Managers: 6 ways to make veterinary receptionists love you

Happy receptionists make for happy clients and a more pleasant workplace. Take these tips to heart and your team will love you.
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Oct 13, 2011

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They’re at the front lines of your practice every day. They’re in the trenches, making clients happy with their savvy checkout skills, their phone technique, and their ability to manage simultaneous crises without flinching. They’re you’re receptionists. And in my experience, the best and most successful practices employ managers who value their customer service team.

Receptionists who love their jobs bring a light to practice that shines on colleagues and clients. And you can nurture that light with training, instruction, and guidance. Here are frontline players explaining the reasons for their workplace joy—and how you can duplicate it at your hospital.

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1. “My manager understands the challenges of my job and supports me as an important member of our team.”

Good receptionists are worth their weight in gold. So choose these key players wisely. Evaluate their people skills, organizational abilities, and grace under fire. Once you’ve selected the right people, look for ways to support excellence in customer care.

What you can do: Recognize that front ­office team members are as important as your clinical team members. I always believe that when managers spend time each day walking around, they can catch the team doing things right. At that moment, take the time to say, “I was very impressed with the way you handled that situation. Excellent job!”

Let’s face it. Without the receptionists’ skills, potential clients will never walk through your door. And existing clients will drift away after a poor service experience.

2. “My manager offers training programs to help me learn and doesn’t put me in situations I’m not trained to handle.”

Great receptionists get great training. Nothing instills confidence in a receptionist like education. Well-trained team members aren’t afraid to stand up to clients’ tough questions and support your practice’s protocols with strong conviction.

What you can do: Realize that the instruction, “follow her,” isn’t a training protocol. If you don’t—or can’t—create a good, clear training protocol for your reception team, ask your best customer service representative to do it for you.

An effective training protocol needs to be written, and one very proficient team member must act as the trainer for your team. By using a checklist, you’ll get consistency throughout the team. This ensures you don’t miss teaching certain skills because you forgot. Training lists should require the trainer and trainee to check off that the trainee learned the required information. It also confirms that the trainee feels ready to move on to the next step. And you must allocate time in the schedule for the trainer to train and the trainee to learn.

I always advise testing after training to make sure everyone retains the information. Testing also ups the importance of training. Require minimum passing grades. Then base performance raises and job retention on these training tests as well as other aspects of the job description.

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3. “Our hospital uses standards and protocols all team members know and understand.”

Nothing’s more confusing or unfair to those who answer the phone than to have to either take a guess or ask someone for answers to common questions. Clients won’t feel confident about your hospital if they must wait on hold for a response to a simple request.

What you can do: It’s important to set minimum standards of care, especially in multi-doctor practices. Write them down, then explain the reason for your choices—in lay terms—at staff meetings and training sessions. Then your front-office team can support your protocols when clients call.

4. “My manager wants me to succeed and grow in my career.”

Lack of upward mobility is often cited for the heavy turnover in the veterinary community—44 percent for lay staff, according to the fifth edition of Compensation and Benefits, a guide compiled by the American Animal Hospital Association.

What you can do: If you hire right, your customer service representatives will seek advancement. Watch for your superstars. Encourage and point them to educational opportunities that enhance their skills. Offer them positions of responsibility—even lateral movement. Lead receptionist, inventory manager, and customer service trainer are a few possibilities. Encourage self-motivation, and don’t forget to reward extraordinary effort. For example, you might give tuition reimbursement or send them to outside continuing education.

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5. “My manager gives me clear instructions and ongoing feedback and uses consistent correction across the team.”

People like to know where they stand all the time, not just once a year at their annual review. Are they performing up to your practice standards, or can they shine a little brighter in certain tasks?

What you can do: Offer feedback. Annual reviews are completely ineffective as a change catalyst. If you only tell people what they’re doing wrong once a year, you can’t expect them to learn and correct their behavior. Annual reviews don’t work to improve team members’ performance, because employees tend to self-justify their actions. Instead, it’s much more effective to plan brief, meaningful reviews more often and let employees review themselves to identify areas where they need more training.

And don’t forget to offer immediate feedback. Catch team members doing something right and praise them. Catch them doing something wrong and correct it—right now. Praise your team in public, correct in private. And remember, you don’t want to sound accusatory. Your goal is to teach. For example, if you overhear a receptionist giving inaccurate information to a client about a flea preventive, subtly step in and give the client the correct information. Then, when the client is gone, you can take the employee aside and teach the correct data. You might say, “I apologize for interrupting your conversation with Mr. Smith, but I didn’t realize you hadn’t been properly trained on this product. Let’s take a minute to discuss how it works.”

Finally, remember you should never play favorites when you discipline employees. If your star receptionist is late, you need to write her up just as you would correct your most challenging customer service representative.

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6. “I love my boss because she empowers me and listens.”

Brainpower is much too precious to waste, so the best managers use all their resources. This includes asking your team to contribute ideas to improve your service, marketing, and organization.

What you can do: Make team participation a part of every meeting. Ask for ideas and listen to your team. To solicit feedback from team members, you must tell them what’s on the agenda in advance. This gives them the opportunity to brainstorm solutions. Of course, you must also foster a team atmosphere, so receptionists will feel comfortable speaking out without fear of being ridiculed or having their ideas discarded without discussion.

Say your hospital wants to promote its role in the community with an event. You might ask your team members to come up with a list of possible events or charities and then list ways to get involved. My hospital participated in the Heart Walk after a technician’s father suffered a heart attack and a client had a heart transplant. We were the second-largest money raiser in the event. We also won the team -shirt contest with a shirt we designed, printed, and tie-dyed as a team.

When your receptionists present ideas, ask for feedback from your team and empower your receptionists to make the changes. Check back, but avoid taking over. Empowered team members become engaged employees. And that’s exactly who we want working at our front desk.

Debbie Boone, BS, CCS, is a veterinary practice consultant with 23 years of in-clinic management experience. She focuses on team building, communication, and client care. Please send questions or comments
to firstline@advanstar.com.