Why You Should Stop Hiring for Culture Fit

It doesn’t take long to find articles that share why you should hire for culture fit. You might be employed by or have worked for companies that stressed how crucial this is. In fact, it’s gotten to where “hire for culture fit” is something that “everybody knows,” which can serve as a red flag.

First, what does “hire for culture fit” really mean? It’s often defined as recruiting people who, in theory, should be able to join your team and mesh with employees quickly because of their behavior and belief systems. Ideally, they would quickly add value to your veterinary practice, too, without causing conflict. Hiring for culture fit also can be described as a way to look at a job candidate as a whole, not just as a list of his or her qualifications and experiences. The person would be chosen in part based upon personality traits and how those traits match up with those of current employees.

At a high level, this makes sense. After all, you’ll want, for example, honest team members who desire to contribute to a workplace that genuinely provides quality animal care. And so, if you interview someone who fits those parameters, that’s a plus.

Good Intentions Go Astray

The danger occurs when you take the culture fit concept too far, narrowing what you’re looking for in a new employee. Culture fit can, quite unintentionally, become a catchphrase that means you want to hire people who think like you do, who perform their job duties like you do and who otherwise are just like you.

Doing this can lead to:

  • Lack of diversity among team members.
  • A dearth of viewpoints, creating a “me too” culture that inhibits growth.
  • Overlooking potential employees who would have plenty to contribute.

A practice that rejects candidates who fail to fit into a precise, preconceived mold despite their qualifications and despite what they can contribute is putting its efforts into maintaining the status quo rather than hiring to expand the possibilities.

More Than Culture

Instead of focusing on finding the right culture fit, what can make more sense is adding to your practice culture in strategic ways to increase what you have to offer clients.

Let’s say your practice team tends to come to a consensus quickly, which you’ve perceived as a good thing. But if you look around the room, you might notice that everyone is from the same generation, perhaps older Gen Xers.

If you added, say, a millennial to the mix, what would happen? There might not be as much consensus anymore, but you might receive a wealth of information about new technology, and this can add a new level of service to the practice, streamline communication and much more. Diversity isn’t just generational. It can involve making the practice more gender equal or evolve the racial-ethnic demographic.

Creating a more diverse workforce can benefit you in numerous ways. But to make that happen, make sure that a desire for culture fit doesn’t turn into a demand for consensus.

Hiring for Value Fit

Making sure that new employees fit in well so that you can pursue goals together is important. But for a new perspective, aim for value matching instead of focusing on culture fit.

For example, if your practice strongly believes in providing empathetic service to clients and their pets, then recruit and hire people who can live out that value. When you hire for a value fit, you look for candidates who share the same sense of purpose that others do at the practice. You still allow for, and even embrace, diverse points of view on how to achieve the goals.

This might sound like splitting hairs, but when companies carefully analyze their culture and define what they value, and then create a hiring structure based on those factors — and ensure the process isn’t really a path to a lack of diversity — then how the process is phrased might be a matter of linguistics. Unfortunately, not enough companies take the time to do a deep dive into what they value, and even fewer then interview and hire based on the intelligence gleaned. Too often, culture fit still means that those in charge of hiring make subjective decisions based on gut feelings about job candidates.

How can you tell the difference between hiring for culture and hiring for values? In the November/December 2018 issue of HR Magazine, a good example was given. Saying you want to hire friendly people who have a good attitude is an example of hiring for culture fit in a way that can hinder innovation. If, though, your practice places significant value on high autonomy in the workplace and you’ve discovered how to interview and hire for it, this can become a value fit hiring process.

The HR Magazine article also recommends that scorecards be used for candidate assessment. The example used is that a practice decides that relationship-building skills are valued. Without using a carefully created scorecard, a quieter candidate who has stellar relationship-building abilities can be overlooked. 

Job Candidate Preferences

What can be helpful is to talk to job candidates about the environments that allow them to thrive. Some people, for example, work especially well within a significant structure while others prefer to have wiggle room and space to breathe. Open-ended questions can give you additional insight into these candidates. If you feel uncomfortable about an answer, decide whether the answer is “wrong” for your practice or whether it’s an opportunity to open yourself to new ideas that would add value to the workplace.

If you end up hiring someone and it doesn’t work out well, you have an excellent chance to decipher why if failed. Did the employee’s values not mesh with yours? If so, do your interview notes reveal any missed red flags? What can you learn from the review?

When the notion of hiring for culture fit was first developed, it was a significant step in the right direction, focusing hiring managers on looking beyond mere lines on a resume. Including a cultural-fit component in your hiring practices can still be useful if your recruiting structure is well thought out, you’re strongly focused on values and you acknowledgement the importance of diversity.

Social Media: Which Platform Works Best for You?

In the technology age, there is a plethora of social media options. Many businesses have an account with each of the various outlets, but do you really need all of them? When does posting become too much for your business and correspondingly annoying to your clients?  Do they really want to follow you on every social media platform and see the same thing posted multiple times? Do they want to see bad animal puns every day or would they rather see pertinent information regarding pet health?

Let’s break down the differences between the four most popular social media platforms—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook is great for those who want to provide information about their business, as well as share information with their followers. Similar to a website, you can list a ton of information including hours of operation, services offered, and team bios. At the same time, you can also provide current information that may not be as easily updated on a website.

For example- Sally brings in a dog she found wandering on the street with no collar and no microchip. A simple picture of the dog and description of where the dog was found can be shared by multiple clients at that exact moment, which may increase the chances of finding the dog’s owner. Similarly, an update as simple as “Hospital closing due to snow” gets the word out fast and efficiently.

You can also share things such as client photos or veterinary articles that your clients may find useful or just downright entertaining. Clients can also leave reviews directly on your page, which may as a result, bring in new clients!

Instagram

Instagram is a platform used mainly to upload pictures and videos. This can be a great way to keep in touch with your existing clients, and can foster a relationship more than just at their annual visit. Sharing pictures that clients send in may make them feel more connected to the practice and less likely to go somewhere else for next year’s checkup, or a random sick visit. Adding “behind the scene” clips to the Stories section can show the client how your team works together everyday to provide the best service possible for their pets.

However, Instagram has its drawbacks for businesses. There isn’t a dedicated section where you can provide a description of what you do, just a short space to fill in your name and a general idea of who you are. This could limit your followers to existing clientele and may not reach a new client who needs more info to take action and visit your practice.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is another social media platform that is used mostly for professional networking. Individuals can upload their resume directly to the sight for potential employers to view. Meanwhile, businesses can post available jobs and descriptions. It may be helpful for the veterinarians at your practice to have a profile on LinkedIn so that clients can learn more about their education and experience. However, there isn’t a lot that your business can do on this social media site on a daily basis.

As an employer, LinkedIn does serve as a great tool to keep in touch with contacts within the veterinary industry. Met someone at the AVMA conference? Want to keep in touch with former classmates? Find them on LinkedIn to stay connected. LinkedIn is a great source to find/offer job opportunities and can keep you connected to your professional contacts.

Twitter

Last but not least, there is Twitter. Known mostly for rants by celebrities, Twitter is a platform used as a “micro-blog.” Basically, users can post short posts throughout the day (limited to 280 characters) about anything they want. For business purposes, this is similarly useful to Facebook in that it gets news out quickly and efficiently. You can use this site to provide information about closures and lost pets as well as share client pictures and “behind the scenes” snapshots of your hospital with short descriptions. Clients can direct their posts to you with questions or reviews, and you can respond and repost their comments to your own “feed.” Twitter can keep you directly connected to your clients, as well as their followers, to keep in contact with them, as well as potentially bringing in new clientele.

Social media is all about the instant gratification of a web-based connection. Staying in touch with your clients outside of the office is a great way to retain your clientele and establish loyalty. However, there is a lot of research that goes into how people respond to posts and what posts they choose to respond to. Is your goal to become famous worldwide for your funny posts? Or is your goal to share information about your practice and increase revenue? The platform(s) you use is up to you. However, we recommend you consider what your goal is and how each site works towards this goal, prior to clicking “sign up.”

Some do’s and don’ts of social media:

Don’t over post… Research shows that once a day is optimal; anything more may become annoying and result in your clients “unfollowing” you.

Do know WHEN to post during the day… If your clients are mostly full-time workers, posting after normal working hours may increase the reach of each post.

Don’t post pricing information… Since prices can change and each situation can vary, do not lock yourself in by posting prices online. A receptionist can provide a range for an estimate better than a website.

Do make your pages easily accessible… Provide as much pertinent information as possible. Make sure you always link to your website and provide a phone number for any questions.

Don’t give access to just anyone…  Limit social media access to 1 or 2 staff members who are trustworthy and can work together to keep the platform going.

Do interact with your followers… But do not respond in negative ways to bad reviews. Simply ask the reviewer to reach out to your office to settle the situation.

 

Delivering Great During-Visit Service

Here’s a simple, straightforward and universally true statement that will set the context for this entire article: You’ll retain more clients if you treat them well. This includes treating them well while they’re at your practice for an appointment. One of the most effective ways to boost your level of service is to put yourself in the shoes of a client as he or she walks in your front door.

  • How is the client greeted? How personalized is that greeting?
  • How welcoming is the waiting area? How comfortable?
  • How neat and clean is that area? How fresh does it smell?
  • How professional does the reception team look and act?
  • How long do clients need to wait to be taken to a room?
  • How long do they have to wait to talk to a veterinarian?
  • If there is a delay in service, how is that situation handled?

Take a look at your answers to these questions. If you are proud of your responses, then you’re already ahead of much of the competition. However, if the questions point out areas of service that can be improved, that’s not unusual. If that is the case, what action plan will you create?

To help create an improvement plan, you can ask a trusted friend to walk into the practice and then offer you his or her impression of what the area looks like; what is heard during their time in the waiting area; and what overall impression this experience gives about the veterinary practice.

As part of your hiring practices, remember the importance of soft skills as you interview people for a position. Your during-visit services will automatically be more appealing if clients are greeted by receptionists who enjoy engaging with other people, versus those who see client interactions as a necessary—but not necessarily enjoyable—part of their jobs.

Little things can make a big difference throughout the visit, and when you remember to focus on the client, this will likely boost his or her loyalty to you and your practice.

 

Greeting Clients

What happens when a client first walks into your lobby sets the tone for the entire visit. Quick ways to help clients feel valued include standing when he or she enters the lobby area, and slightly leaning towards the client and pet to show interest in them. Greet people with a friendly smile and make eye contact. Some receptionists like to shake hands with clients, while others prefer to offer a friendly greeting without the handshake involved. And, if you normally do like to shake hands, consider skipping this step during cold and flu season.

Providing coffee or other refreshments for clients while they wait can make them feel cared for. The receptionists can offer it during check-in, especially if someone is new to your practice. Even if the client declines, it can make a good first impression. Also, check to make sure you have the correct contact information for each client, doing so in a way that feels conversational, not rushed or rote.

Managers should train the front desk staff on how to enforce hospital policies that are intended to protect clients and pets.  The staff needs to be able to explain their importance to the clients and why these policies were created in the first place. If a dog is off leash, for example, the receptionist would ask to have him put on leash, gently sharing how that helps protect others in the waiting room.

If possible, have separate waiting areas for cats and dogs to reduce the stress on both the animals and their owners. Another option is to use a room divider. Hooks for coats and umbrella stands are little things that can make the room feel more welcoming, too.

During the Wait

Let’s say that appointments at your practice are running 15-minutes behind schedule. There are ways to help make this wait seem shorter for your clients. This includes providing fresh reading material in the waiting room. Your practice can also give out pictures of cats and dogs for restless children to color while they wait. Hanging interesting artwork on the wall can also help.

Update the clients about their current wait time when you can, adding in bits of friendly conversation, whenever possible, to make the time feel less tedious. It may be helpful if you share with them why the practice is running late. It’s also courteous to tell the client how much you appreciate his or her patience.

Avoid sitting and chatting with your coworker while the client waits, unless you make it clear that the client is free to join in. Also, never “talk shop” or gossip whatsoever.

Soft music playing in the background can be soothing, while offering free Wi-Fi can help clients to check in at work or connect with family while waiting. Posting pictures of happy clients and their pets, along with thank you notes from them, can create an upbeat atmosphere. The use of air purifiers can make the waiting experience more pleasant for your clients.

It can also help to have disposable bowls available for cats and dogs so they can have a drink of fresh water. Even if they aren’t interested, their owners will likely appreciate the gesture.

During the Consultation

The most important aspect of a consultation is to provide personalized service to the client standing in front of you. Although it can be hard to put aside what may have just happened with a previous client, the person and pet who are currently there for an appointment want and deserve your full attention.

Smiling as you meet a client’s new kitten can go a long way in cementing your relationship; so can empathy if euthanasia needs to be discussed. Use the client’s name and the pet’s name during your conversation and explain what you’re doing and why. At the end, ask if the client has any questions and use clear language in explaining what wasn’t understood. Help clients to understand why you’re recommending things such as bloodwork or a change in their pet’s diet. The “why” can improve the odds that the client will agree to those recommendations.

Try to appropriately balance the time that a client spends with a technician versus the time spent with the veterinarian. Situations vary, but it often makes sense for veterinarians to spend more time with a new pet, while still giving ongoing clients enough time and attention.

After the Consultation

When the consultation ends, your team gets another chance to explain instructions to the client and answer their questions regarding the treatment of their pet, the invoice or something else entirely.

Provide each client with a written summary of what took place during the visit, including any key findings. Highlight when the next visit is scheduled, if relevant, and make sure the client has any food, medications or preventatives that were purchased during this visit. If you know that your client typically buys certain items, such as a medicated shampoo, you can ask if refills are needed.

If the client needs help getting an animal back to the car, provide that service. Better yet, offer it to everyone. Keep umbrellas on hand for when it’s raining and use them as you escort the client and pet to the appropriate vehicle. When a client needs to carry out something such as a heavy bag of dog food, or is juggling a cat carrier with two small children, jump up to assist them. They will appreciate your kindness.

What to Consider as Next Steps

Which of these ideas has your practice already implemented? What are the next steps you’ll be adding to boost your during-visit service to the next level? What’s on your wish list for someday? Consider the steps that you can take today to begin transforming your wish list into a reality.

Legal Risk Management in Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Most people today have social media accounts that they use to keep in touch with friends, to read the news, to scroll through pages of cute animal pictures and more. We also use online resources to make everyday decisions, including choosing doctors, restaurants and movies. Today, virtually every service, from hair dressers to plumbers and beyond, is chosen in part based upon their online ratings and reviews. In fact, 72% of customers say they rely heavily upon online reviews when choosing services.

As a consumer, this can seem like a great way to weed out poor choices and find the best service. In fact, 87% of consumers say that a business needs a rating of at least three stars for them to even consider using them.

From the business owner’s point of view, though, these reviews can cause frustration, especially the negative ones which even have the potential to impact self-esteem. As veterinarians, for example, most of us feel that we have provided reasonable levels of service to our clients. Therefore, we can be shocked to see how our service has been construed by a client in a negative review.

For example:

Mrs. Smith calls Corner Veterinary Hospital, asking for a refill of Fluffy’s metronidazole. The receptionist informs Mrs. Smith that Fluffy hasn’t been seen by a veterinarian for two years and, if Fluffy is not feeling well, she should be examined by a veterinarian. Mrs. Smith becomes angry and refuses the appointment. Later that day, Mrs. Smith posts a Yelp review that Corner Veterinary Hospital refused to give Fluffy her medications and is run by money-grubbing veterinarians who just want an excuse to get more money from her.

Or:

Susie works for Dr. Johnson at Corner Veterinary Hospital. Susie is eventually terminated for excessive absenteeism. A few days later, Suzie posts a Facebook review that Corner Veterinary Hospital is filthy, Dr. Johnson doesn’t actually know what he’s doing, and he orders unnecessary treatments to make more money.

Naturally, Dr. Johnson and Corner Veterinary Hospital become indignant with such representations of their character and services. What options does the practice have for combatting such reviews?

In general, online reviews can either be ignored, responded to, or alternatively, the client can be sued for defamation. When deciding how to respond, it’s important to consider that the practice’s current clients have already formed their own opinions from their own personal experiences, and are less likely to be significantly swayed by a single negative review. Any recourse should therefore be taken with the potential client’s viewpoint in mind.

Choosing Among Options

The first option is to not respond at all. In general, if a practice has numerous positive reviews and only a few negative ones, potential clients who are deciding whether or not to use the practice will be less likely to be swayed by the negative reviews. In that case, most potential clients will accept the fact that some people will never be satisfied. A few politely-worded negative reviews can actually make the reviews of the business seem more authentic overall and, fortunately, potential clients can typically recognize highly unreasonable people.

It can be tempting to want to remove negative online reviews from a website, especially those that are more extreme. In many situations, this attempt may be unsuccessful, but there are some steps that can be taken. If the review appears on the veterinary practice’s Facebook page, for example, then the offending party can be blocked from the page so that any comments will not be viewable. Also, the Facebook review feature can be turned off entirely, although this will also remove all positive reviews, too. If the review appears on websites outside the control of the practice, and it is grossly inaccurate, some websites can be contacted to have the post removed, but this is often not successful.

Some practices ask acquaintances to post positive reviews to skew their ratings. Sites such as Yelp have mechanisms in place to identify and filter out reviews from friends and family and, on general principle, this should be avoided altogether. A better method is to encourage current clients to leave online reviews; although it is not ethical to ask them to write positive ones, it is acceptable to request reviews from clients who had quality experiences at the practice.

Under certain circumstances, veterinarians who feel they have been wronged will want to defend their names and reputations. After all, it’s hard to sit back and watch yourself be misrepresented online. Many people therefore feel the urge to respond to these reviews and clarify facts of the situation. Veterinarians, however, need to be aware that responding to such posts with the specifics of the situation may violate patient privacy laws. So, what can you do? Some practices try to proactively protect themselves by having new clients sign a statement saying that they waive the right to patient privacy in the case that the client posts a negative review.

Unfortunately, such a waiver would not be protective in court. Since the waiver is signed before any incident would occur, that client would not have had all the facts needed to waive his or her rights to privacy.

According to the AVMA, “veterinarians and their associates must protect the personal privacy of clients, and veterinarians must not reveal confidences unless required to by law or unless it becomes necessary to protect the health and welfare of other individuals or animals”. In other words, providing information in response to a negative review that could identify the client or patient could be a breach of privacy. At best, the practice could use the occasion to clarify their standard policies.

In addition to legal concerns, any reply to such a review could be perceived as inflammatory and defensive in tone by potential clients. Again, it’s important to remember that the Google-search audience is comprised of potential clients who are trying to decide which veterinarian would be best for Spot. A negative review may be considered more interesting, and is more likely to be read by a potential client when it has a reply from the practice.

If read, then the tone and impact of the reply is the potential client’s first insight into the personality of the clinic. If the practice seems defensive and unwilling to take responsibility, then the potential client may perceive the clinic as being hard to work with and one that’s not looking out for the client’s best interest. Any attempt to set the story straight can sound like arguing and create an unpleasant impression to the client.

That doesn’t mean that the review must be ignored entirely. Perhaps the practice doesn’t have many reviews and this one long and negative review thereby seems glaringly obvious. If the practice feels the need to respond, a generic but specific reply can be posted, such as the following:

Hi Mrs. Smith. We’re sorry to hear about your experience at Corner Veterinary Hospital. Please call Barb, our office manager, at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx so we can address your concerns.

This style of reply doesn’t break any patient confidentiality, can make the client feel as though he or she has been heard and, perhaps more importantly, provides an empathetic tone for potential clients to see. A good reply includes some expression of empathy, the specific name and phone number of the contact person, and an invitation to a private conversation.

The possible outcomes of this are three-fold. The best-case situation would be that Mrs. Smith does call Barb, hears an explanation and is satisfied with the conversation. In that case, she might remove the review or edit it to a positive. The next best situation is where Mrs. Smith calls and is reasonably satisfied but makes no changes to the review. The worst situation is where Mrs. Smith calls, but is still unhappy with the outcome, and makes further negative posts.

To help prevent this last situation from occurring, make sure the contact person is reasonably available and has the knowledge and authority to address the concerns. If Barb is only available every other Tuesday from 10:00am-12:00pm, Mrs. Smith will likely become even more annoyed. If Barb doesn’t understand the policy enough to defend it or doesn’t have the authority to make any reasonable accommodations, Mrs. Smith will likely be just as frustrated in the end, or even more so.

Ultimately, you can do your best to resolve these types of situations, but keep in mind that there are some clients who will never accept that things cannot be done their way. Since, by law, Fluffy’s metronidazole cannot be refilled without an exam in the past year and Barb cannot change that regardless of how much she wants to help Mrs. Smith, this particular situation may never be satisfactorily resolved for all parties.

Reviews from Disgruntled People  

Let’s say you receive a negative review from a client whom you’ve banned from the practice. Can that client be sued for libel? For a statement to be considered libel, it must be presented as fact, or be reasonably construed as fact by the average person. As long as the general gist of the story is true, even if some of the pieces are false, it may not be enough to constitute libel. Most reviews have some basis of truth to them, even if not every single detail is true, and these circumstances can make it very difficult for any practice to successfully fight a court case against a client. Plus, since almost all reviews are expressions of opinion, the practice will rarely have a solid enough case to make in court.

Moreover, pursuing a libel case can be quite expensive with a likelihood of success typically being slim. Besides, at the first hint of legal recourse, the client could immediately post that information to social media and create a publicity nightmare. Hence, any attempt at suing for libel is, in most cases, not worthwhile.

Another possible scenario involves unhappy employees or ex-employees. What recourse does the practice have against a disgruntled employee who has a bone to pick? Some websites, such as Yelp and Google, will block reviews from disgruntled employees if asked to do so. Plus, new hires could be asked to sign both a non-disclosure agreement as well as a non-disparagement agreement. Non-disclosure agreements prohibit employees from sharing information that is not publicly available, while non-disparagement agreements prohibit employees from making disparaging statements about their employer. Since most employers don’t (and shouldn’t) publicly disparage their employees, it is reasonable for them to request the same of their employees.

These need to be carefully worded documents, though, because the National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to discuss wages, benefits, and other terms and work conditions with other employees.

As far as the non-disparagement agreement in connection with negative postings, this document can create leverage for an employer in court, but the employer will likely incur significant legal fees and probably receive negative publicity while pursuing charges. Unfortunately, the other fallout of such a clause is that, in the case of a harassment suit, an employer who has a non-disparagement agreement in place will likely have to pay higher settlement fees. In general, non-disparagement agreements are best avoided.

What If the Negative Client Review is True?

Sometimes, unfortunately, the hospital’s staff does perform poorly. For example, let’s say that Mr. Jones dropped Buddy off at Corner Veterinary Hospital for a routine castration. During the course of Buddy’s stay, a veterinary assistant walked Buddy outside. Buddy slipped his collar and disappeared into the woods. Mr. Jones is contacted, and the assistants make every effort to find Buddy, but to no avail. Mr. Jones is irate and posts an angry Google Review saying that Corner Veterinary Hospital is clearly not responsible and shouldn’t be trusted with anyone’s pet.

In this situation, Corner Veterinary Hospital stands to lose a lot, as this is clearly an egregious offense and is entirely true. The review can be ignored, and perhaps the practice will make that decision if there are sufficient positive reviews to outweigh it. A polite response asking the client to call the office is also a valid option, but the practice may want to make the response more apologetic. The response can also include an acknowledgment of what went wrong, with a description of what has been done to fix the problem, such as the following:

We’re very sorry that you’ve had this experience at Corner Veterinary Hospital. All our staff is very upset about this situation and continues to search for Buddy. Since we never want an incident like this to happen again, we are having all of our hospitalized patients walked with two leashes, including a slip lead that is more secure. We are also working on fencing in a section of our property for even more security. If you would like to discuss this further with us, please call Barb, our office manager, at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx.

While this is not an ideal situation by any means, showing concern, an acknowledgement of what went wrong, and a plan to prevent future issues may be the best method of preserving the practice’s reputation.

What’s Best

Ideally, practices should focus on performing in a way that will help to prevent negative reviews from being posted. While there are some clients who will never be satisfied, most reasonable clients will be happy when you have a friendly staff that provides them with good service, and the practice enforces transparent, reasonable policies. It is important to have a plan in place, though, so that you know how to respond, in general, when you do get a negative review.

You can use negative reviews to discover where your practice has the opportunity to improve its client service. Was Mrs. Smith unhappy, for example, because the receptionist offered her an appointment three days out when Mrs. Smith was already sick of cleaning up her cat’s diarrhea? Or was the receptionist unempathetic and hard to work with? While neither of these may be the case, every negative review is an opportunity to evaluate and potentially improve the practice’s policies.

Six Elements of Successful Telephone Etiquette in Veterinary Practices

People like to feel as though they’re worth your time and attention. It’s only human nature, right? When clients or potential clients call your veterinary office, they want to hang up feeling as though their cats and dogs are important to you.

Here are six strategies to help you secure and retain clients through how your practice handles those telephone conversations.

Personalize Calls and Establish Relationships

If you’re a manager, your role in this can be to help ensure that people who answer the practice’s telephones have enough time to focus on the calls they take. You don’t want them to get overwhelmed by having to put too many callers on hold, or become distracted by having to do other tasks.

How many phone calls does your practice get on an average Monday? An average Saturday? At what times throughout the day does your call volume tend to increase? Have you adequately staffed for these times? If someone on your team points out that he or she can’t give adequate attention to callers, how do you respond? Is that response effective?

If you are someone who answers the phones for your practice, quickly find out who is on the other end of each call. Get the name of the caller and their pet(s) and use those names throughout the conversation. Let’s say, for example, that someone calls and wants to know how much you charge for a first-time visit for a kitten, including shots. You could respond by saying that it can be so exciting to get a new kitten, and then ask them for their name and their kitten’s name. In that one simple response, you’ve already set a friendly tone and obtained the information that you need to start to personalize the call.

If you ever feel as though you don’t have enough time to spend with each caller, let your manager know. Ideally, you can brainstorm effective solutions together.

Clarify Client Needs and Provide Appointment Information

During a phone call, find out information such as the pet’s age, how long the person has had the pet and the breed. Use language that’s clear and easy to understand, avoiding industry and medical jargon.

If the caller starts out by asking about the price of a service, let him or her know that you would be happy to provide them with that information, but you need to clarify a few details first. This gives you a chance to bond and build rapport, while ensuring that you’re providing the potential client with the information that he or she really needs. If you simply answer the question with a dollar figure, the caller may just end the call at that point.

Picture this scenario as an example. Let’s say that someone wants to know how much it will cost to neuter a male kitten. Through your conversation, you discover that the caller intends to adopt at a shelter tomorrow where that service is provided in adoption fees. You could then walk your caller through what a typical appointment is like for a kitten just adopted from a shelter and help to book an appointment.

Every situation is different but, in each case, clarifying the client’s needs is a crucial step in providing the best service possible to the callers.

Ask About Other Pets

Let’s say a client calls to make an appointment for his or her dog. While updating the records, you notice that the client’s cat is overdue for a checkup. Kindly remind the client of this information and offer to make appointments for all the animals during the same phone call. Ask what days of the week are best, whether morning or afternoon works better, and so forth, and the client will likely recognize how much effort you put into making the situation as stress-free as possible.

Then, offer two choices. “OK, so Thursday afternoons are good for you. Would you prefer 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.?”

Side note: Although the two-choice rule can be highly effective in this situation, it is best to avoid many of the types of questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you want to make an appointment?” makes it far too easy for a caller to say, “No.”

Be Aware of the Language You Use

Compare and contrast these sets of examples:

  • “Georgie needs a rabies booster shot” versus “I recommend that Georgie get his rabies booster shot”
  • “I’ve fixed your bill” versus “Your bill should be okay now”
  • “The doctor plans to call you today to answer that question” versus “The doctor is really busy but will call sometime today when she can”

In each case, the first response is more confident and helpful, while the second one is more wishy-washy. And, in the second two examples, the latter responses can be insulting to clients, perhaps making them feel that they aren’t important to your practice.

Be Knowledgeable, But Not Scripted

Clients and potential clients alike appreciate when the person answering the phone is knowledgeable about schedules, services offered at the practice, and so forth. Having said that, authenticity is what connects people and makes people want to engage with you, so an overly scripted presentation can turn people off.

Here’s another caution: as receptionists gain experience and knowledge, it can be tempting for them to guess what their veterinarians would say, and provide information to callers. Even though experienced team members may be correct with their advice, it’s not wise to provide answers to medical questions without getting the information from the doctor.

For example, a client might call and say his dog is lethargic and doesn’t want to go outside. A receptionist might respond with, “Well, it is pretty cold outside. Maybe you could wait to see how Brutus does tomorrow. I know my dog doesn’t like really cold weather, either.” That receptionist may be exactly right, or Brutus could be having a significant medical problem. If the latter is true, this opens up the practice to legal liability.

Be Friendly but Also Efficient

Friendliness and kindness can play significant roles in obtaining and keeping clients. For example, if you realize that there is no way for you to avoid putting a caller on hold, doing so in an empathetic way will make it much more likely that the caller will understand and be willing to wait, rather than if you sound frazzled or even irritable. This concept will hold true in virtually everything you do at the practice.

Having said that, efficiency is also important for many reasons. First, the person calling in may be busy; second, efficiently handling calls opens up more receptionist time for the next caller.

Conclusion

To help ensure that your practice provides quality telephone service and etiquette, here are four tips:

  • When hiring, consider soft “people” skills alongside the more resume-driven ones.
  • Thoroughly train people who will answers phones, providing them with solutions to deal with typical challenges that arise.
  • Provide enough resources so that receptionists are not forced to hurry. Efficiency is good; hurrying often leads to frazzled employees and dissatisfied clients, as well as potential clients who go to the practice across town.
  • Managers and receptionists should communicate whenever a problem arises and work together to brainstorm solutions that work well for everyone involved.

Auditing Your Company’s Mission Statement

Although no two mission statements are alike (nor should they be), it’s important to regularly audit yours—perhaps when you do your annual policy review, overall—to determine whether or not the statement is still relevant and actually being put into practice. Here is a helpful checklist.

  • Is your mission statement still relevant? If not, why not? What needs changed?
    • Is your purpose still the same?
    • What about your core values?
    • Do you offer different products and/or services, ones that have caused your mission statement to need to evolve?
    • What makes your business unique? Is that clearly indicated?
  • Can your entire team recite your mission statement?
  • When you ask each member of the team (or, if at a large company, a sample of them) what the mission statement means, how consistent are the answers?
    • How closely do they match what key staff believe the statement to mean?
    • If there are gaps, where do they exist? How significant are they?
    • In your policy manual, have you included concrete examples of how the mission statement could be put into practice? If not, would that be helpful?
  • How do you explicitly communicate your mission statement to your customers or clients?
    • Through signs that state it?
    • In your website and printed materials?
    • In your advertising?
  • In company meetings, how often do you discuss the mission statement?
  • When your company faces challenges and/or difficult choices, do you consult your mission statement when reviewing possible solutions? How is it your benchmark?
  • When you create new policies, do you ensure that they mesh with your mission?
  • How often do you review your policy manual to make sure that what’s included dovetails with your mission? As just one gut-check example, how well does your disciplinary policy match your mission statement?
  • You can also review the following for matches and mismatches:
    • Your organizational chart
    • Job descriptions
    • Forms
    • Any other employee handbooks or manuals
  • Take a look at how you reward employees. Are you rewarding them for phrases contained in your mission statement? If, for example, your statement includes “providing compassionate care,” do you actually reward and promote based on that value, or are your rewards based on how well a person increases revenues or reduces expenses?
  • What processes do you have in place for employees to report when they feel that procedures conflict with the mission statement? How are those reports handled?
  • What procedures do you have in place to update the mission statement, when needed?
  • As you read through this checklist, what items would be important to add or edit to match your business’s unique needs? Who will spearhead that initiative? What is the deadline?