In today’s times, employers are finding that they need to make their workplaces as appealing as possible to recruit and retain employees. In the past, it may have worked reasonably well for a company to advertise for employees, interview candidates, select the best ones, and then tell them what benefits were available.
Today’s reality is quite different, with new employees now having certain needs and desires that aren’t necessarily the same as those valued by Baby Boomers. Although employers are still interviewing job candidates to find the right person to hire, quality employees are also using the interview process to decide which company is the best fit for them.
This may be even more true in the veterinary industry than in the overall workforce, as the shortage of veterinarians, nurses, and technicians becomes even more acute. Here are insights into four benefits being desired today.
Although quality employees are still willing to work hard, today’s graduates greatly value life-work balance. One recent Gallup survey indicated that 53 percent of employees today place a premium on this kind of balance and, as new graduates continue to come into the workplace, that number is likely to continue to increase. Because this balance was found to be even more valuable to females, this benefit is especially important to note in industries that are often female-dominated–such as the veterinary industry.
Because of this shift in values, practices that want to attract an all-star team will need to consider how they can incorporate flex-time schedules. This can feel challenging, given that patients typically need to be treated in the same room as the veterinary professionals, making it difficult to allow employees to simply telecommute.
Instead, practices may need to provide more flexibility within the jobs themselves. For example, practice managers can focus on matching up job responsibilities with the interests of each employee. Or, it could mean allowing employees to swap positions on certain days to give them variety in what they do, which can help to strengthen teamwork.
One of the most desired ways to offer flexibility, though, will be to help employees accommodate their personal schedules and needs within a workweek. For example, how can you facilitate shift switching in a way that covers the needs of your practice but allows employees to meet demands from their personal lives? How can you adjust start times or lunch breaks to accomplish the same objective?
Is it possible to rearrange schedules to allow employees to have four-day workweeks? That’s another perk that’s increasingly in demand today.
A 2015 Workplace Trends study showed that flexibility was named the most important benefit by 75 percent of employees. Organizations who help to provide that flexibility have benefited in the following ways:
- improved employee satisfaction (87%)
- increased productivity (71%)
- retained current talent (65%)
Plus, 69 percent of the workplaces surveyed use flex-time options in their recruiting, with 54 percent of them believing this had a positive effect on recruitment.
Learning Stipends/Continuing Education
Learning stipends are cash benefits offered to employees that they can use for professional development or continuing education. Many employees today want to continue to learn—with one study showing that 87 percent of Millennials consider the opportunity to continue to grow and develop a key benefit. In turn, this lifelong-learning, more educated workforce can provide significant benefits to the veterinary practice.
Encouraging a learning mindset in your practice culture, and helping to provide educational opportunities not only helps your employees to grow personally, but also in a way that makes them even more valuable to your practice. If providing learning stipends to employees isn’t practical for you, then find out what employees feel they want to learn more about and provide workshops. One example of this option would be organizing lunch and learn events at your practice.
As a related desire, employees today often want to know that they will be mentored by an experienced person in the industry. This can mean someone who will help to navigate the new hire through the workplace culture, and/or to understand policies and procedures. Each person may have slightly different needs when it comes to mentoring, but it’s an in-demand benefit, one that can boost the strength of the practice when handled well.
Mentoring helps transition new employees into a particular workplace and, the more quickly that a new hire feels comfortable and part of a team, the more likely that he or she will want to stay at that job.
Also, consider incorporating reverse mentoring, where the new hires help to mentor more established employees in areas of their expertise. This concept was created in 1999 in General Electric, with many other prominent companies adopting the program.
One of the key benefits experienced by one such company is that they experienced a 96 percent retention rate for the Millennials involved in reverse mentoring. These employees felt valued for their contributions to the company, and this gave them a chance to work more closely with senior employees. This can also help to create a more diverse workforce and pipeline of incoming human resource talent.
Finally, though reverse mentoring, younger employees can help more established ones to stay on the cutting-edge of technological opportunities that may benefit the practice. One large insurance company pairs older IT employees with new ones to discuss best practices and key trends, and to otherwise maximize potential of the company.
What’s important to think about is how reverse mentoring might benefit your practice. Reasons may not be the same ones as those at the large companies being referenced in this article—and they may not be the exact same ones as the veterinary practice down the street. It’s important to think about your business and workplace culture needs, and then create corresponding pairings and reverse mentoring structures.
New employees in the veterinary industry will likely perk up their ears when they hear that a certain employer has invested in or has access to the best technology to treat their patients. Tech-enabled workplaces are simply more appealing to many of today’s job candidates. And, the use of technology to recruit and retain star employees can go way beyond the technology used to care for patients, helping to create an engaged workforce.
You could, for example, provide quality continuing education through the use of online courses or a training and development center that employees can self-access. Gamification in training may well appeal to the younger generation at your practice, creating a fun way to raise the bar on what employees are expected to know.
With gamification, training is provided in an interactive, engaging way that uses elements of games to help users immerse themselves in the experience. If this idea is new to your practice, this ties back into a previous strategy to use; you could ask your new employees to reverse mentor the team on the use of gamification e-learning.
Technology can help employees to collaborate and communicate, with conversations stored for future reference. You can use the power of your website to share your workplace culture with potential employees, letting them see how you understand their needs and focus on finding ways to fulfill them as, collaboratively, you build the best veterinary practice possible.
To maximize your practice, it’s important to stay in tune with what new employees desire. This can happen by reading industry reports, reviewing human resource surveys and studies, talking to your current employees, and using your interviews of new employees as opportunities to also learn more about what benefits and workplace cultures are important to them.
You will likely find that work-life balance, continued learning, mentorships, and technology are discussed. You may also discover new ways to effectively recruit and retain the ideal veterinary team that will allow you to compete in the industry and provide quality patient care.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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?
In the past, some companies offered staff training at two times only: when someone was new to the company and when a problem arose that they wanted to correct. The value of training is so much greater than orientation and problem solving, and today’s companies are more likely to utilize a form of ongoing education, allowing practices to build much more motivated, educated and proactive teams.
The most effective trainings are ones that truly engage your employees, so the quality of what you offer and the topics you choose are of prime importance. It’s also recommended to make a comprehensive, well developed training program, consistently provided, rather than sporadically offering trainings when someone comes up with an idea.
This article will share ways to create a staff training program that truly adds value to your practice and genuinely teaches, motivates and develops your team.
This is a crucial element of your overall training program because this is when you can share policies and procedures with your new employee; have him or her receive and sign for an employee manual; discuss company culture with your new hire; answer any questions he or she might have; and so much more.
This is the single best time to effectively onboard your new team member, aligning him or her to your practice’s goals and values. Plus, as you consistently onboard each new employee in the same way, this can significantly help in creating a shared team vision, and can go a long way in preventing a conflict of significance from building.
This is also when you can discuss job responsibilities and timelines, along with who reports to whom, where to go for help, and so forth. If you’re going to pair your new employee with a mentor with more experience at your practice, this would be a good time to introduce them and set goals. At your orientation training, you can also share details about your ongoing training program for practice employees.
Ongoing Training Programs
Next, continuing education can be a combination of the following:
- reviews of the policies and procedures of your practice; this could be, for example, an annual review of the entire employee handbook or reviews of specific sections of it at select times of the year
- training in new technologies such as your practice software, or with new equipment used to care for animals
- seminars on topics like active listening, conflict resolution, sexual harassment prevention, leadership development, effective communication, diversity, customer engagement, and productivity
In some instances, members of your practice could lead the training. Other times, bringing in an expert who doesn’t work at the practice can add variety and a valuable outside perspective. Sometimes, this expert could be from another veterinary practice, and he or she can share how his or her workplace successfully handles an aspect of work. Or, the person might not be from the veterinary industry, at all; rather, he or she may be in expert in social media strategies, ones that can be applicable to growing your practice.
As you plan and schedule these trainings, it can be helpful to determine whether you are focusing on enhancing the technical skills of team members or assisting in their personal development—or some of both. The advantage of a combination approach is that your employees will become more educated while also improving upon their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; employees with this range of abilities are more likely to come up with creative solutions to challenges and forward new ideas to consider.
Each practice will, to some degree, have differing needs and goals. As just one example, if employees in your practice are already polished in their writing skills, it would be less likely that you would focus on business writing trainings, whereas, another practice may have employees who need writing enhancement. Conversely, the other practice may have employees who are quite technologically-savvy, while perhaps some of your employees could use supplementary training in software use. Determine what skill gaps exist and fill them.
It can help to partner with relevant associations and community organizations with resources that provide what you’re looking for in employee training. Also, consider asking your employees what they’d like to see in educational opportunities at your practice. You can do an anonymous survey or hold a meeting to discuss possibilities.
You might decide to hold your trainings once a month, perhaps shorter lunch-and-learn sessions, or as breakfast meetings. It’s often better to have shorter trainings more often, rather than longer trainings every once in a while. Do your best to minimize distractions during the trainings so that employees can focus on learning, although this isn’t always possible at a veterinary hospital. There could be a dog needing emergency surgery that arrives in the middle of your lunchtime meeting, but make it a goal to allow employees to truly focus on training materials.
Also, make it fun! Nobody wants to hear lectures that drone on and on, so incorporate movement and interaction, as it makes sense. What about role playing? Turning certain topics into games? Not every single topic will lend itself to a light approach, but it’s surprising how many really can.
Using the Power of Technology
Consider also mixing in some computer-based trainings. For example, there could be a valuable conference going on that was too expensive or too far away for your employees to attend, but you may be able to access it livestreamed, either free or for an affordable fee. Other times, you can buy video recordings of these trainings and use them to educate your employees.
With today’s technology, it’s much easier and cost effective than it used to be to create your own customized trainings. Perhaps you could create an orientation video for new employees that specifically targets your practices policies, work culture, and benefits. You could also highlight the special expertise of the veterinarians, managers or other employees at your practice. Your videos may even become in demand by other practices in need of your knowledge and experience.
Pay attention to how well online trainings work for your employees. Some people learn well from computer learning while others do much better when sitting face-to-face with a teacher. Over time, you’ll discover what mixture works best for your practice.
After a Training Ends
Training shouldn’t take place in a vacuum. It won’t do your practice any good if you provide an excellent training on something such as handling especially fearful animals—and then, because you’re busy, not use the new ideas for calming them down due to time constraints. If something is important enough to become part of a staff training, then it should be important enough to incorporate into your work routines. Managers should be a role model for these behaviors.
Get feedback about trainings from your employees. You could ask them to fill out a brief survey after each session, while their memories are still fresh; and when you’re planning the next year’s trainings, you could ask employees to rate which ones have been the most helpful over the past year. Also, consider asking your skilled employees to lead your trainings.
The Bottom Line
As you enhance the skills, both hard and soft, of your veterinary team, you’ll likely improve the efficiency of your practice, which can boost your profits. More profitable practices can pay their employees a higher wage and offer better benefits. So, it would be accurate to say that training your staff can both grow your practice and serve as a recruitment and retention tool.