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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
How to use Telephone Skills to Attract Client and Build Loyalty
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

Begin by Hiring the Right People

You aren’t likely to attract new clients and WOW clients your existing clients if you have client service representatives (CSRs) who don’t have the right attitude and good communication skills. CSRs who lack energy and speak with a monotone or extremely soft voice won’t make positive impressions with pet owners. Hire smart and weed out front desk personnel that feel like it is an inconvenience to have to answer the phone. As part of your interviewing process, hold phone interviews with all potential candidates, and focus on their voice and communication skills not just their qualifications and answers to your questions. Many phone skills can be learned but positive attitudes can’t be “trained into” an employee.

Set Phone Standards

Developing outstanding phone skills is extremely valuable since it is often the first impression clients have regarding the practice. Clients begin to make assessments about the practice based on their interaction with staff on the phone. Communicating effectively with clients on the phone presents challenges since neither person on the phone can rely on visual cues to enhance communication efforts. It is helpful to create service standards for the phone to ensure consistency and to raise the level of client service. Here are examples of phone skills and phone standards that will improve client communications:

  • Always answer the phone by the 3rd ring. When the phone rings more than 3 times, clients may become irritated and feel the practice does not value the importance of providing exceptional client service. To ensure the phone is answered by the fourth ring, make sure everyone on the team is responsible for helping out to answer phones, regardless of their job position.
  • Don’t quickly rattle off a greeting that callers cannot easily understand. An excellent greeting includes the name of the practice, the employee’s name and a question asking how you can help the client. This greeting should be articulated clearly and concisely.
  • Use a friendly, relaxed and upbeat tone of voice when answering and speaking on the phone. The person on the other end of the line should immediately feel like they are talking to someone who is interested in helping them. Be sure to verbalize the same enthusiasm to clients you don’t know as you do with clients who are your favorite or best clients.
  • Ask if you may place someone on hold and don’t put clients on hold until you have heard them verbalize “yes”.
  • Upon returning to calls you have placed on hold, remember to apologize if you have to place someone on hold for any significant length of time. People are less agitated by being on hold if you say “I’m sorry for keeping you on hold” or “I’m so sorry you had to wait on hold. I didn’t forget about you”. In addition, thank the client for their patience. Remember studies show people become irritated within 17 seconds after being put on hold.
  • If you know it may take some time to gather the information that a client wants, always ask if they would rather be on hold or have you call them back.
  • Remember clients on the phone cannot see the reception area and have no idea how busy you are. And frankly, they don’t always care-they want your undivided attention. Bear in mind clients standing in front of you can see you are busy on the phone and realize you will be with them once you are off the phone. You can also use visual signals to clients in front of you that you will be right with them. 
  • Adapt to the conversational style of the client. Pet owners have different personalities and you may be able to converse with them in a variety of ways once you get to know them better.
  • You cannot be expected to know the answer for every question that clients may ask. But you can demonstrate a desire to find out the answer as quickly as possible.

Train Team Members to Respond to Phone Shoppers

It’s a rare client service representative that gets excited about handling phone shopper calls. So, begin by thinking of these as Phone Inquiry calls instead of Phone Shopper calls which carries a negative connotation. Bear in mind that many pet owners are cost conscious these days and it may be your existing clients who are calling about fees. Follow these tips to have a better chance of converting calls to appointments:  

  • Start the conversation with a positive comment such as “I’d be happy to help you. Let me get some more information so I can be sure to give you accurate information.”
  • Always ask “Have we seen your pet (dog, cat) before?” to determine if the caller is an existing client or has never been in before. This helps you tailor the conversation appropriately for the rest of the call.
  • Try to engage the caller by asking specific questions about their pet or their situation. For example, inquire about the pet’s name, whether the pet is having any health problems, are they new to the area, how did they hear about the practice, etc. 
  • Demonstrate warmth and enthusiasm which can be done with and upbeat voice tone and friendly comments such as “Oh, I love Papillons, they are so cute” or “What a cute name.”
  • Describe the services first and then quote fees as appropriate.
  • Ask for the appointment and offer specific times.
  • Close by letting the caller know the practice is very interested in seeing their pet. If it is an existing client, use phrases such as “We’d love to see Chloe again. Just call me back when you are ready to schedule an appointment.” For new clients, use phrases such as “We welcome the opportunity to care for Chloe and would love to have you as a new client. We’re proud of the quality of medical care and service we offer. And I know you will like Dr. Smith. She is so compassionate and knowledgeable.”
  • When appropriate and possible, offer new clients a tour of the hospital so they can see the facility and meet some team members. It’s a good idea to send callers to your website to learn more about the practice. You can also offer to send information to the clients such as hospital brochures or client education handouts.  

Handling Cost Inquiries 

Don’t make the mistake of simply telling pet owners “We can’t diagnose over the phone. We have to see your pet and that will cost $45.” What the caller really wants is meaningful information and empathy. Ask questions about the pet and their symptoms which demonstrate your concern for the pet. Then follow up with empathy phrases. Your end of the dialogue might sound something like this:

“Mrs. Humphrey, how long has Chloe been vomiting and how has her appetite been this week? I am so sorry to hear she isn’t feeling well and like you, I know I’d be concerned, too. You know it’s impossible to say for certain what’s causing her illness. I wish I could tell you something over the phone but really the best option is to have Dr. Taylor check her out. After examining Chloe, she can tell you what she thinks is going on with her and we can certainly let you know any costs involved before proceeding with tests or treatment. Our examination and consultation fee is $45.”

At this point, pause to let Mrs. Humphrey speak. If she doesn’t indicate a desire to schedule an appointment, further express that she will have peace of mind once she and Chloe see Dr. Taylor and let her know what time she can bring Chloe in or drop her off to be seen.

Don’t overlook the value of training team members to communicate well on the phone. Client service representatives with excellent phone skills can help grow your practice by converting calls to appointments and they build client loyalty by providing exceptional service.


Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC