The psychology of client waiting


Most veterinary clients expect a brief wait. But keep them waiting too long and you risk losing their business.

Most clients are used to waiting a few minutes to see a veterinarian. But how long will they remain good-natured about waiting beyond their appointment time? The answer is 15 minutes, according to a study of 10,000 human-medicine patients interviewed by the National Research Corp. of Lincoln, Neb. Beyond that, if another 15 minutes passes without an explanation, patients say they would be angry, and some would leave.

Here are some psychological facts about waiting, as well as tips for reducing client anxiety in your veterinary clinic:

> Waits of an uncertain length seem longer. Every 10 minutes, a team member should give waiting clients an update and, if possible, an estimate of how much longer it will be. Avoid saying, "I can't promise anything" or "I can't say for sure. It's a zoo today."

> Clients become more frustrated by what they perceive as unfair waits. For example, if a client who has just walked in is whisked into an exam room ahead of an on-time client who's been waiting, this violates the age-old principle of "first come, first served." There might be any number of reasons why this occasionally happens. Let those who have been patiently waiting know the reason.

> A perceived lack of concern increases frustration. Clients' annoyances are also magnified when doctors and team members don't seem concerned about the long delay. Clients who are kept waiting deserve a sincere apology. It's common sense but, all too often, not common practice.

If you can stay on time for appointments 90 percent of the time, you'll be ahead of the curve. Becoming an "on-time practice" will reduce stress and anxiety for both your clients and your team members.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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