WE are all tired. Keeping up Covid 19 protocols for over a year, along with a heavy caseload, has almost every veterinary team member mentally and physically exhausted. I completely understand. When we are forced out of our normal routines and restricted in our freedom to interact with other humans it makes for unhappiness both in and out of our office. Our clients are equally as restricted, equally dealing with changes in their routine, and equally tired of COVID 19 in general. This combination of our frustration and their frustration has led to some negative experiences on both sides of the exam table.
I had a call a couple of weeks ago from one of my favorite practice managers. She asked me to help with some team training because she said, “our team is spiraling into negativity and the client has now become our ENEMY”. In the multiple groups I am a member of on social media, I am hearing the same murmurs. What to do?
I think the first thing is to acknowledge that this is happening and to address it appropriately.
As a service industry, veterinary team members can never forget that clients are the source of our livelihood. They are the decision-makers for the pet that we want to treat. They also have a lot of choices. In my first hospital, there were 5 good quality practices within a 2-mile radius…three of them were AAHA accredited. I grew up in vet med dealing with a lot of competition. To top it all, our practice was probably the most expensive in town…and one of the most successful.
So, how do you successfully compete with less expensive practices “in your back yard” and be labeled as high priced? YOU SERVE CLIENTS SO WELL THAT THEY DON’T CARE!
Growing up in the restaurant business I learned the skills of customer hospitality. Our long-term servers knew how to bond customers to them, to the point they could almost predict how much their daily tip totals would be. Many of them were single moms raising families on a waitress’s salary and tips. They owned homes and sent their kids to college. But they knew the secret to success was service and building relationships with their customers. These bonds were so strong that people would wait an extra ten or fifteen minutes during their lunch hours or at dinner, just to be seated with their favorite server. Those servers would know what their customers drank and would even order their meals ahead for them, so when they were seated the food instantly appeared.
Learning this as a kid caused me to bring this mindset of anticipatory service into the veterinary hospital. Because practices have not allowed face-to-face interactions with the public and our team (and rightfully so) they have lost the ability to relate to clients as well as in the past. Clients have become a faceless voice – often a rude one. We are missing out on the chit-chat, small talk, and personal encounters that make us “human” to each other. Our conversations are all limited to business and medical transactions and we are missing something vital for our clients and ourselves. Connection with others. Just listening in on some recorded calls from my clients who are using #Weave phones has given me a lot of insight into these conversations.
How do we regain this connection? For now, just being aware of how our “client bashing” attitude is damaging our own mental health is a start. Negativity is an energy suck. Neuroscience data shows that our brain seeks what we tell it to find. So, if we look for negative things we will find them and dwell on them to our own detriment. That is why mindfulness and gratitude are so valuable in retraining our brain to seek the positive.
Communication training workshops help staff understand their own reactions and those of their clients. When we have emotional intelligence, we can more easily navigate the choppy waters of human anxiety and stress. Soon, the sun will appear and the cloud of Covid 19 will lift and we will once again be face to face with our clients. We MUST embrace them as the assets they are rather than looking upon them as the cause of our distress. When you treat people well, gain their trust and build a base of raving fans, your business will be successful and a wonderful place to work.
This goes for your External customer – the client, and your Internal customer – the staff. Treat them both with kindness, empathy and support their goals and trust me – life will improve for everyone – including the most important ones – our patients.
If you would like to have me train your team on better communication, contact me!