Outstanding customer service: What lies behind a smiling face at a successful clinic?


Anyone can tell you what the basics of outstanding customer service are. A smiling face, positive attitude, friendly personality, and a helpful approach all contribute to a good customer experience. If I say “outstanding customer service” you may picture a smiling, welcoming receptionist, just itching to help your clients. While these characteristics are all very important, possessing them is a minimum requirement for any team member, regardless of whether they are in a customer service position or not. So, if it is expected that all employees already have these perceived “outstanding customer service” traits ingrained, what is it that we should focus on to really make a difference in the overall quality of customer service we provide?

Three elements of outstanding customer service

Three key aspects I believe are at the core of outstanding customer service are efficiency, transparency, and consistency. Of course, you need to ensure that you have a friendly, polite team to start with. So, what is so important about these three behaviors and why do they drive outstanding customer service?

Efficiency is a minimum client expectation in our “on-demand” world

veterinary waiting roomEfficiency is key when dealing with the general public. We live in the days of “on-demand” everything from scheduling appointments to downloading movies and that has caused us to be a very impatient society. Remember the days when it took 40 minutes to sign on to the internet using dial up and then waiting hours for things to download (assuming they didn’t time out half way through)? Now most things are available at our fingertips and we don’t want to wait any longer for anything than we need to. Clients do not want to wait in your waiting room or exam rooms for extended periods of time. They do not want to wait forever for treatments to get done and meds to get filled and they certainly don’t want to stand up front and wait another 10 minutes after their appointment has ended for their invoice.
We live in the days of “on-demand everything” ...Clients don’t want to wait too long for appointments and certainly not for their invoice. Click To Tweet

Working your workflow for greater efficiency

Now to clarify, this does NOT mean that we rush things along, after all that’s how mistakes happen. What it does mean is that we study, refine, then continually reevaluate our workflow to ensure that we have the quickest system in place to do what is needed to ensure clients and patients are seen and cashed out in a reasonable amount of time.

Can you find ways to improve your flow? Are you maximizing your PIMS to its full capability? Often there are ways you can speed things along by using tricks and shortcuts you didn’t even know about, like posting estimates into the history and accounting at the same time. This saves the reception team from hand entering charges (and missed charges too), while the client stares at them with a pet who was ready to leave 30 minutes ago. Keep in mind though, whatever changes you make should NEVER cause the client to lose the perception of value. Your service should appear to the client as a well-oiled machine, not a clunky conveyer belt!
woman giving outstanding customer service to a lady and her dog

Turn around negative client perceptions with transparency

Unfortunately, we will find that some clients have a negative perception of our industry. These are the folks that think we run “unnecessary tests”, recommend “unnecessary treatments”, or—my personal favorite—are “just in it for the money”.  Now there are some people who truly feel this way and we can never change their minds. But, how many of those people formed these beliefs because somewhere along the line they failed to see the value in what a veterinarian did? Did they perhaps get blindsided at the front desk with a $300 invoice, having no understanding of what they were being charged for? Did they maybe feel like they were forced into accepting treatments they didn’t want for their pet, or didn’t understand? Maybe, who knows, but it’s possible. You can counteract a negative perception with transparency.

Be transparent, be clear and be upfront

a dog receiving veterinary treatmentA client should be aware of every single treatment, test or medication recommended BEFORE it is done (unless you are dealing with a life and death situation and of course that’s a whole different story). A doctor can stand in the room and dictate all of the recommendations verbally, but is a team member bringing the client a printed treatment plan to review and approve, with a detailed cost breakdown for each service? If not, they should be! This is the time when we are explaining and ensuring that the client understands what each service or item is, why we recommend it, and how much it is going to cost. This process involves them in their pet’s health care and ensures there is no surprise at the front desk. This is also the time that they can decline services and you’ll need to come up with an altered plan. No one should ever walk out of your clinic not knowing why they spent what they spent.

By the same token, clients should be well informed and aware of what your policies and requirements are. Do your patients receive and sign a pre-surgical requirement document before coming in for a surgery? Do you frequently hear complaints from clients that include “no one ever told me that”? If so, that’s a problem. Sometimes people hear what they want, and there are those situations where we know we were clear, but if it’s a consistent complaint you are hearing, you’d better look into it. Be transparent from the start.

Don’t forget your ABCs- Always Be Communicating!

Being transparent is all about clear communication. Follow up with your sick patients and see how your recommendations and treatments worked out. Make sure things are documented not just for your records, but for your client as well. Write their specific instructions on their receipt and make sure reception highlights them! Provide them with written information if you can, but don’t overwhelm them with a handful of brochures or you can bet they will go right into the recycling bin. Miscommunications and misunderstandings lead to assumptions. Don’t leave any room for clients to make assumptions, because chances are if they do, it will not be positive for the practice’s reputation.

Getting the team on the same page = a consistent client experience

a group of veterinarians

Do you ask for the same employee every time you call a particular business because you know that specific person will get it right? Maybe it’s simply because you enjoy talking to that person, but often it’s because you get a different answer from everyone else that answers the phone. What kind of perception would your clients have if all of your staff had a different answer? They would think that no one has a clue about how to do things at your practice!

Always make sure every team member is on the same page. Routine meetings, memos, SOPs and giving your team the opportunity to ask questions all help to ensure a uniform experience for your clients. Consistent service, medicine and information help reinforce your clinic’s policies and goals. Clients should be able to call and get the same information from every employee.
Focusing on efficiency, transparency and consistency will drive outstanding customer service, setting your practice apart from competitors. Click To Tweet

Set your veterinary practice heads and tails above the competition

Focusing on these three behaviors will set your veterinary practice and your team apart from others. A smiling, happy personality means little to nothing if there are mistakes, miscommunications or negative assumptions. With the right team, and a strong focus on the right behaviors, your clinic will drive a consistent, positive, clear message to your clients: a message of skill, knowledge, honesty, compassion and consistency. This will bring people back and inspire them to tell their friends about you. Providing an efficient, transparent and consistent experience, every time, will elevate your customer service from “good” to “outstanding”!

Meg Oliver, CVPM is the practice manager at a three-doctor, small animal and exotics practice in Syracuse, New York. She can be reached at meg@ciceroanimalclinic.com.