June 2021

Veterinary Customer Service Take-Aways from A Changed World

By Dave Traub, BS, AAS, CVT
Triage Technician/Daytime Lead at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Have you found yourself talking in pre – and post – Covid terms lately? Looking forward to the good old days when clients can come back in the building. Not so fast. We may need to brush up on some things first.

Covid-19 (& curbside care) has and continues to teach us many important lessons.
The past 15-16 months have brought new light to the following elements of customer service in many aspects of client (and patient) care.

Communication is Still King

I had a journalism professor (in a prior life) tell me that if you cannot effectively communicate verbally and in writing, you have limited your career choices by 30%. This was back in the mid ‘70’s, I can say with experience that this would be closer to 60 – 70% today due to automation and our dependence on the Internet (both socially and professionally).

The emotional and human element of customer service cannot be digitized. Owners fear for their pets. Pet’s take on the stress of their owners. It still requires superior communication skills to help make the visit (no matter if it is an emergency or wellness care) a pleasant and/or manageable experience.

The physical separation from Covid has brought new light to things we once took for granted, such as:

1) Body Language

It is easier to notice an owner’s bad or good day the minute they walk in the clinic (i.e., appearing flustered, rushing in the door, apologizing for being late, etc.). By seeing these cues, we immediately adapted to make the client (and their pet) more comfortable. It is imperative that we not lose fact of such identifiers. During curbside, our reliance on digital communication (telephones and the internet) has become one dimensional in what once was a more complex interaction.

Do not forget to look clients in the eyes while we are talking to them (hopefully without a mask). Remember that our posture can tell clients about the day we are having. Stand or sit up straight, talk in a conversational manner (telephones can make us more robotic at times). Use your ears and mouth proportionately.

2) Speak As If It is Your One and Only Opportunity

How many of us talk on the phone with our masks on? Guilty. Failing to remove our mask while speaking into a mouthpiece muffles our voices to the person on the other end. Inflection and personality are muted. All key components to a successful customer experience.

Post curbside means never getting a second chance to make a first impression.

Annunciate clearly and be aware of the speed in which you are talking. Doing so can be conveyed as rude and uncaring (rushing clients out the door). Covid has taught us to do more in less time, not always best for in-person visits relying on face-to-face communication.

Telephone communication, unless you are initiating the call, can be more reactive, therefore, keep in mind the following when speaking in person with clients. These are simple, tried, and true elements to effective communication:

  • Think before you speak: Who, what, and why.
  • Be clear and concise: Know your audience. Long-term client, new pet owner, etc.
  • Speak with confidence: This goes to positive body language and (see next item).
  • Vary your vocal tone: Emphasize key points, soften your tone when speaking of sensitive issues (can be tough on the telephone, but imperative in person).
  • Be an active listener: Ask for feedback, questions. Look at the client while listening (remember, we are looking at our computer and/or co-workers during curbside care). Some habits we picked up will have to be done away with.

3) External vs. Internal Customer Service

Remember, there are two types of customers: External and Internal. Curbside care has also affected how we interact with our peers. Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Speaking (okay, yelling) across the room for an update, stapler, credit card reader, file, phone call announcement, etc.
  • Having multiple people answer a question directed at one person – simultaneously from all corners of the room.
  • Increased silliness and/or laughing aloud.
  • Audible sighs of frustration and/or exasperation (this is a topic for another blog).

I am sure we all agree that the above is not meant with malice or overt rudeness but is a symptom of not having customers in the building for well over a year. What to do?

Simple. Time to meet with your peers and review what changes (we have learned a lot about efficiencies) are staying and what is going away once our clients and their pets return to the building. In addition, ask yourself, what have I learned about myself during this time? What have I become stronger at? What areas do I need to improve? Do not be bashful about asking your co-workers for feedback.

The only constant in life is change, thus, it can be both personally and professionally beneficial to have a sit down with your manager or co-workers when planning the move away from curbside care.

Will leaving curbside care mean we are going back to “normal”? I do not think so. I believe that it will have taught us to remember the basics of both business and life in that communication is king. While at the same time giving us a lasting perspective on the ability to adapt no matter what is going on around us.

  1. You absolutely nailed it!! Thank you for pointing out key factors for a successful client-professional relationship.

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