Brian Faulkner has consulted in many veterinary clinics over the course of his career and has encountered various reception teams with differing skills and capabilities. The British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) met with Brian to ask him what impact an efficient reception team can have on the running of a veterinary practice and to find out why practices should be investing in their reception teams.
How does the work of a veterinary receptionist affect the daily running of the veterinary practice and contribute to success?
Veterinary receptionists are crucial in the effectiveness and efficiency of the day-to-day running of a veterinary practice by contributing to four vital areas: good clinical outcomes (clinical resolution), good client outcomes (client satisfaction), looking after the money side of veterinary practice (financial resolution) and contributing to team morale (colleague satisfaction).
How do veterinary receptionists contribute to good clinical outcomes?
Firstly, through the prevention of disease through engagement and involvement in preventative healthcare discussions. These interactions are depicted in the PREVENT IT acronym (Figure 1).
Secondly, they assist the process of clinical resolution as clients contact the practice when animals are ill. Receptionists are crucial to triage and coordination, ensuring that the patient gets to see the right person at the right time. Having the intuition, knowledge and communication skills to do this is essential.
What impact does the role of veterinary receptionists have on the client journey and client satisfaction in practice?
Veterinary receptionists are often the first and last face/voice that a client will interact with in the practice. As such, their impact on the customer’s impression is valuable. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it is crucial that our veterinary receptionists are able to cope with the diversity of client personalities, knowledge, attitudes and levels of understanding typical of pet owners.
Having that ability to direct clients appropriately into the client/patient journey within the practice is a critical skill. Anyone working in a veterinary practice will be aware that clients often resist our preferred approach and recommendation. Receptionists need the ability to discuss with and inspire clients regarding their pet’s needs. Overcoming challenges with clients in a way that does not induce anger, mistrust or negativity, but rather encourages compliance, is a valuable ability that our receptionists can develop and refine.
How significant are the skills and capabilities of veterinary receptionists in achieving financial resolution in practice?
The activity of taking payments and settling accounts is crucial to the cash flow and solvency of the business, and receptionists are key in achieving this. Clients have a vast range of reactions when asked for payment, and often receptionists have to explain charges. This may involve them receiving criticism and complaints over which they have no control. Receptionists need to be able to diffuse these tensions, and communicate the value and the necessity of these charges by communicating with the clinical team.
Receptionists are often involved in facilitating financial resolution beyond direct payments by confidently giving accurate estimates, and by recognising the dangers of guessing prices for procedures that have large variations that could result in not getting financial resolution.
Receptionists are involved with indirect payments such as insurance. Knowing the practice policy on insurance and being able to discuss, process and complete claims correctly and efficiently, particularly with direct claims, is an essential contribution of receptionists to financial resolution.
How can veterinary receptionists impact on the roles of colleagues in practice?
Veterinary receptionists are crucial to team morale in many ways. This is most easily summed up using a simple equation whereby stress = uncertainty x urgency.
Receptionists can diminish the amount of stress colleagues feel through addressing uncertainty by establishing what patients are being seen for and getting as many details as possible to help colleagues deal with a case. Veterinary practices are an inherently urgent environment due to the nature of illness coupled with client expectations. Veterinary receptionists are vital in managing time pressures, ensuring appropriate amounts of time are allocated for colleagues to be able to do a job well. Essentially, receptionists have an impact on managing urgency and time pressures through anticipation, forethought and organisation.
Receptionists have an impact on managing urgency and time pressures through anticipation, forethought and organisation
Additionally, they have an impact on the general happiness within the team if they are able to help out with small tasks where needed: the things people don’t necessarily notice or appreciate when they have been done, but definitely notice when they have not been done!
What skills and abilities should we be investing in for our reception teams?
The role of a veterinary receptionist is much more than answering the phone, making an appointment and taking a payment: there is a plethora of knowledge required to be a veterinary receptionist (basic clinical knowledge, preventative healthcare product knowledge, client communication and interpersonal communication, etc). Investing in your reception team will ensure they have this knowledge and are carrying out this role as efficiently as possible, and has a positive impact on the success of your practice.
While it is important for these team members to have an engaging personality, what perhaps is overlooked in training is the ability to couple this personality with purpose. The ability to engage in conversation, build a rapport to efficiently convert a conversation into a booking and lead the client towards engaging with the practice’s services should be a focus of training for all receptionists.
As with most businesses, solvency is critical; therefore, it is imperative that receptionists are trained to efficiently discuss invoices, ask for payments, record payments, complete insurance claims and reconcile payments, and to understand the importance of these tasks in relation to the business.
Invest time in training your receptionists to have an awareness of the other roles in practice as they can influence other colleagues’ tasks and workloads
Invest time in training your receptionists to have an awareness of the other roles in practice as they can influence other colleagues’ tasks and workloads by understanding the concept of getting the right information to the right person at the right time.
In addition, your receptionists represent your practice and as such should be able to interact with other practices and businesses with diplomacy and professionalism.
What is the return for the business in investing in our reception teams?
Ultimately it is difficult to determine in hard numbers the return on investment from something that involves many variables. However, BVRA is confident that the return of investment of their reception training is real. The lifetime value of a client can be between £3,000 to £4,000 on average (figure estimated by Colourful CPD) and often much more. If a receptionist is competent in recruiting just one more client, then that one client holds a great deal of worth to your business.
The retention of reception teams is also financially beneficial to the business, albeit not directly to money going into the till. If receptionists are not trained, supported or developed, then we often see a high staff turnover in this role which has a financial impact on the business.
If receptionists are not trained, supported or developed, then we often see a high staff turnover in this role which has a financial impact on the business
Most people in practice will appreciate just how valuable an efficient receptionist is: someone who knows how everything works, where everything lives, where to find something, how to deal with specific clients. This implicit knowledge is hard to teach tangibly, but a receptionist who can do this, who has this knowledge and ability, is invaluable, although hard to quantify.
Through your work with the BVRA you have trained thousands of receptionists over the last four years; what difference has this made to practices that have invested in training for their reception teams?
- The receptionist achieves a sense of professional respect and identification. Receptionists have the opportunity to become a “Registered Veterinary Receptionist” and use the post nominals RVR
- The business achieves the ability to recruit and retain clients giving significant financial gain
- The team morale is strengthened and improved
- The impact on clinical resolutions whereby patients are efficiently organised to see the right person at the right time
There are both quantitative and qualitative outcomes to the people within the practice, as well as the practice entity as a business.
For further information about the BVRA, please visit their website.