Receptionist/gatekeeper /therapist/CSR/friend


A team member by any other name would smell as sweet. Heres how you can learn to take over the world (or at least your practice).

Getty ImagesAs the practice gatekeeper, you can be St. Peter at the door to Heaven or Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades, at the River Styx. At the front desk lies an amazing amount of power over the success or failure of the business.

Receptionists, you set the tone. What tone do you want to set? Obviously everyone's happier when happy, receptive clients come through the door. And you're more than just the gatekeeper, you help determine who actually wants to come through the gate. Use these steps to rule the front desk with wisdom and grace:

1. Smile when no one's looking (yeah, really!)

No one's happy all the time every day. But if you aren't glad to be at your job and answering the phone, it might be time to find a new job. Most receptionists love animals and people and find their job rewarding, so it's easy to smile. Put a sticky note with a silly face near the phone that says “SMILE” to remind you.

The phone and front desk are your domain. Will clients be happy and open? It's up to you.

2. Be for giving and forgiving (to yourself and others)

Be happy to answer the phone and exude your warmth and care for animals. And know your limitations. You can't make diagnoses over the phone. You can't offer free services. You can't adopt every pet. That doesn't mean that you can't find a way to help everyone. Remember, how you handle these hard calls spreads into the community like contagion (and word spreads further if it's negative).

3. Talk it out

Meet with your doctors and team members to discuss the most common and frustrating calls. Is it phone shoppers? Discuss ways to explain prices in a descriptive and non-confrontational way to show the value. Talk about those services that shouldn't be priced over the phone. Create a process for handling these calls so the responsibility doesn't completely fall on you.

Maybe you're most stressed by people who find homeless or hurt animals. Talk with the team about the policy regarding homeless pets that are hurt and make a list of rescues and groups you can give to people with strays.

Make a script to guide your responses to those hard questions. If you know what to say and you feel that it's fair and reasonable, you'll feel better about your answers, even when they're not what the clients want to hear. At the end of the day, we all just want to feel that we made a difference. Involving the whole team in policy-making means you're supported by the whole team.

These simple changes can boost your team spirit, your efficiency and your level of client care. Now that's a world worth taking over! 

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.


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