answer properly and the client is satisfied because we show that we are aware of their concerns by giving them personalised attention.
2. An angry or frustrated customer may demand to speak to the centre manager.
Customers who are upset for some reason should, at least initially, be a priority and should be listened to carefully and calmly. Most centres don’t have a customer service manager and the centre manager is not available 24 hours a day. Therefore it’s advisable that reception staff have a protocol for dealing with difficult situations that reflects the guidelines to be followed.
Protocol for dealing with difficult cases helps to standardise the responses of all the staff who are answering calls.
For more information, be sure to read the article The art of managing conflicts with customers in daily practice. There you will find some useful tips on how to deal with these situations.
The action protocol, available to all members of the team who may at some point answer the phone (emergency veterinarians, receptionists, VTA, administrative staff), unifies responses and helps leave customers with a good impression of the centre. It puts an end to varied and conflicted responses that staff might give – even with the best intentions – and prevents further confusion of the situation.
3. Calls to schedule visits or surgeries
Scheduling visits can take a long time if it’s difficult to coordinate the veterinarian’s schedule with the client’s availability. To speed up these procedures, it’s always advisable to suggest two or three possibilities for the client to choose from, always starting with the soonest option.
4. Clients who don’t want to hang up until a problem is solved
If the customer doesn’t want to hang up until they feel their problem has been solved and you know an immediate solution isn’t available, commit to a follow-up plan, explaining that the solution may take time, and outline the reasons why.
When you’re sure that the customer has understood, you can suggest hanging up so as not to waste any more time, and guarantee a call-back as soon as possible. Be sure to return their call with a solution so as not to frustrate the customer and make the situation worse.
5. The chatterbox
These are typical customers in veterinary clinics and both veterinarians and reception staff have experienced calls with them. If the conversation no longer provides relevant information about the patient or the reason for the call, you can politely ask to hang up and follow up later, explaining the advantages of doing so. If you have a good rapport with the client, you can be honest and explain that there are a couple of patients in the waiting room, other calls on the line or an emergency to deal with.
6. The client does not understand your explanations
This is quite often the case with vets who use overly technical words to describe the patient’s medical situation. It’s possible that the client keeps quiet out of embarrassment and when they hang up they have to look it up on the internet or ask again in another call, so the explanation has to be repeated. Get into the habit of talking to customers using plain language and examples, adapting your speech to their level of understanding so that they can understand it the first go-round.
Excessive noise is one of the most anxiety-provoking factors for employees, almost 29%.
Other solutions to reduce incoming calls
A busy switchboard is a bad look for any business. Marketing studies have shown that if you don’t want to lose customers, you need good call handling, as 15% of callers hang up within 40 seconds of dialling.
How can you reduce inbound calls? A good strategy is to reverse the process. In a world with 7 billion mobile phones, call from the clinic when you have test results. You can also set up a time slot to talk to the guardians of hospitalised patients and call them to explain the progress. If you can’t reach them by calling, use additional forms of communication.
Another system that works particularly well is automated instant messaging: for example, for appointment reminders. You can also set up standardised emails to discuss tests, send results if everything is OK, or to ask for feedback on the case.
If the client cannot travel for some reason, in selected cases consider using video calls. The pandemic has shown that we can stay in touch with each other without seeing each other face to face – so let’s make the most of it!
Reducing the sources of burnout should be a priority for veterinary practice managers. Excessive noise is one of the most anxiety-provoking factors for employees, almost 29%. Loud conversations, the ringing phone and some barking or meowing are the constant soundtracks in the reception area of clinics and hospitals.
Since our patients also have the right to express themselves and we can put the world on mute, we can at least take measures to reduce background noise on the phone. How? With good incoming call management to make lines available for new clients. This will give a good impression of the clinic and prevent stress from the constant ringing of the phone.