The secret of my success

It's the best way to earn respect and trust from clients,
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Jan 01, 2007

Clients place their trust in us every day when they leave their furred family members in our care. And we can show them their trust is well placed by dressing, acting, and speaking with professionalism.

Here's a quick self-test. Do you handle rough days with ease or do your co-workers duck and cover when surgeries run behind and you've missed your lunch break? Do you fight through a bad day with a smile, or do you snap at the receptionist when she asks whether you've finished Whiskers' blood work yet?

Professionalism isn't measured by your title. Being a practice manager, head receptionist, or lead technician doesn't make you more professional than a topnotch kennel attendant. A successful veterinary practice requires a team of professionals who work together efficiently to provide excellent customer care that enhances the client's experience. Here's a look at the components of professionalism.

Scoring well on service

Client service is a great yardstick to measure your professionalism. We all love animals, and we joined the profession to work with them. But the true test of how successful you'll be is how you handle the person at the other end of the leash.

Clients feel like they're getting better service when your team works together efficiently. For example, if a client calls two veterinary clinics to schedule an ovariohysterectomy for her cat, which clinic do you suppose she will choose? The practice where the receptionist puts her on hold as soon as she answers the phone and then tells the client that she can't make the appointment for six weeks or the practice where the receptionist handles the call quickly and politely and fits the appointment in sometime next week? You'd pick the second clinic, right?

The tools you need

Professional ideals are often established by a code of ethics. For example, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) established a code of ethics in 1984 that outlines the recommended behaviors and professional ideals for credentialed veterinary technicians. But many of them really apply to the whole team. Here are some behaviors everyone should practice:

1. Take pride in your work and ownership in your practice. For example, if you believe that your hospital is a great place to work, you'll work harder and provide better client service. If you're secretly thinking "this place stinks," that negativity spills over into everything you do.

2. Dress and present yourself professionally. I'm not talking about suits and briefcases here. Just nice, simple clothes and accessories that show you take care of yourself. If you wear a uniform, keep it fresh, pressed, and spot-free.

3. Join professional organizations within your field. Being a member shows that you've set goals for yourself. And achieving your career goals gives you the pride and sense of accomplishment that keeps you happy at work. If you can't identify a professional organization for your career path, look for one that shares your common goals or mission, such as welfare or rescue organizations.

4. Attend continuing education (CE) conferences. CE is an excellent way to learn about advancements in veterinary medicine. And you may need to educate your managers about the benefits of a highly trained team. So explain how the CE you want to attend will help your team work together more effectively, learn new skills to boost revenue, and improve your practice's efficiency.

5. Promote your profession and the human-animal bond. For example, you could organize a supply drive for a local animal shelter, volunteer at an animal shelter, or even visit a local high school and talk to students about your career.

All of these steps will help you boost your self-confidence and improve the way others in your workplace view you as a professional. Where do you need to improve?

Make your move

The new year is a traditional time for setting goals. You've got a clean slate, a newly turned leaf. What do you want to achieve? Consider these suggestions to get your list started:

  • Take the initiative. If you see a blood sample waiting to be processed, run it. If a pet has soiled in its cage, clean it up.
  • Act on opportunities quickly. Don't lose the chance to learn a new skill that makes you a more valuable employee. If a technician's setting up a fecal and you don't know how, take the time to watch and learn. Next time, you can help out and save some time. Or watch a surgery and ask smart questions that show you're interested.
  • Establish healthy habits. Get enough sleep, eat well, and get enough exercise. We've all heard that people who eat breakfast are more productive. And remember, your efficiency drops if you're tired or hungry.
  • Tune out the static. Don't hang around negative people. And if someone slows you down, talk about it. Communicate with your co-workers and find ways to work together efficiently.
  • Work smarter. Constantly look for ways to make your practice more efficient or to generate revenue, and bring your ideas to staff meetings. For example, many times you can learn about new products at trade shows. Sharing what you've learned might broaden the practice's inventory and generate more revenue.
  • Set deadlines—and stick to them. For example, maybe you'll set a policy that appointment reminder cards must be out two weeks before the appointment. Then make sure you follow through on this new policy.
  • Challenge yourself. Take on extra work—and do it well. Maybe you could create a client education board in the reception area for pet dental health month or make a how-to cheat sheet for your practice's scheduling software.

No matter what position you hold in your practice, you're an important member of the team. Realizing how you can contribute to the success of your practice makes you a more valuable employee. And looking for new ways to grow will bring opportunity your way and keep you happy at work.

Unprofessional, incompetent, and inefficient employees only end up dragging down the rest of the team, and ultimately they cost the practice precious revenue. Instead, be the person who motivates and inspires others around you to reach a new level of success. Positive energy is contagious, and when you're a good role model for your team members, everyone benefits.

Amy Butzier, BS, MEd, CVT, is president of NAVTA. Please send your questions or comments to
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