We surveyed a group of U.S. veterinary front desk staff with the title of either Customer Service Representative or Receptionist and received 1,220 responses. The question asked was:
"What is the most important activity in your day at the front desk of your veterinary hospital?"
Their answers might surprise you…
- 74% said assisting clients who are at the hospital
- 14.7% said answering the phones
- 3.45% said making appointments
This was followed by smaller percentage responses in this order:
- Respond to the doctor
- Maintain charts
- Offer retail products
- Financial transactions
Seeing that our industry has been concerned about the trend of decreasing client/patient hospital visits for some time now, I was surprised to find that surveyed staff did not see booking appointments as their highest priority. There may be many reasons for this, but in the end, we are not consistently educating and focusing our front desk teams on the key driver that they can control – appointment capture.
Please don’t misunderstand me, all of the tasks listed are important for a hospital’s delivery of a good client experience, accurate bookkeeping, and retail sales, but do you unintentionally put emphasis on less important things or too many things, so your front desk team can’t focus on capturing appointments, which translates to increased revenue and transactions? If we give our staff a list of 100 tasks and say they are all equally important, then we are doomed to lose focus on our true hospital goals.
Training plays a big role here too.
CSRs or receptionists need to be trained on how to process information from a client and turn it into an appointment efficiently. I’ve listened to 1000s of recorded client/CSR interactions and the common denominator is that most CSRs never asks for the appointment.
This may be because of conflicting priorities pulling at them such as:
- Their desire to save the client money or time
- Doctors or technicians who are gatekeeping the appointment book
- The CSR has been instructed to ask a bunch of questions to determine if the pet really needs to be seen before booking an appointment which makes them fear making an appointment mistake
- They lack training or no one has ever told them that booking appointments was more important than other tasks
Training should include role playing, scripts, and education on why appointments are vital to the health of the hospital and the pet patient. Measure and reward learners to show that you are committed to this focus as well. Sit with them, or listen to recorded calls if you have a service that does this, and give feedback as soon as possible for your best chance of behavior change.
In summary, appointments are the lifeblood of the practice.
Focusing your front desk team on this will provide clarity and direction for them and show them the vital role they play in the success of your hospital. Training will give them the skills they need to be successful. Measure appointment fill rates results, transactions, and revenue – and don't forget to celebrate successes!