How a great veterinary receptionist can support your success

by By Stacee Santi, DVM

12 min read

If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes in a veterinary practice, you’ll know that the veterinary receptionist has one of the hardest jobs out there. I would rather spay 10 fat labs than spend one day working at the front desk.

As a veterinary receptionist, you have to spend the entire day multitasking, toggling between checking clients in, checking clients out, gathering information to pass along, getting blamed for ANY problem with scheduling, all the while answering non-stop phone calls, each with a potential emergency on the other end.

Managing the front desk at a veterinary practice isn’t easy!

I remember three months after starting my first job cleaning kennels at a family-owned one-DVM practice in Lubbock, Texas, the doc asked me to watch the front desk and answer the phone while he ran out for lunch. My heart started racing and I seriously thought I was going to have a panic attack.

He had left me his pager number and was literally five minutes away, but I couldn’t help but feel that lives could be hanging in the balance depending on how I answered a potential phone call. This was my first brush with front desk anxiety, which might explain why I paged him during his lunch when a lady called and said her dog had worms.

Three reasons why your front desk is so important:

A veterinary receptionist handing papers to a client

  1. The face of your veterinary receptionist represents the face of your brand

When your clients engage with your practice, they interact with your veterinary receptionist first and last. These interactions can literally make or break every single experience your customers have with your brand.

[bctt tweet=”Interactions with your veterinary receptionist have the power to make or break every single experience your customers have with your brand.”]

I was recently visiting my grandmother at her resting home and it was the aid, not the nurse, that gave my ‘Memom’ a hug and spoke sweet baby-talk to her as we said our goodbyes. This one person made it possible for me to leave Memom there without feeling awful. I’d venture to guess she was the lowest-paid, least-trained member on their team, yet she had the biggest impact on my perception of the total experience.

A veterinary receptionist looking at various folders

  1. Your veterinary receptionist controls the gates.

If you want pretty much anything from a veterinary hospital, you will have to go through the person at the front desk; the receptionist a.k.a. the gatekeeper. Your receptionist controls who gets in and who doesn’t, when and why. The trickle-down effect is huge because this directly impacts the workload that the back of the house has to manage.

[bctt tweet=”How your veterinary receptionist manages your front desk has a direct impact on the workload that the back of house has to manage.”]

Like any good I Love Lucy moment, if the speed of the conveyor belt gets kicked up too high, the people at the end of the line suffer the most. But, the opposite is true, too. Skilled appointment scheduling can make a huge impact on the profitability of a practice.

Not scheduling in a vomiting dog before noon, not double-booking the doctor with a client that’s known to talk and talk, not squeezing in Ms. So-and-So who is renowned for being 15-minutes late to every appointment – these are examples of strategic maneuvers a good veterinary receptionist will make to boost your practice’s productivity.

Several dogs and people in a veterinary waiting room

  1. A large portion of compliance is in the hands of the front desk.

Clients care deeply about the opinion of your veterinary receptionist. Just ask anyone in this role how many times a client has whispered:

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I promise to never tell anyone you told me, but who is the best doctor here?

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Do we REALLY need to give this heart worm stuff?

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Is this food really worth the price?

I can pretty much guarantee that receptionists get these questions all day long and that’s because people are craving the inside story; the honest truth from someone that they can relate to, and that’s usually the receptionist.

Depending on how your veterinary receptionist responds to questions can make or break your average transaction charge.

Consider this. The doctor has just spent 10 minutes educating a client about the benefits of Hill’s J/D for an arthritic dog. The client goes to the front desk to check out. Here are two scenarios:

Scenario 1

Receptionist: Is there anything else you need?

Client: The doctor recommended a food that would be helpful.

Receptionist: Oh, that makes perfect sense. Let me see which one the doctor wants you to have. Each diet is targeted to help a specific problem. Oh, I see here they want you to have J/D. That is the best stuff. I can barely keep it on the shelf, but I have more downstairs. You will love it!

Scenario 2

Receptionist: Is there anything else you need?

Client: The doctor recommended a food that would be helpful.

Receptionist: Oh, okay. Let me see which one the doctor wants you to have. Oh, I see here they want you to have J/D. I’ll go get it. We keep it downstairs.

While the receptionist in Scenario 2 didn’t do anything that was technically wrong, the receptionist in Scenario 1 made a huge impact by:

  • Positively reinforcing the $80+ food purchase as a smart buy
  • Implying that such a purchase is normal; one routinely made by pet owners and therefore not a “sucker purchase”
  • Demonstrating a demand for the product, thereby implying it’s worth the cost

Hiring a veterinary receptionist?

A friendly, perceptive, engaged and efficient receptionist can build your practice faster than any marketing campaign on the planet. To help you find the right candidate, here are 7 interview questions to ask veterinary receptionist prospects. Also, be sure to check out this post in which CVPM and hospital administrator Ben Spinks explains how Facebook could be your ticket to recruiting success!


Stacee Santi the author


Stacee Santi, DVM is the CEO and founder of Vet2Pet, where she and her team developed the only customizable, all-in-one client engagement platform for veterinary practices. Regarded as a key opinion leader on innovative strategies to connect with clients and improve patient care and client service, Stacee is a renowned national speaker and author. She’s also the former roller skating champion of New Mexico. You can reach her at [email protected].

Stacee Santi, DVM

Stacee Santi, DVM

Dr. Stacee Santi founded Vet2Pet, the only customizable, all-in-one client engagement system for veterinary practices, which was acquired by Vetsource in 2022. Since earning her DVM from Colorado State University in 1996, Dr. Santi has accumulated more than 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, has spent significant time serving on various industry advisory boards, and served as 2020 president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. Considered a key opinion leader on mobile applications and veterinary reward programs, and selected as 2021 Continuing Educator of the Year—Practice Management by Viticus Group, Dr. Santi is passionate about helping veterinary practices better connect with their clients so pets get the best care and veterinary professionals enjoy more fulfilling, balanced careers.

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