Creating a welcoming environment: how veterinary receptionists can enhance the client experience - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Creating a welcoming environment: how veterinary receptionists can enhance the client experience

“If reception staff are unprofessional and uncaring, clients will automatically think that the rest of the veterinary practice is the same, even if the best vets in the world work in your clinic”

Veterinary receptionists are the face of the practice. How we conduct ourselves can reflect on how a client views the practice. Clients may take a dim view of the practice and go elsewhere if the receptionists make a mistake or behave in a manner that can be misconstrued.

Calls and conversations with clients

Many practices now use an answering service for calls, but this means that clients have to listen to a list of options before getting through to the receptionist, or worse, are left in a waiting queue. While this may be a time-saving system for the practice, it can be frustrating for an anguished or worried client if they can’t get straight through to a human voice – each minute spent in the call queue seems to last forever. It is, therefore, essential to give the caller a warm, friendly greeting as soon as you answer the phone. When answering the phone, try to “talk with a smile in your voice”; nobody wants to hear a grumpy voice, especially if they’ve been left on hold or when they are nervous or upset!

Paying attention to what the client says through active listening is extremely important because doing otherwise can quickly aggravate a client that is potentially already stressed

Paying attention to what the client says through active listening is extremely important because doing otherwise can quickly aggravate a client that is potentially already stressed. Compassionate communication is also crucial. Always repeat important information so they know you’ve understood them, and try to personalise your responses by saying their pet’s name: “Oh poor Billy. Let’s see what we can do to help him.” Never be afraid to say, “Sorry, I didn’t quite get that. Can you repeat that information?”

Incorrect information can potentially result in more serious issues and may reflect badly on the quality of care and service of the practice. No practice wants their clients to have a bad impression because the client feels: “If they can’t get the basic information right, how can they be trusted to look after my pet?”

Booking appointments

When booking a client in for an appointment, it is important to remember that what might not seem urgent to us, as we deal with those issues daily, may feel critical to the client, so never dismiss their concerns or worries. Instead, reassure them that you are providing them with the most suitable available appointment to have their pet examined.

In the waiting room and clinic

Always keep a close eye on the entrance when clients come into your practice, even if you are on the phone or attending to another client. You need to reassure the client who is waiting that you have noticed them and won’t leave them standing at the reception desk feeling awkward or annoyed with the wait. A simple nod, smile or “I’ll be with you in a minute” can make a big difference. As soon as you are off the phone or the previous client has moved away from the reception desk, greet the client with, “Good morning/afternoon. How may I help?”

Nothing is more infuriating than being ignored and left to stand while a receptionist is on the computer or talking to another receptionist! Not only does this look unprofessional, but it can give your clients the impression that you cannot be bothered with them or their pets. It can also come across as uncaring, and clients may feel unwelcome at best and take their custom elsewhere at worst.

Distressed clients

When you have a distressed client, a gentle word of reassurance with tissues at hand and an offer of a cup of coffee, tea or water can make a positive, lasting impression.

Keeping things clean and tidy

Having a clean reception area is crucial. We are all responsible for keeping an eye on the reception areas and making sure they are clean and tidy at all times – do not take the attitude that it is someone else’s job! An unclean and messy waiting room can give a bad impression of the level of service and the practice in general. A client may lose confidence in the practice, especially if their pet is there to be treated or operated on.

Always make sure everything is cleaned at night and check regularly throughout the day. If there is any mess, make sure it is cleaned up straight away. Professionalism is paramount.

It’s nice to keep the reception area relaxed and, where possible, have separate dog and cat waiting areas that provide leaflets for clients to read, etc. Make sure waiting areas are open, bright and clean, with ample seating areas. Some practices have a waiting room television with subtitles. All these things can help provide a more relaxing atmosphere.

Bills and finance

Never apologise for a bill. Always offer a full receipt and deal with any questions or queries with regard to payment or the bill promptly and politely. Never make the client feel ashamed or embarrassed about discussing the bill.

Final thoughts

If reception staff are unprofessional and uncaring, clients will automatically think that the rest of the veterinary practice is the same even if the best vets in the world work in your clinic

A client’s opinion of a veterinary practice can quickly change from complete trust to a negative impression with a wrong word, an incorrect appointment, bad service, wrong information, an untidy or dirty waiting area or an unfriendly face at reception. If reception staff are unprofessional and uncaring, clients will automatically think that the rest of the veterinary practice is the same even if the best vets in the world work in your clinic.

Reception is the main area for the whole look of the practice, and everything veterinary receptionists do will have a great bearing on how a client sees the practice as a whole. Therefore, receptionists must always strive to do their best to show clients that we are compassionate, caring and approachable as well as businesslike and professional.

Louise Hudson

Louise “Lou” Hudson, AVR, started working at Glaven Veterinary Practice in Norfolk in 2007. She became a British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) associate veterinary receptionist and council member in April 2022. Lou is always looking for ways to increase her knowledge and has recently obtained her International Society of Feline Medicine accreditation to work as a cat-friendly receptionist. Customer service is a really crucial part of Lou’s job.


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