Are you chasing off clients?
Give the last clients of the day the same warm reception the 40 clients in front of them enjoyed.
I'm not a morning person. So my meal schedule varies a little from the norm. I often eat dinner between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and I sometimes stop at a sandwich stop on my way home for the quick-fix meal. But when I cruise into the parking lot 15 minutes before closing, I'm never welcomed. In fact, the negative experience starts as I look into the deli and see all the chairs on the tables.
An employee stands guard by the door, mop in hand, as if ready to bolt the door as soon as the second hand hits the top of the 9 o'clock hour. His glare is quite clear and translates as, "You're not really going to come in and order now?" Indeed I do, every time.
"I'd like to order a sandwich," I say, and out comes the meat and bread that's already been put to bed for the night. I do give them some credit. They at least set out the bright yellow "warning" sign to tell me the tile is wet. But I often feel it's more of a warning that employees will be sprinting for the door soon.
This experience and others like it inspired me to evaluate the hospital where I work. Do we post someone to guard the door with a mop at the end of the day? This possibility disturbs me. That end-of-day visit may be the only time some clients set foot in our clinic this year. What type of experience will they have? What experience will they describe to their friends and family? Will that experience send them somewhere else the next time their pets need care?
Watch for these red flags
The client who visits five minutes before we close deserves the same treatment as the client who comes in five minutes after we open. It's time to take a mental inventory and watch for these potential problems:
1 YOU THINK THE PHONES RING TOO MUCH. You might say something like, "Don't clients realize we're in the middle of a staff meeting (we're doing surgery) (we're having lunch) or (we're overworked)?" Or even, "Call back later if Fluffy isn't better. I'm sure she will stop vomiting soon."
Who cares about the client who has a quick question or just needs to double-check the time for Fluffy's appointment? The clinic is closing soon and you've answered enough of clients' phone calls for the day.
Get the phone
Don't believe this happens? Call the clinics in your area five to 10 minutes before they close and judge for yourself. In fact, I know a clinic that has shorter phone hours than clinic hours just so the team isn't bothered by the phone early in the morning or at the end of the day.
There's a quick and relatively painless solution to this service disaster: Answer those last few calls from straggling clients. When they call one minute after closing, they hear a warm, concerned voice instead of a cold answering machine stating, "We are closed. Call us tomorrow (when it's more convenient for us)."
The receptionists can rotate this duty. Just remember to add it to your regular schedule so one team member doesn't get stuck with the late shift every night.
2 YOU TELL CLIENTS YOU'RE DONE FOR THE DAY BY COUNTING AND RECONCILING THE TILL AND END-OF-DAY REPORTS IN THE RECEPTION AREA. Even though you're just trying to be efficient, nothing says "I don't have time for you" better than the clinking of quarters and two employees discussing why Isabel entered a Visa instead of a MasterCard in the computer. Take a lesson from country singer Kenny Rogers: "There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done." If you need to get a head start on balancing the end-of-day sheets, head for the back and make sure there are team members in the front who can give clients their full attention.
3 YOU TURN OFF THE HOSPITALITY AS THE DAY WINDS DOWN. Give the last clients of the day the same warm reception the 40 clients ahead of them enjoyed. If you offer cold beverages, cookies, coffee, or newspapers, keep them fresh, keep them plentiful, and keep them coming. Some nights you may need to fire up the oven or the coffee pot for one last client. The big smile on your client's face will tell you that he or she noticed your extra effort.
4 YOU SUFFER FROM "IF IT'S CONVENIENT FOR US, WE'LL SEE YOUR PET" SYNDROME. Sometimes loyal clients have a perceived emergency and they want to see the doctor now. If we callously throw out the line, "We're completely full," or "There's no time today," they could end up at the clinic down the street. In these cases, we need to take one for the client. While I know it's hard to swallow a two-week ear infection as something that must be seen today, it's an emergency in the client's mind, and that should be good enough for us.
I admit this approach begs the question, "Should other clients have to wait because of this one client?" The answer, of course, is no. We can make it all work. Offer to admit the pet and ask the client to return later or agree to see the patient over the lunch hour or at the end of the day. Take care of clients during their crises and you'll earn their appreciation and loyalty.
5 YOU DON'T SCHEDULE TO OFFER GREAT END-OF-DAY SERVICE. My advice: Consider scheduling a technician to work one hour after closing to help with those late appointments. You can rotate technicians as you do with receptionists who work the last shift to handle end-of-day phone calls.
If the technician isn't busy with cases, she can call back all the day's surgery, dental, and medical releases. It's during the first couple of hours after the pet goes home that owners seem to have the most questions about medications, food restrictions, pain, or the dreaded Elizabethan collar. Feedback from clients will tell you these calls really make a difference.
Make a great first impression
Our days quickly fill up with appointments, treatments, and unexpected fires to put out. In fact, clinics are turning to highly leveraged staff and high-density scheduling to see more clients in a day than ever before. This generates more revenue, but the numbers are only good if we're generating satisfied clients who return for our services. So at your next staff meeting, plan a brainstorming session to isolate the tasks that may convey a closed message to clients.
Draw a floor plan and split into groups, assigning a certain section of the clinic (reception, exam rooms, boarding, grieving room, and so on) to each team. Evaluate the client flow and communication in your assigned space. When you find troubled areas, revise your systems. And keep in mind, your competition isn't just the clinic down the road but any business your client can compare you to. Client-centered practices providing excellent customer service will always rise to the top.
Lock up business, not your door
Last summer I needed to purchase a natural gas barbecue. Because the grill was unique, the big box store needed to special order the item. When I walked up to the customer service desk to place the order, the irritated attendant asked if I could come back tomorrow because it was too close to quitting time. It probably wouldn't matter to that employee, but I purchased the grill elsewhere later that evening.
If you send that last-minute client away, where will she go? Will she find another practice where the team is just as happy to see her walk through the door at 6:15 p.m. as they would be at 8 a.m.? Make sure when you hang your open sign you're truly open for business.
Brian C. Conrad, CVPM, is the practice manager for Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian C. Conrad, CVPM