The office smelled of urine and pet odors. The surroundings were dirty and depressing." "I received poor service from the
receptionists who answer the phones and schedule appointments." "When I picked up my cat, his white underbelly looked grey
with dirt." These are just a few of the responses we received when Firstline surveyed pet owners across the United States to ask why they left their veterinary practices.
Now you may be thinking, "This could never happen in our clinic." But don't be too hasty, says Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM,
CVPM, a consultant with Gatto McFerson CPAs in Santa Monica, Calif. Stories like these happen in practices every week, she
says, so keep an open mind and an open heart to learn from these clients in crisis. Then use the advice from Firstline Editorial Advisory Board members Dr. Felsted, Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, and Sharon DeNayer to head off serious client service
They were too busy for me
As Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." The doctors at the practice we left were excellent, but
the front office staff members were overworked and rude. The practice was so successful it was difficult to get an appointment.
And when we had an emergency, the front office was uncooperative.
The decision to change veterinary practices was difficult, but we were able to find a veterinarian who works well with pets
and has kinder, more supportive team members. The staff worked us in so the doctor saw our female dog the same day when she
developed a breathing problem. In a similar situation at the previous veterinary clinic, the receptionist would say, "The
next appointment available is in two weeks," and add, "Do you want it or not?"
Write your Mantra
How you can do it better
As your practice grows, you may need to develop new systems to maintain the homey feel that helped you achieve success, says
Grosdidier, a partner with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Consider these strategies:
Hire a greeter. A greeter's full-time job is to welcome clients. They don't answer phones or sit behind the reception desk. They focus on
hospitality, whether it's offering drinks or talking to clients about their pets, grandkids, and softball teams.
Use their names. Every team member should greet clients and pets by name and thank them for taking the time to visit the practice. One trick:
Tell clients you want the pet's picture for the medical record, and take their picture with the pet. So when clients walk
in the door, there's a good chance you can call them by name. This is a great tool for new team members, too—no matter who's
at your front desk, your clients will receive the same warm greeting that becomes a trademark for your practice.
Use emergency and buffer appointments. Plan at least one emergency slot for each veterinarian seeing appointments. Or plan a few buffer slots for clients who perceive
an emergency. These are usually 10- to 15-minute blocks in your appointment book. Usually, you'll plan more slots for busy
days, like Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and less for slower days, like Thursdays.
Do the math
Encourage drop-offs. The client can leave the pet and the doctor can examine the pet when he or she has time. Then you can call the client when
her pet's ready to go home.
Make sure you're staffed appropriately. Perhaps you need more veterinarians, or maybe you need more technicians and the doctors need to delegate more. If your next
available appointment is two weeks away or more, decide whether you want to grow to accommodate more clients or close your
practice to new patients. Click here for a sample inactive client letter.