Client Service Representatives: The Unsung Heroes of Great Veterinary Hospitals
In a previous blog, we discussed how veterinary hospitals that excel usually share the common thread of having a great technician team. The same is true for the Client Service Representative teams at high-performing practices. Most veterinarian-owners obsess over getting the clinical side of their businesses right, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not only is it vital for a veterinary hospital to practice good medicine for moral/ethical reasons, but this is also the operational area of greatest comfort for veterinarian-owners. Veterinarians are extensively trained in matters of medicine and receive little training in matters of business, so it is only natural for veterinarian-owners to focus on the aspect of their practice that they feel most competent at as the area where they aim to excel. However, the reality is that most hospitals get the medicine right. This is good, but it does mean that practicing great medicine alone won’t make you stand out in the crowd of veterinary hospitals. The practices that truly stand out are the ones who go a step further and put time, energy, and resources into providing an excellent customer experience.
CSRs play more of a role in shaping the client experience than any other member of your team, including the veterinarians. Clients are typically laypeople and the difference between “good” and “great” medicine is largely lost on them. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to also deliver excellent care to every patient (it is!), but it does mean that providing excellent medical care can’t be your ONLY focus. Clients do have the ability to tell the difference between “good” and “great” customer service. Your CSRs are the first and last interaction that clients have at your hospital and therefore set the tone of the entire visit as well as the parting impression that they will carry with them after they leave.
CSRs usually receive a fraction of the training as their counterparts on the medical team. This doesn’t mean that there’s less information that is important for them to know. On the contrary, the list of skills that a properly trained CSR has mastered is as impressive as your star technician! The relatively smaller amount of training that the average CSR receives means that most CSRs are undertrained for the important work that they do.
Clinics are reluctant to invest in robust training for high-turnover positions like CSRs, making turnover a self-fulfilling prophecy. Organizations with poor onboarding processes are twice as likely to experience employee turnover, and retention rates rise 30-50% in companies with strong learning cultures. Systematizing onboarding and training allows you to set a higher expectation of minimum competency for each role in the hospital that is impossible with informal “on the job” training. You shouldn’t have to keep a mental tally of who on your team can and cannot do different tasks!
The schedule is the master workflow center for your entire business. Getting this wrong can cost you tens of thousands of dollars or more. Effective scheduling is both a skill and an art, requiring advanced knowledge of how quickly the team should be able to handle certain tasks and leaving appropriate buffers and protections to prevent a backup that will lead to excessive client wait times. Keeping the team busy, but not too busy, isn’t easy. Only well-trained, experienced CSRs should be able to modify the clinic schedule without supervision. When you consider the lifetime value of a client as well as the average transaction value of each visit that you book the massive financial impact of poor scheduling comes into focus. Under-booking and over-booking both cost your clinic a lot of money in the long run and reduces access for your patients to care. Training CSRs to manage the schedule well is an investment of time and effort that pays outsized dividends.
CSRs are an extension of and part of the medical team. Effective client communication translates into better compliance, and good compliance is good medicine. CSRs also handle the bulk of communication with clients that happens outside of the exam room, so it is critical that they have a basic understanding of medical “common sense”, an ability to differentiate between a non-urgent and an emergency presenting complaint and know what information it is most important to collect and relay to the medical team about a case. Cross training is an important tool in order to help your CSRs understand the work that happens in the back of the hospital, and for the medical team to understand (and appreciate the difficulty of) the work that happens up front.
Because Client Service Representatives are on the “front line” of interaction with clients, especially at the end of patient visits when matters of cost of care or negative medical outcomes can run client emotions high, they are also the most vulnerable members of the team to be bullied by abusive clients. As we discussed in last week’s blog, it is critical that their employer supports and protects them and has a no-tolerance policy with regards to abusive clients. Not only is this the right thing to do as an employer, but it is also the prudent thing to do. Great hospitals are built on great teams, and you can’t keep a great team unless you’re willing and ready to go to bat for them.
At AVP we are committed to being the employer of choice in veterinary medicine and operating excellent veterinary hospitals with our partners. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a clinic owner and would like to find out more about how we engage with and support our employees.
To all the amazing Client Service Representatives out there: The work you do is incredibly important, and we appreciate you!