Communication, part I: The key to happy clients (Proceedings)

Communication, part I: The key to happy clients (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2008

Did you ever stop to think why clients come to your hospital? Though we would all love to think that they come to us, sometimes passing a number of other hospitals along the way, because we are such great care providers, the truth is they are traveling to us because of the overall SERVICE and QUALITY MEDICAL CARE we provide. There are a lot of great veterinarians around, but just being a competent clinician does not guarantee success in today's very competitive marketplace. Success will come when, in addition to excellent patient care, we start treating our clients as gold by providing excellent service!

Treating your clients (and, of course, your patients) well should be the mission of the entire "practice team." This means that it is equally as important for your receptionists, technicians, and kennel help as it is for the veterinarians on your staff. It is imperative that common practice goals are established and shared amongst the entire staff and that everyone is aware of his or her responsibilities. It helps to have a clear mission statement which the staff knows, understands, and agrees with. If your hospital does not currently have a mission statement, I encourage you to sit down with your staff veterinarians and write one, then share it with the entire staff and with your clients. The truly successful team is properly trained, educated, communicates well with each other as well as the clients, and shows respect for clients and the entire staff.

Proper training is so important to the success of any hospital team. Though in most hospitals everyone has fairly clear job descriptions, I always recommend that employees become cross trained and spend time in other areas of the hospital. Technicians should go up front on a busy morning and see what the receptionists have to work through to check patients and clients in, answer the phones, and check clients out. Likewise, receptionists should spend time in the treatment or surgery areas during the hours when most of the surgeries and procedures are being done. By doing this, everyone develops a better understanding of what their co-workers go through in a day, which will hopefully increase everyone's level of patience when things start to get a little hectic. To further promote good training and cross training, continuing education is a must--and needs to be on-going. It is critical that continuing education programs be as specific as possible for any given position. A final ingredient to develop and promote mutual respect and admiration among staff members, and to resolve any potential negative issues, is regular mandatory staff meetings.

One of the most important aspects to a successful team and to treating clients as special as they really are, is communication. This involves communication via both character or personality traits, as well as physical traits. Essential personality traits for successful communication are: displaying compassion and care, patience, humility, having good listening skills, flexibility, and tolerance and respect for others. I can't stress enough the positive feedback I get from clients when my staff members comfort a clients who's pet is very ill or has just been euthanatized. You or a team member spending a little extra time with a client in an examination room to explain all the medication they will be using on their pet, or to show them the tricks about giving pills or brushing a pet's teeth, is an invaluable service tool. When clients become a little upset about something and sometimes need to "vent," there is nothing more effective than to listen to them, humble yourself, be flexible, and try to resolve the issue at hand calmly. I have found that most clients are pretty reasonable, so when they do get upset about something, they are usually right. Arguing with a client is so counterproductive because even if you "win" (the argument), you still "lose" (the client). Don't forget one of the more basic rules of a service business--the client is (almost) always right! After listening to a client's complaint, I use some basic "active listening" techniques to acknowledge their disappointment or dissatisfaction, and, if appropriate, I will try to at least explain why or how the error occurred. Then, whether or not I agree with the client, I will apologize (either for the incident or for the way they feel about it) and ask the client what we can do to make them happy. You'd be surprised that most clients actually want less to satisfy them than what you were willing to give!