Firstline magazine, dvm360.com and the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) each month solve tough problems for practice managers and team members in this “Tough Questions Answered by the VHMA” column. Join in by sharing your best advice, and then check out an answer later from a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager.
Q. Lately I've noticed that there is a disconnect between what our clients expect and the practice's protocol. For example, Client X requests a refill for her pup's heartworm medication but the practice learns it has been six months since the pet received his last pill. The practice's policy is to perform a heartworm test before calling in the prescription. The client wants the medicine. The result? The client is not happy! Any pointers for managing client expectations to ensure happier and calmer clients?
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Answering this month is Tiffany Killion-Consalvo, CVPM, at Gilbertsville Veterinary Hospital, Gilbertsville, Pa., and Debbie Newhouse LVT, CVPM, MBA, of Urgent Pet Care in Papillion, Neb.
We condition our clients daily with our message and actions. If you find that your clients are unhappy because their requests are not being met, I would dig deeper to find the root of the problem.
Start with your doctors and make sure you have a consistent standard of care in place at your hospital. Listen to your team: Are they sending your message to your clients? You may find that you need to do more team training to ensure that your message is delivered consistently to your clients. A consistent message from the team will help eliminate this issue in the future.
However, if the damage has been done you will want to meet with your team and explain what you’ve discovered. Together make an action plan on how you will educate your clients moving forward. Make sure that all of your team members are clear on the client education and how to deliver the message so that it’s successful. Make it fun; this can be a demanding task for your client care specialists. Create a game so it’s an enjoyable venture for your client care specialists. Spotlight their success at the next team meeting and ask them to share why the interaction was successful, this will help the entire team continue to learn.
Communicating policies can be challenging, whether it’s between team member and client or team member to team member. The challenge is to have all team members communicate the same message, which will help set client expectations. There are four steps to developing a cohesive message.
The first step is to develop a script for team members to use when discussing heartworm prevention with clients. The script should cover the clinic’s recommendations and how it should be presented. Scripts are important to ensure all team members relay a consistent message to clients. A very basic example would be:
"At ABC Animal Clinic we recommend year-round heartworm medication. This helps protect (Pet’s Name) from contracting heartworm and zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to your family. (Explain benefits of year round medication and discuss zoonotic diseases.) I will have a 12-month supply ready for you while the doctor is completing the exam. Do you have any questions?”
The team member should always offer the client one year’s worth of medication. The script should include the steps to take if the client requests less than one year’s worth of medication. For example:
"I can get you set up automatic refills through our online store. That will prevent you from missing any doses so (Pet’s Name) is protected. In addition the medication will be shipped directly to your house, saving you time. It will only take a few minutes to complete the process.”
The second step is to develop protocols and how tos for different scenarios. A how to is a complete step-by-step protocol for any procedure. This allows all team members, regardless of their position, to complete the procedure. For example, developing a complete step-by-step how to for the online store will allow any team member to add a client to the online store. For practices that do not have an online store, your practice management system can set up reminders for team members to call clients. Again, develop a how to that explains how to add a client to the reminder system so all team members can complete the process. An additional script will need to be developed for team members calling clients. The script should contain a message reminding clients that it’s time to refill their heartworm prescription and offering to send the medication to them.
The third step is team training. This should cover the why the practice recommends year-round heartworm medications and the benefits to the pet and the pet's family. Allow team members to ask questions and refine the scripts to fit work flow. Next, team members need to practice the scripts and how tos until they become comfortable with the process. Role-playing can help refine the scripts until everyone feels comfortable communicating the message.The last step is communicating the message to the client. An effective way to complete this step is to develop a team goal for the next quarter focusing on heartworm compliance. One way to do this can be to look at how many 12-month doses of heartworm medication were sold in the prior year and set some team prizes for reaching 20 percent, 30 percent or a grand prize at 50 percent above the previous year. A quarterly goal allows team members to practice the process long enough to become comfortable and develop a habit that will continue year-round.
While each of the steps outlined take time to develop and refine, the benefits to the practice are immense. Ultimately the message conveyed to the client is cohesive between all team members and creates a consistent experience with each visit, leading to increased compliance, happier clients and a better bottom line.