You need a Client Communication Coordinator

February 14, 2017
Kyle Palmer, CVT
Kyle Palmer, CVT

Long-time dvm360 magazine and Firstline contributor Kyle Palmer, CVT, is hospital manager for VCA Salem in Salem, Oregon, as well as a practice management consultant for a number of other hospitals.

Who has time to send smartphone texts, send and receive medical records, manage online appointments and send patient updates and cute pics to information-hungry pet owners? Here's why I think everyone needs this new client-facing team member in their veterinary practice.

Look! It's Kellye Meyer, my Client Communication Coordinator. (Shutterstock.com)One new change at our practice that is 100 percent client-centric is the addition of a Client Communication Coordinator. If you're like us, you've noticed an explosion of requests for electronic communication, especially for medical record records from clients, referral practices, veterinarians who share a "mutual client" and, of course, taking in all of those records coming back into your practice from those other locations. But before we officially set up this new position, we talked through about some steps that needed to happen first:

You need to get rid of all those paper records-and do it now. On top of all of the other reasons electronic records are superior (storage, access, security, long-term protection), they are also a lot easier to send and receive.

You need a consistent email address-or several. And, remember, while it's nice to have email addresses associated with your website address-office@progressiveanimalclinic.com-it works just as well to get a simple Gmail account. It takes about 45 seconds and it's free. I cringe whenever I ask for a clinic's email address only to hear they don't have one. Really? Give your doctors their own emails so they can communicate with clients-that is, IF you want to employ doctors under the age of 40.

Get rid of your fax machine. Replace it with an eFax account and encourage anyone who wants to fax you something to send it by email instead. When someone sends a fax to your eFax account, they don't need to know you don't have a real fax machine. What they send is converted into an email for you. You'll take back counter space from your old machine, stop spending money on print cartridges, eliminate the need for a dedicated phone line, and, best of all, if you're keeping electronic records, the faxed messages are already electronic.

The Patient Revolution gives way to the Client Revolution

The past five to 10 years of veterinary medicine could easily be called the Patient Revolution, with an era of sweeping improvements in the tools available to us as we make daily decisions for our patients. Think of it all: better anesthetics ... widespread adoption of digital radiographs and dental radiography ... better pain medications for dogs (and the existence of pain medications for cats) ... next-generation flea and tick products ... amazing pharmaceutical advances ... and the list goes on.

While those advances will no doubt continue, we are now entering a period that will be known as the Client Revolution, a time when successful practices explore ways to be more client-driven while holding onto those advances we've made in patient care. It may be the natural evolution of competitive business or it may be the result of a "not that long ago" economic downturn that put consumers in the driver's seat, choosing to do business with whichever practices responded best to their needs.

A common thread among many of these Client Revolution opportunities-I've written about at-home euthanasias, comfort rooms for quiet procedures and outdoor exam spaces-is that, on the surface, they're all about the patient. There's no arguing that providing a less stressful environment is good for the dog or cat, but it's the client's perception of value that can really add to the bottom line-especially when pet owners see that you care enough about their pets to make changes like these.

What else could YOU do today, this week or this year to show pet owners that your veterinary practice is part of the new Client Revolution?

Once your practice is ready, it's time to find your Client Communication Coordinator. How will this special team member stay busy and vital to your practice? Let me count the ways:

1. Clients want to send pictures of something for their veterinarian to look at-a hot spot, hair loss or a video of odd behavior. Your Client Communication Coordinator routes those photos to the appropriate doctor.

2. Many practices, including mine, use third-party systems to set up online appointment requests and electronic communication of appointment reminders and confirmations. It's an amazing system, but it sometimes requires some human interaction ... by your Client Communication Coordinator.

3. Would some of your clients love it if they could get text messages when a pet was cleared to begin an anesthetized procedure, when a procedure started and ended, when a pet went to recovery, and when a pet was awake and upright? That's an incredible service to provide, but it takes a Client Communication Coordinator to manage.

4. If you board pets at your facility, how much would clients love to get a photo emailed or texted of their beloved family member while they're away? Clients who receive them from our Client Communication Coordinator are very thankful.

5. Who manages your practice's social media presence? Don't HAVE a presence? Start writing your practice's obituary ... or hire or promote your own Client Communication Coordinator. These days it's vital to follow clients' favorite ways of communicating, and social media is king. You'll get feedback about your practice, you'll be able to share things clients want to know about your practice, and you'll be able to use social messaging as one more way to avoid the telephone, which will one day be completely replaced as the primary form of communication with your clients.

The writing's on the wall-or, rather, the smartphone-that clients want to communicate with you in much different ways then they did 10 years ago. Now the ball is in your court to give them what they want.

Find the right person on your team (or hire, if you need to). You're looking for an expert on navigating email, posting on social media, and scanning and managing paperwork equipment. Then make this person your inaugural Client Communication Coordinator.

It's money well spent.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore.