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Hone your phone skills


FIRSTLINE


On a tough day, that phone sitting on the corner of your desk with its cord coiled may look like a snake about to strike. Then it rings. You take a deep breath. Then you smile, lift the phone from its cradle, and say, "Thank you for calling ABC Animal Clinic. This is Amy. How may I help you?"

A phone call is typically a client's first contact with the veterinary practice, so you bear the brunt of making that critical first impression a great one. And you carry the weight of establishing goodwill and fueling strong client relationships. That's a big responsibility! But with the right training, you'll be able to handle the trickiest phone calls with confidence.

First things first


Scripting for success
Likely you're past this point, but the ideal situation is to get an orientation that covers your hospital's mission, policies, and procedures before you ever pick up the phone. In fact, some practices offer up to a week of one-on-one training before a new team member works at the reception desk. It's also a good idea to review the training manual with an experienced co-worker.

Ideally, you'll train under a mentor who knows the practice protocols inside and out and can answer your questions. "Whether your practice offers formal training or not, look for a role model to emulate," suggests Sharon DeNayer, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and the practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. "This approach will give you the best perspective on what your employer expects," she says.

As you move out of the initial training period, your mentor provides a security blanket by reinforcing the information you learned during orientation. Your mentor can also give you background information about clients' and pets' preferences and their histories with the practice. Plus, he or she should be able to give practice owners an objective ongoing assessment of your skills.

If your practice doesn't offer a training program, talk to your supervisor about implementing one, DeNayer says. And be prepared to explain the benefits of the program.

Tackling the basics

Ready to answer the phone? First, remember that you need to be organized, project warmth, and use a pleasant voice. Work to correct any potentially annoying speech habits, such as constantly repeating "ya know" or "like."

Second, recognize that clients deserve to be treated as if their call is the most important of the day. To help achieve this, smile before answering each line. Don't believe this makes a difference? Try smiling while saying a simple phrase or greeting. Your tone is altered thanks to the use of your facial muscles. In other words, people can hear the smile in your voice. And a pleasant greeting makes for a much nicer first, or even 90th, impression.

It also helps to rehearse a standardized greeting. For example, when you answer the phone, you should thank the caller for calling, identify yourself and the practice, and ask how you can help the caller. When everyone in the office answers the phone the same way, you establish continuity. Never give a harried greeting, and learn to sound pleasant even if you secretly feel annoyed. The key is to make it clear that you're pleased to hear from clients.

The next step: Be a good listener. "As you talk with the caller, visualize him or her. Speak with the person, not at the phone. Listen politely to what the other person is saying. Don't interrupt," suggest Patsy J. Fulton, Ph.D., and Joanna D. Hanks in their book Procedures for the Office Professional (South-Western Educational Publishing, 1999).


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