ACVC 2016: What to Say to Convert a Phone Call Into an Appointment

October 23, 2016
Beth Thompson, VMD

Oftentimes, a phone query may be difficult to convert into an appointment. At the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Amanda Donnelly, MBA, DVM, discussed strategies to change that.

Whether a potential client is walking in the door or calling on the phone, the front office staff is the first encounter with a practice. It’s not only how the staff looks and how efficiently they take care of people that matters— it’s WHAT they say and HOW they say it.

Amanda Donnelly, MBA, DVM, is a business consultant with special expertise in client relations and effective communication. At the 2016 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, she discussed some tips for converting a query phone call into an appointment. The discussion centered around “phone shoppers.” Most staff dread those calls, but they are all potential clients and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. In her experience, they are usually pet owners who may have limited funds and are looking for the best value. These individuals may even be people who have come to the practice before with another pet.

According to her, telephone calls are an often overlooked part of customer service training. But by learning telephone skills and practicing them, customer service representatives (CSRs) in veterinary hospitals can take the essential first steps in creating a bond between a potential new client and the practice.

During her lecture, Dr. Donnelly listed 5 ways a CSR can attract clients on the phone. These are not often all done in a single call, but they are all important. When faced with these calls the goals of the CSRs are simple: schedule an appointment and communicate value. But how does someone do that? Here are some “pearls” paraphrased from her lecture:

Be friendly and enthusiastic

Pay attention to the opening line. The opening line is the first thing that comes out of the representative’s mouth after the caller’s first comment. According to Dr. Donnelly’s research, the most common opening line from a CSR is “okay”. This response is not engaging. Her advice is to say something that conveys the desire to help, keeping in mind that the caller cannot see the CSR’s facial expression or body language. The representative is conveying everything through his or her voice and words.

Engage the pet owner

This is about making a connection. Dr. Donnelly shared that 93% of CSRs answer questions about fees without any attempt at personal connection. The representative should be able to answer the caller’s questions and not take up too much of their time; however, making the caller feel special can be key to converting the potential client. How? One way is to find out the pet’s name or the caller’s name and use it in the conversation.

Educate the pet owner

As the representative is explaining the fees, it’s important that he or she not forget to communicate the value of the services. Don’t assume the clients know what a distemper vaccine or even a physical exam is. In an itemized list, the exam may well be the most expensive item. Let them know they are paying for a licensed veterinarian to examine their pet from head to tail and assess their health. Assure them the doctor will answer their questions during the visit. If a caller asks you for a recommendation, respond. Each practice should have consistent messages on common health questions regarding heartworm prevention, parasite control, nutrition, and other complications. Dr. Donnelly stressed that a laundry list of options is not a recommendation and neither is an answer of “whatever your pet likes or whatever you like.” Cultivate your knowledge and share it.

Ask for the appointment

Dr. Donnelly found that only 23% of CSRs ask for the appointment. CSRs should be confident about the practice. They should believe the person calling will want an appointment because the practice is special. It’s important to always ask. Try something like, “We’d love to get [NAME] in here to see the doctor. We have openings on [DATES]. Would that work for you?”

End with a positive statement

If the caller is an existing client with a new pet, you can say, “Ms. [NAME], we’re so excited to meet your new puppy!” If they decline to book an appointment, try “Ms. [NAME], we’d love the opportunity to meet your new puppy. We look forward to seeing you soon.” If the caller is new to the practice, give a “proud statement.” What are you proud of? Is your practice kind and compassionate, do you have a great facility, etc.? Say something about what makes your practice THE place they should trust with their pet’s health care.

Dr. Donnelly acknowledge that some of this may feel awkward. That’s expected. New habits take time and practice, but once mastered, it is rewarding. She suggests CSRs try one or two of these suggestions at a time until the CSR is comfortable. This is only a brief summary of all she offers. For more information, visit her website to get more ideas and online training, or call her for a consultation.

For anyone not familiar with your hospital, the CSRs are the only “face” and personality of the practice. When you answer the phone, what you say and what you don’t say matters, maybe even a lot more than you think.

​Dr. Thompson is a small animal veterinarian, animal health executive, developmental editor and writer who produces informational and educational material for veterinary professionals and pet owners in all media. She started her career in mainstream publishing and video production, returning to school to earn degrees in marine biology and veterinary medicine. After working in small animal and feline only practice, she taught and co-directed an AVMA-accredited program for veterinary technicians. As her interest in education grew, she held positions as EIC of Veterinary Technician journal, Executive editor of Compendium journal, and Healthy Pet magazine as well as Medical Director, VP of Business Development and VP of Content for organizations from Veterinary Learning Systems to Vetstreet and NAVC.