What About the Customer Service Team?

I am a member of multiple online veterinary groups. Techs, managers, support groups, etc. and in each of these groups I hear data and stats about the stress, burnout and compassion fatigue in veterinarians and veterinary technicians but I don’t see anyone measuring the stress levels of the people who take the brunt of poor client behaviors. The CSRs.

In my 35 plus years in veterinary medicine I have been a cross trained CSR/Assistant, a hospital administrator, a COO and a veterinary business consultant and I can honestly say that working at the front desk was the steepest learning curve and required the most finesse when dealing with people.

For ten years I taught the Patterson Communication and Service classes all over the US.  Listening to my students, who were primarily CSRs, tell their stories was fascinating- and at times heartbreaking. This position is incredibly undervalued – and like most others in the practice – underpaid. It is also the one most typically understaffed. One of my students shared that her boss told her she could be “replaced by anyone on the street corner”. Not only was this not true but it was incredibly inappropriate. Another older woman approached me after my class and said,” Debbie, I have been working the front desk for 20 years and you are the first person to tell me I was important.” This brought tears to my eyes. And then it made me angry!

If veterinary hospitals do not have the good sense to realize that without a good front desk team greeting clients with confidence, empathy and patience, guiding them to make the decisions needed to make appointments and leaving them with a positive impression of the practice NO ONE ELSE GETS A CHANCE TO DO THEIR WORK!  Yes, I am shouting!

Granted, some of the CSRs are poorly trained and even poorly chosen for the work they are asked to perform. That is on management. My fear is, because practices are so busy, they are skipping important steps in training these essential players. Lack of training is actually part of what is setting off negative client behaviors. Poorly trained CSRs don’t know how to read the tone, watch the body language or know when to just listen. Instead, they answer client questions in a manner that is immediately adversarial.  For example, one of my team was doing phone shopper calls to my client’s local competitors. She was pretending to be a new client who had a new dog. As she began to ask about fees the CSR (and I use this term loosely) said, “I just want you to know we are not letting you in to the building!”. WOW! Talk about setting up a conflict right off the bat. With this type of negative remark, no client is going to want to pursue coming in because they would feel they were entering into a battle rather than a welcoming relationship.

But even our well-trained front staff is being pressed against the ropes with high call volume, short staffing, and “twitchy” clients. We can set up technology to help relieve the pressure. 

Consider moving many of the routine calls to text messages.  #VitusVet allows clients to request a refill, ask a non-urgent question, see their pet’s vaccination status, push out routine forms and send normal lab results to clients without lengthy phone calls. The VetShipRX tool even notifies clients their pet’s medication is due for a refill, asks them if they would like to order it now and if the answer is “yes”, it offers in clinic pickup, snail mail shipping or a same day delivery with Shipt all while keeping the sale in the practice. Consider all the time saved by moving these requests to a quick digital platform. A recent study showed that on average 4+ hours of staff time a day is spent approving and processing Chewy requests. This can be avoided by making it easy for the client to just say YES to your text message.

Let’s not ignore our front desk team when we are focusing on veterinary wellbeing. They play a vital role in setting the practice tone and creating a client experience that is connected, empathetic and positive. If we don’t care about taking good care of our CSRs, training them properly to handle challenging situations and then supporting them when clients do go too far, don’t expect them to promote the practice and stick around to be ignored and discounted like second class citizens.

They are the face of the practice. Make sure it is a kind, empathic and smiling one.

If you would like to invest in your CSR’s education please visit this link to my Communication Training Workshop. Only $99 for three hours of training. https://conference.iceu.com/course/Communication-Workshop-for-Veterinary-Teams/5FD786343D0CE80B1341D4C1/60C911BB2776E6929813D504 These sessions are also offered in live workshops.

Contact me at : Dboone@dboone2managevets.com for more information.