A starting guide for new receptionists


You're the hello and goodbye to every client, and the guiding hand of the veterinary practice. Here's how to make sure you're being the best you can be.

New receptionists: Welcome! We're glad you're here. Photo: Shutterstock.com Your receptionists are the first and the last to interact with clients, which means they can make or break your business. This also means you should start training the moment they walk through the door on their first day of work.

Walk before you run

We begin training our receptionists as “junior” receptionists, even if they have prior experience. Every practice operates differently, and it takes six months to a year for new employees to become good at their jobs. Until then, your new employee should have restricted interaction and careful guidance with your clients. 

Emergency training

The No. 1 thing to teach a new receptionist is what your practice considers an emergency and how to handle it.

When someone brings an emergency through the door, you want everyone to know what to do. The receptionist may have to make a life-or-death decision. Teach your receptionist what constitutes an emergency and post a list prominently. In our practice, we consider the following an emergency:

> Allergic reaction

> Trouble breathing

> Collapsed          

> Lethargic

> Bleeding

> Male cat not urinating

> Seizures

Any one of these conditions needs to be seen immediately. It may be difficult to get the client to come in right away, because they may not realize their pet could be in crisis. What your client sees is not what your doctor sees, and your receptionist needs to convince clients their pet needs to come in immediately. It's always better to err on the side of caution.

Phone skills

Train new receptionists to answer the phone, ask why clients are calling and put them on hold for another receptionist. This gets your new receptionist comfortable talking to clients on the phone and can be helpful, especially when the front is busy.

You can also have your new receptionist call and confirm the next-day appointments. Again, this activity helps them get used to talking to your clients and begin to learn a little about scheduling. Short and simple phone exchanges build confidence and knowledge.

No diagnosing over the phone

Teach your new receptionist they must notdiagnose over the phone. Pet hospital employees become familiar with terms and conditions you see on a regular basis. Remember, what the client sees and what the doctor sees often aren't the same.  

Price checking

Anyone can answer questions about pricing, but how they answer determines whether you get that new client. A couple of years ago, our business was down dramatically, even though it was March and we should have been bustling. I began monitoring some of the incoming calls and was surprised we had a business at all! The veterinary team was unknowingly putting a halt to our business. Here's a look at some of the problems I uncovered.

> Every time someone called for a price, they received different information. For example, sometimes just the price of a spay was given and other times it would include all the options. Sometimes the prices were low and sometimes high. This kind of inconsistency created distrust and anger with our clients and potential clients.

> The receptionists didn't lead the conversation. Clients had to drag information out of the receptionists. Your clients view your veterinary team as professionals and expect them to guide the conversation.

> An appointment was almost never offered. Most callers were left hanging, not knowing the next step.

The first thing we did was create a standardized price sheet for routine services and post it by every phone. Next, we trained and quizzed every employee. The quiz included how to give pricing; list the services included; inform the client that any additional services, products or procedures would be an additional cost; and, finally, ask if they would like to make an appointment. Any pricing questions for services not included on our sheet had to go through our technicians. Our number of appointments began to climb instantly.

The hellos and goodbyes 

Checking clients in and out is the best way to make a new receptionist helpful. It gets the receptionist familiar with the practice management software, policies and procedures related to the flow of appointments. They become productive right away, and they're able to interact with clients on a limited basis. It can be stressful on the team when a new employee is in training. They must not only do their own job, but also help inexperienced team members. When your new receptionists are productive, the team begins to appreciate them.

Getting your new receptionists off to a good start will build the foundation for a lasting career in your practice. You'll help them meet your expectations by simply providing a structured environment that promotes success. 

Rebecca Rowe is practice manager at Seven Hills Pet Clinic in Loveland, Ohio, and the winner of the dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contest.

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