More than ever before, heart-centred communicating with empathy is vital. Pet owners not only need professional veterinary care and treatments for their pets, but also benefit from customer service that addresses them with warmth and an added human touch.
Initially, the COVID pandemic saw restrictions placed on clients entering veterinary clinics, causing them angst and distress in many cases. Although some clinics are now allowing pet owners to enter for certain appointment types, there remains physical separation between the client, their pet, and veterinary staff. How do we help solve this problem of seeming disconnect? The solutions lie greatly in the quality of phone etiquette during the initial call to the clinic or, in emergency hospitals, the triage technique over the phone. In both cases, added human warmth in phone tonality can alleviate some of the stress the client may be experiencing.
As the saying goes, “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.” How true! Our voices are our personal signatures, our instruments. By focusing on the tone of our voice, we can offer better customer service and compassion.
Effective listening is also crucial. How is empathy demonstrated through listening and speaking over the phone? Front-desk team members play a very significant role in offering professional—as well as nurturing and reassuring—client relations.
Your front desk is the heartbeat of your practice. Without a doubt, client retention is both established and maintained by the professionalism and warmth of your team members. The following strategies can help your front-desk staff provide effective over-the-phone customer service.
Empathetic communication strategies
1) Answer the phone calmly and clearly offer the client your name.
2) Maintain a calm, but helpful tone, while increasing vocal speed and actions according to urgency.
3) Giving verbal cues, such as, “I understand,” “I hear you,” etc., to comfort the client indicates you are present to their situation and tuned-in to their concerns.
4) Always pronounce their name correctly, using it and their pet’s name frequently.
5) When putting the client on hold, use their name and say please and thank you.
6) Before putting the client on hold, indicate what actions you are taking while they are waiting.
7) Accommodate their level of concern, anxiety, or panic, without taking on their anxious tonality.
8) Fine-tune your ears and voice; pay attention to your tonality and deliver a calm, reassuring tone.
9) Demonstrate patience and never show frustration or exasperation in your tonality, as worried pet owners often repeat their questions for reassurance.
10) Avoid carrying on two conversations at once. Focus solely on the client on the phone.
11) Treat each pet owner as the number one client of the day, with fresh, open ears. Give them priority and focus.
With so many calls at the front desk, it is easy for staff to become stressed themselves. Self-care techniques not only benefit the team, but also impact your clients positively. The following self-care strategies can greatly benefit your front-desk staff.
1) Don’t take things personally. Often, other people’s triggers impact us negatively. Take a deep breath and recalibrate your sense of equilibrium. Being empathetic and being a sponge are two different things. Be self-aware, and detach yourself from taking on their stress, while still offering caring, nurturing service.
2) Be resilient and be able to bounce back after challenging client calls. Remember each pet owner deserves your undivided attention and care; consciously detach and release from the last call. Your fresh ears and voice both serve your client and you well.
3) Keep a glass of water at your desk at all times, as dehydration can cause fatigue.
4) Do gentle stretches and shoulder rolls at your desk to keep your body energized and stress-free.
5) Silently repeat positive affirmations to yourself that encourage your self-esteem maintenance; (e.g. “I care about all my clients,” “I am a good problem-solver,” etc.)
6) Ask for help from fellow team members. Goodwill and team support help everyone.
7) Be kind to yourself. Everyone can become stressed at times. Treat yourself with as much patience and kindness as you do your fellow team members and clients alike.
8) Remind yourself why you work at an animal hospital and restore your convictions when the going gets tough.
9) Away from the office, make sure you get enough rest, eat well, and exercise for overall health.
10) Let go of the day when it’s over. It’s important to shake off the stress and rebalance yourself.
With the ongoing pandemic, there remains great uncertainty from day to day. However, one constant is our choice to seek out ways of communicating with empathetic ears and voices. By choosing to put yourself in your clients’ shoes, it is possible to deliver caring, nurturing customer service every day.
Laura Nashman is a professional communications trainer, offering online training for veterinary teams (front-desk, veterinary technicians, veterinarians, and support staff), as well as one-on-one coaching. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or spa-la-la.com.