Clients can knock you up, down, and around and set your team spinning out of control without even meaning to. But veterinary medicine is ultimately a service industry, so you must learn to break out of your shell and demonstrate confidence and poise when clients dump troubles at your doorstep. Whether it's a critically ill pet that should have visited yesterday morning instead of 5:59 p.m. on a Friday or a pet owner who raises the team's collective blood pressure by calling with nonurgent "emergencies" a minute before closing time, clients can be a huge source of stress.
To help guide your team members through tough client phone calls, it's important to plan an educational team meeting—or use a segment of a regularly planned staff meeting—to discuss your practice's protocol for emergencies. Use these directions to create an effective team meeting.
Why you need a meeting
Clients lack your medical knowledge, and this can create all kinds of conflict if you and your team members fail to look at each situation from their viewpoint. For example, drug names and compliance instructions that seem simple to veterinary team members can sound foreign and scary to pet owners. As a result, clients may begin to tune out or fail to listen because they're absorbed in their fear for Fluffy. Then they'll call with perceived emergencies because they don't remember your instructions or failed to follow them.
Sidebar: 15-minute activity: Handling client emergencies
Client emergencies offer strong examples of how communication can go wrong. Veterinary team members often cite end-of-day nonemergency calls as a big frustration that can spark conflict. But these types of situations represent times when it's critical for team members to be great communicators. When team members let their frustration show with these last-minute calls, they can ruin a relationship with a pet owner who's desperately seeking reassurance during a difficult time. Use the "15-minute activity: Handling client emergencies" on page 27 to start the conversation. This will open the door for you or another practice leader to outline the practice's protocol for handling emergency calls.
A few pointers for the team
During your team meeting, remind team members of these important points:
- When a client calls with a perceived emergency, your goal is to quickly reassure her and let her know you're available to help her. She's likely anxious, and she may be inclined to embellish her pet's symptoms if she's afraid the doctor won't see her pet immediately. Reaching out to offer her your compassion and reassurance creates a bond of trust.
- Remember, pet owners who call at the end of the day are often worried you'll send them to an emergency hospital they've never been to. Helping the client relax will make her easier to work with as you try to address the pet's problem.
It's also a good idea to educate pet owners early and often about signs their pet needs medical attention to make sure pets see you in a timely fashion when they are ill. Hand out copies of the client handout "Signs your pet needs to see us," and spend a few minutes talking about how your team can use this form, such as attaching a copy to the invoice at the end of each regularly scheduled visit.
- Although it may be frustrating, emergencies often happen later in the day. Clients get home after work and discover a sick pet. And they're fearful because they're aware your practice may be closing soon. So try to offer these clients your support and your comfort.
Finally, it's worthwhile to conclude your meeting with this critical message. When team members start to feel upside down or off-kilter, remember the team's goal: to serve patients. And handling late emergencies is part of safeguarding their health.