Working at the front desk of a veterinary practice isn’t easy. Receptionists, commonly known as client service representatives or CSRs, juggle many tasks at any given time with a smile on their face. This can be exhausting for even the most experienced employee.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here are five ways you can help your front-desk team be more efficient, which will improve their job satisfaction and performance, and lead to elevated client experiences and decreased turnover.
1. Manage volume overload
Veterinary CSRs experience sensory overload. The phones are ringing, clients need to be checked in and out, and your CSRs have a list of recurring tasks that have to be completed each day, like call backs and appointment confirmations. They need to know who is in each exam room, or, if your practice is operating curbside, who is in the parking lot. The list goes on.
The solution: Designate a virtual care coordinator. The idea of a virtual care coordinator is starting to become more commonplace. Businesses in many industries are discovering that employees can work remotely, and they’re often more effective at home than they are in the office. Imagine if you could have one person who works from home, or is off the floor each day, who’s responsible for managing the following tasks:
- Answering incoming calls
- Making follow-up calls
- Confirming appointments
- Monitoring the practice email inbox
- Managing appointment requests from your app or website
Just those five tasks would take a huge load off of your CSR team each day. But take it a step further and imagine some other tasks a virtual care coordinator could perform for your team:
- Call clients with basic lab work results
- Build estimates
- Manage social media
- Manage post-visit surveys
- Call clients with lapsed patients or patients with overdue reminders
- Order inventory
Designating a team member to take a percentage of the burden off your CSR team will undoubtedly improve everyone’s lives. But before you decide to implement this role in your practice, collect some data and determine how much time your team is spending on these tasks. Here are a few things you can measure:
- How many incoming calls are you receiving each day?
- What is the busiest time of day for phone calls? You can get a record of this information from your phone company. Check out your Google Analytics page for some helpful information like this, too.
What is the nature of the incoming phone calls? If you know why clients are calling, you may be able to implement systems to minimize or eliminate those calls. For example, if clients are calling to request food or medication refills, encourage them to send those requests through your app or your website instead. The best way to track incoming calls is to keep a call log for at least one month.
2. Improve the arrival process
COVID forced veterinary practices to reinvent the wheel. When COVID struck, veterinary practices had to make major changes to their appointment processes so clients and team members could stay safe. And while all practices have managed to come up with a system that works for them, these systems don’t always work well. If you’re offering curbside services and your clients call to inform your team that they’ve arrived, your process is actually making the job harder for your CSRs.
The solution: Automate as much as possible, and consider a curbside concierge role. This role doesn’t require any veterinary experience, or even a college degree — just an outgoing personality and a friendly smile. Here are some responsibilities your curbside concierge could manage:
- Know who is in the parking lot or the practice at any given time.
- Monitor client arrivals through your curbside arrival technology solution.
- Greet clients with a bottle of water when they arrive.
- Deliver food and medications to clients in their cars.
- Assist clients with rowdy pets, and carry pets in and out of the practice. This is especially appreciated if the client has small children in the car.
- Provide entertainment — coloring books, puzzles, stickers, snacks — to young kids while they wait. This gesture goes a long way for parents.
3. Improve the check-out process
The end of a client visit can drag on, especially during curbside. Having a conversation about money is uncomfortable, and when the process of actually getting paid for the services you provide is dragged out, it doesn’t make things easier. Right now, many CSRs have to:
- Go to the client’s car to discuss the invoice.
- Get the credit card from the client.
- Go back inside to run the credit card.
- Go back outside to get the client’s signature and return the credit card.
- Go back inside.
CSRs at many other practices call clients who are waiting in the parking lot to obtain their payment information. While this process eliminates the back-and-forth, it comes with its own set of pitfalls, like the likelihood of mishearing the client and not entering the card information correctly the first time.
The solution: Improve the check-out experience with technology, consistency, and loyalty rewards.
Make it easy for clients to pay for the services you provide. Some solutions include:
- Text-to-pay links
- Email-to-pay links
- Mobile credit card devices that can be taken to the parking lot
- Apple Pay
- Vet2Pet’s Virtual Payment — accept payments through your mobile app
Check with your merchant service provider to determine your options.
Consider removing your CSRs from this task entirely. It may seem crazy, but we strongly recommend that the team member who closes out the invoice, collects the payment, and books the follow-up visit should be the team member who assisted the veterinarian with the appointment from the beginning. This gives your client a seamless experience and prevents them from feeling “passed around” from one team member to another. It may also help to prevent missed charges.
4. Communicate effectively and set clear expectations
With phone calls, text messages, email, and social media, there are so many ways to reach your practice and your clients could be confused and unsure about how you’d prefer to be communicated with. And, when clients need to know important information prior to their visit, they often don’t receive that information in advance, and CSRs are forced to relay it to every client every time.
The solution: Tell your clients what you want them to do, and how you want things done.
Most practice management software includes an option to assign specific codes to appointments. Ensure these codes are up to date in your practice, and that your team is using them. These are helpful because client communication services like Vet2Pet can customize the messaging that is delivered to your clients during the appointment confirmation process so the client knows exactly what they need to do. Bonus points for giving clients an expectation of approximately how long they can expect their appointment to last.
Here are the two most common examples of this:
- Wellness exam — Remind your client to bring a fresh stool sample to their visit.
- Surgery or dental — Remind your client of NPO instructions and what time they should drop off.
During curbside, be sure to include your curbside protocols with your appointment confirmation messaging. If clients already know what to do when they arrive, the process can begin much sooner.
Most clients are happy to comply with your preferred methods of communication, especially if it improves their experience in doing business with you. But they don’t know what they don’t know. If you’d prefer that clients request food and medication refills through your app instead of calling, tell them every time they request it through a different channel. If they understand how it will benefit them, they’ll be more likely to comply.
5. Focus on CSR wellbeing
Veterinary CSRs have a difficult job, and are often overworked and underpaid. CSRs end up taking the tongue lashing from a hostile client, or a client who can’t pay their bill, yet they are expected to maintain a cheerful attitude, no matter what.
The solution: Cut CSRs some slack, and encourage them to focus on their wellbeing.
Encourage your CSRs to take a break from time to time, and don’t make them feel bad for doing it. When I worked in practice, we implemented a 10-minute period every day before afternoon rounds where our team—doctors included—could leave the floor and meditate or rest in a dark, quiet room before the afternoon rush. We turned the phones over to voicemail and included in our recording that from 12:50 to 1:00 p.m. every weekday we would be taking a mental-health break. A sign was placed on the counter in the lobby with the same information, and there was a doorbell by the sign that a client could use if they had an emergency.
Think about it: If your practice is open for eight hours each day, 10 minutes is only 2% of the total time you’re open. Encourage your team to take this time to focus on themselves.
When I was working at the reception desk, the weight of the day would start to bear down on me right around 2:30 p.m. Sometimes I just needed a snack to boost my energy so I could make it through the final stretch of the day. Stocking your break room with some snacks is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—granola, protein bars, candies, and trail mixes are easy and inexpensive.
CSRs are the first people clients see when they walk in, and they’re often the last people clients see before they leave. They are the people your clients speak to on the phone more than anyone else. The experience your CSRs provide to your clients is a direct reflection of your business. Take care of them. Help them be successful by focusing on what you can do to improve their jobs. At the end of the day, your clients and patients will benefit from this more than anyone else, and taking care of clients and patients is why we do what we do.