Basic Keys to Customer Service
By: Jared M. Pelcic
A recent AVMA study determined that there are over 95,000 veterinarians in the United States. They are practicing at thousands of clinics, and it is likely that there are half a dozen practices in your nearby area. How do you create a competitive edge? How do you distinguish your veterinary practice from surrounding practices? Your practice needs to give clients a reason to choose you instead of a closer or less costly practice.
Exceptional customer service is an excellent way to set yourself apart from the competition. As an employee of a veterinary practice, you have a vested interest in seeing your employer’s small business thrive. The more successful the practice, the greater the job satisfaction, job security, and potential compensation. Your actions directly determine your own success and happiness.
Think about your favorite restaurant. What is it that keeps you coming back? There are plenty of restaurants with good food, but how many have exceptional customer service? Chances are it is customer service that is the key factor in your decision to frequent your favorite restaurant. You wouldn’t keep coming back if you got the vibe from the staff that you were an inconvenience, at best.
So how do you step up your game? Don’t settle for providing service that keeps clients coming back. Provide service that gets clients talking about your practice. Word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising.
Prepare for your clients. One of the first things you can do is to be prepared for your client interactions. Before clients with scheduled appointments have arrived, get their file ready and quickly review it. Make sure you know why they are coming in and the patient name. That goes a long way in making a client feel more welcome. Think about the times you have been to an office for a scheduled appointment. Isn’t it annoying when you hear “name, please” from the unsmiling face of the person at the front desk right before they tell you to sit down and wait your turn? It doesn’t feel good to be treated as a hassle and an inconvenience. You would much rather be warmly welcomed.
Acknowledge clients as soon as they enter. Do not give clients the perception that they are an interruption. Use the client’s and patient’s names when acknowledging their presence. If you are on the phone or with another client, a nod and smile will suffice. If you are not occupied with a client, unless it is something reasonably important and time-sensitive, you should stop what you are doing to serve the client. If you are seated, stand to greet the client. Having a client wait while you are filing or typing should be avoided whenever possible. It usually makes the client feel like they are less important than the task you are performing.
Become a fountain of enthusiasm. Make sure to smile! Smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, is a proven technique to make you sound friendlier. It also encourages the client to smile, which leads to a warmer interaction. Smiling is a key component of your body language, which is often more important than what you are orally communicating. Studies have repeatedly shown what we already knew to be true—that when the spoken word and body language conflict, body language sets the tone of the conversation. Say all the nice things you want, but if you look unfriendly, you are unfriendly.
In addition to smiling, work on eye contact and making sure to face the person you are talking to. This is a struggle with many people. Making eye contact is not always easy for everyone. Add in the fact that you do have other work to do, and it is easy to talk to a person while looking at your computer next to you or the file sitting on your desk. Practice looking people in the eye. Chances are you have plenty of opportunities to work on this throughout the day.
Comment positively about the practice. Whether on the phone or in person, talking about positive features of the practice is always a good idea. If the client didn’t have to wait, make a comment about how they were in and out in no time. If they are a new client showing up for their first appointment, tell them that their pet is in the hands of some great doctors. If the practice just purchased a new piece of equipment, talk to the client about how their pet will have even better care as a result.
Check for understanding. When speaking to the client, always check to ensure that they understand everything that is going on. Maybe they still aren’t sure about the need for flea medication or heartworm prevention after speaking with the doctor. Talk to them and see if they fully understand what they have been told. They may not have heard or remembered everything. Specifically ask, “Were all of your questions answered today, Mrs. Smith?”
Use positive language. For example, telling a client “I don’t know” is never acceptable. It often comes across as “I don’t care.” Try using more positive language by saying “Let me find out for you” or “That’s a great question, let me check with the doctor.” Active, more positive language implies that you care and that you will take care of a question or situation.
Use customer satisfaction surveys. Ask the clients to rank the performance of the practice’s team in a range of areas, and allow them to submit this information anonymously. You will quickly find out the strengths and weakness of your practice’s customer service. This will present you with the opportunity to focus on specific areas that need addressed that can lead to exceptional client service.
Keep these guidelines in mind to maintain a client-centric outlook and reap the satisfaction of a job well-done. When asked what would cause them to visit the veterinarian more often, 12% of dog owners and 10% of cat owners stated “if the receptionist was friendlier.” Superb client service directly impacts practice performance and growth, and by linkage, your success, too.
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