Here are my egg-cellent suggestions for making first impressions for lasting veterinary client relationships.
(sigma1850 B/stock.adobe.com)New customers should be treated like an egg. One bad odor, misdirected comment or poor medical decision could crack them and make a big mess. An egg well cared for, however, can hatch into a genuine and long-lasting relationship. Let's take a look at some ways to make your first interactions with your customers successful.
Introduce new eggs to the carton
Your front-desk team members are usually the first people new clients meet at your practice-and chances are they've already talked over the phone. Since, subconsciously, customers will grow to consider these team members their friends, your reception staff should formally introduce your other team members to them.
Think of it this way: If you attended a party at a friend's house, but they left you to introduce yourself to all their existing friends, wouldn't you feel a little uncomfortable? It takes one minute for your staff member to say, “John, this is Doctor Easygoing. Doctor Easygoing, this is John Nervous and his pal Sparky.”
Don't drop eggs after the first visit
First impressions shouldn't end after meeting a client. Pet owner impressions of you actually lasts past the first appointment … all the way to the second appointment, which could be a year later! In fact, when clients make their way out of your hospital, they're experiencing potentially the most powerful part of the visit. Not only are they assessing your service, but they're paying for it, which means they're making their value judgment then and there. Don't send them packing with a receipt and a nod toward the door.
Before clients physically exit your practice, however, managers should stop and ask, “Did anyone here fail to do anything that would have made this an exceptional visit for you today?”
When clients head for checkout, practice managers should be (secretly) summoned to walk new customers to their car. Yes, all the way to their car. Before clients physically exit your practice, however, managers should stop and ask, “Did anyone here fail to do anything that would have made this an exceptional visit for you today?” This provides the opportunity for them to speak up in reference to the person who should have the most power to take care of it.
Obviously, you need to make sure team members aren't around to see or hear this interaction, but it's OK that everyone knows you ask the question each time. If you were a veterinary technician at a practice and your manager asked each and every customer, “Did we do well today?” wouldn't it make you try harder with every customer interaction? Wouldn't you want to be seen as a star employee?
What about your bad eggs?
If your team members aren't performing well at customer service, put them on first impression duties, including greeting customers at the front, bringing them on a tour and facilitating questions and introductions to your staff. It helps to rotate this function on occasion as well, so no one gets too comfortable. Don't make it a punishment-make it a challenge.
Don't let ‘em see you crack
Your entire team needs to remember that they're the stars in a production each and every moment they're at work. I once dined at a restaurant and needed to use the bathroom. While at the sink washing up, a staff member from the kitchen came in, slamming the stall door behind him, muttering obscenities under his breath about the job and his boss. It immediately turned me off to dining at the restaurant, simply because I witnessed an employee who obviously wasn't committed to the job. If he's upset about his work, can he possibly be performing well in the kitchen? What's going into my meal?
Do you have a rotten-egg smell?
Odor control is something to focus on, as it's the first unavoidable sensory experience pet owners have when entering your practice. Mop water additives, room sprays and timed dispensers are great, but sometimes a candle or wax melter can help combat fresh odors more effectively. Just be sure to keep these out of areas where children, papers and cats could get into them. Putting them inside a decorative birdcage isn't a bad idea, and it still looks nice.
Want to know if your practice is fresh enough? Try showing photos of your practice interior and exterior to family or friends at an off-site location, and ask what they think needs improvement. You'll be surprised to ‘see' your practice through other people's eyes.
Pet owners feel the same way about your team. Heads down at the front desk, noses pointed into work and lack of smiles sends the message that clients are annoyances and patients aren't important. Make an arrangement with your staff: If they aren't happy, they shouldn't come to work. It's honestly better for your whole practice to keep them out, as the negativity seeps into everything you do and everyone you interact with. If a team member opts out often, perhaps it's time for them to move on.
You can go a long way to keeping your new-client and regular-client numbers up by treating pet owners like the Faberge eggs they are: valuable, beautiful-and sometimes fragile. You'll be rewarded by far more than a dozen good eggs in your practice software.
Brent Dickinson is practice manager at Dickinson-McNeill Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, New Jersey.