Client service in tough times (Proceedings)

Article

Whether the economy is good or bad, it seems we're always short staffed. So what do we do about it? First, you must develop a strategy. Remember, manpower is a resource just as money is.

Whether the economy is good or bad, it seems we're always short staffed. So what do we do about it? First, you must develop a strategy. Remember, manpower is a resource just as money is. If you were short money, you'd probably decide exactly which essentials you needed to buy and forgo the nice to have items. You have to do the same thing with your manpower resources - decide what you can do and what you need to put on hold for later.

You can fill voids in the team structure with the existing staff for only short periods of time; the longer you expect the current staff to pick up the slack for missing employees, the greater the risk of losing them also! Here's some strategies for surviving the hard times:

     • Take inventory of your team's assets - not just positions and bodies, but talents and desires. What is each person good at and what do they want to contribute?

     • Streamline existing procedures and see which ones are essential for operations and which ones are done because we've always done it that way. Be critical of procedures that involve lots of staff time with little direct client or patient contact.

Try to find a different employees to do non-technical jobs.

For instance, you could probably find a full or part time person to do housekeeping duties easier than you can find a technician or trained assistant. By hiring a dedicated housekeeper, the technical staff are now freed from at least an hours work a day AND the facility usually gets cleaned better!

Redesign the jobs

Say your practice normally requires three receptionists at busy times, but now you're down to only two. You just can't seem to find anyone willing to put up with all the hassles of the front desk for what you can afford to pay. In some ways, the veterinary receptionist job has grown too expansive for the single person to be able to do it all effectively and efficiently. In today's market, you are more likely to find people willing to be telephone operators OR client services representatives. The telephone operator will answer the incoming lines, make appointments and direct technical calls to the appropriate trained staff members. The client services representative deals exclusively with the client who is physically in the facility. If you think this is radical thinking- you're right! Ask your present receptionist if he/she could be twice as effective, efficient and accurate if they didn't have to stop to answer the phones every time they start to help someone. You'll be surprised at the things you can learn if you just ask.

Look at the services you offer

Prioritize the services so that you know where you want to expend your limited resources. Use whatever criterion you'd like, but it makes the most sense to find the most profitable income centers in the practice. Decide which of your current services fit into the nice to have category. Remember, you have a manpower budget and you have to live within that budget. In many practices, the least profitable services take the most labor to produce. In the business world, when the component of a particular product or service is in short supply, the cost to produce it goes up and therefore the cost to the consumer goes up as well. Make sure the things you're doing now are PROFITABLE or stop doing them. It's not against the law to limit your services to a niche. In fact, some niche practices are outperforming the traditional practice in growth, employee retention and client service!

Make the hard decisions

If you're like many leaders, you're always afraid of Alosing clients because you didn.t deliver, so you tend to over-promise. That inevitable leads to under-delivering when something goes wrong. The worst thing you can do for client satisfaction is act as if everything is normal when it's not. If you identify activities or services that are too labor intensive for the return to the business, be honest with the clients. Ensure staff members can dedicate their efforts to the places where it will do the most good for the most client; you're likely to suffer the long-term effects more for making several average clients dissatisfied with poor service when you're ignoring them than you are for telling a few of clients that you won't be able to do a particularly intensive service any longer. It's the old adage, Stick to what you're good at and don't try to be everything to everyone.

For instance, at a particular practice, more time was spent special ordering and manually handling diets than any other inventory activity because there was not enough space in the facility to order normal amounts. When the owners sat down and critically looked at the NET PROFIT from diet sales instead of the GROSS PROFIT, it was clear to them that they made very little real profit from diet sales. In that scenario, since the practice was drastically understaffed, eliminating ON-SITE diet sales and allowing employees to concentrate on other, more important and critical processes, they were able to run much more efficiently, profitably and HAPPIER with fewer staff! You'd never do that if you were too focused on the possibility that one client would be dissatisfied.

If the current staff shrinks, your problems will often grow, so you have to do things to let your existing staff know they are appreciated and valued. And you can start by making work FUN! People have jobs for different reasons - to survive and pay bills or maybe it's just a hobby for them. Regardless of why they are in the workforce, one truth is clear...people want to work at a job that is enjoyable. No one wants to wake up in the morning and despise going someplace that is unpleasant. Sure, some folks would rather not work and don't really look forward to it anyway, but if they must work, they still have the basic desire to do it in a place that is more enjoyable rather than less. We can't discount the fact that for many people, work is not only a job but also the means to fulfill the social needs in their lives. So what are you doing to make the job fun? When's the last time you had a staff appreciation lunch? What have you done lately to say thank you to the staff for making the business what it is today? Who on your team is deserving praise or even a raise for going above and beyond. And what do you do every day to make people look forward to coming to work?

When it comes to surviving in the business world, the leaders of a particular enterprise must be flexible enough to CHANGE for the benefit of the company. And when something is in short supply, such as labor, those leaders must make the hard decisions as to where that limited resource is best directed.

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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