From the New York Vet Show, an expert shares his tips for training this important, yet often neglected, role in the veterinary business
Client service representatives (CSRs) can make an appointment start and end more smoothly when they are collaborating with the rest of the veterinary team. Brian Faulkner, BSc (Hons), BVM&S, CertGP (SAM), CertGP (BPS), MBA, MSc (Psych), FRCVS, independent clinician and veterinary business consultant and associate professor of Veterinary Business Nottingham University, gave a presentation at the New York Vet Show in New York, New York on how to optimize your CSRs with training.1 Dr Faulkner emphasized that this role is needed in a veterinary business by reminding attendees that CSRs are the first point of contact during the patient-client journey and therefore involved in bringing in new and returning clients. Neglecting to train CSRs can lead to a disconnect with the rest of the veterinary team and potentially cause miscommunications.
The CSR is their first point of contact with the veterinary practice before a client even books an appointment. This first contact can be critical in whether or not the client feels comfortable to move forward with booking a visit. Faulkner suggested that the phone call with the CSR can also promote the practice to potential clients. He recommended training CSRs to give no more than 3 positives about the practice to condense the information and result in better retention for the client. “Whatever feature you have, turn it into a benefit, but it must be succinct,” said Faulkner.
If the practice is not booking appointments, it’s not making money. To emphasize this point, Faulkner shared data taken from his own analysis of practices in the United Kingdom. He found that the average lifetime value of a patient is around $6,000 (based on data from October 2023). Therefore, Faulkner concluded that not booking appointments could mean the loss of that income. He said, “So in other words, one of the reasons why I put this stat in is, practices often under invest in CSR training, they wonder, is it really worth it? If you train a CSR…and that helps them recruit 1 more patient, it will pay for itself and plenty times over.”
According to Faulkner, training CSRs to recommend booking a consultation when a client has a complex question can also help team communication. If the client tries to ask the CSR health or medical questions, they should always recommend coming into the office to ask a veterinary professional. Faulkner gave an example of this situation when a client asks, “Should I feed a light diet for a day or 2 and see how [the pet] gets on?” But Faulkner stated, “What they're really asking us or the CSR to do is take responsibility for that choice…then later in the week, when the animal doesn't get better, they'll say, ‘oh, yeah, your receptionist said I should feed him for a day or 2 on chicken and rice.’” And that is where an untrained CSR can get into a difficult situation with a client.
Another important responsibility for CSRs is triaging patients before they get to the clinic. Accurately triaging patients can help improve team flow and communication. Faulkner shared the system he teaches CSRs: “There's non-urgent, which means [the client gets] the first appointment available that suits us and suits them. I defined urgent as something that needs to be seen today, but not necessarily in the next hour. And emergency is if you're coming down right now.” If the CSR is not properly trained to triage patients over the phone it can potentially cause emergency cases to not be seen in time over non-urgent ones.
A “handover” technique can help clients expect the next step of checking out of the clinic and paying for their visit. Faulkner described this handover technique by stating. “I escort every client out of my consult room back to [the front] desk, and I hand over to reception…I’ve just always done it, because it's handing the baton over to my receptionist. And what you find is the clients comply a lot more, when they've been advised [and] the reception has been advised what to do when the vet is in front of them.” Faulkner said that escorting the client to the reception desk can better guarantee that they will comply with payment instead of just walking out of the building. In his own experience, Faulkner has seen that if a client is not escorted back to the front desk, and a conscious effort made to inform the receptionist about what follow up is expected, there was only a 25% chance his clients booked the follow up appointment correctly.
Faulkner also stated that CSRs can act as "introducers" and "influencers" of the practice’s health care plan (if they have one). They can speak to clients about the benefits of signing up for the plan and following through with getting them registered. His easy suggestion to starting the conversation is to simply ask, “Has anyone talked you through our health care plan yet?” And then go from there giving information in a brief and succinct manner as to not overwhelm clients with information.
Overall, CSRs can help promote a better client experience by making the appointment run more smoothly from when they first book, to when they are leaving the building. Faulkner stressed that well-trained CSRs can uphold the “Vet–Client–Patient” continuity and make sure the client feels assisted with each step in their pet’s health journey. And client satisfaction can lead to better business.
Faulkner B. 5 Ways Well Trained CSR’s (Veterinary Receptionists) Help Grow Your Business. Presented at: New York Vet Show; New York, New York. November 8-9, 2023.