Recently every manager group that I am involved with has discussed difficult clients. The challenges of Covid-19 quarantines, election-year drama, and social disruption have all exacerbated the public’s anxiety level. In normal times practices will have a few difficult people but now they seem to be coming out of the woodwork on a daily basis.
For many years I have trained customer service and communication skills. I have always believed with better communication there are fewer negative customer situations and less need for conflict resolution. As irritated and short-fused as our clients seem to be, I think we need to realize that we are struggling with the same stressors and our fuse is also a little shorter than normal. When both parties are frazzled it makes for a much more challenging encounter.
So how do we overcome this deluge of negative client situations?
I think we need to go back to the basics of great customer service.
Since March, almost every practice has had to change their typical protocols. We now have curbside care, clients with masks, staff with masks, hand sanitizer everywhere, a shortage of protective equipment, and the list goes on.
You name it, we’ve changed it. Just making one change to a typical protocol is a challenge to the staff. But when we make so many changes in such a short period of time, all our neuropathways (habits) are broken and our mind becomes fatigued. Our clients are also blindsided by these changes since they do not work in our practice and typically visit only one time a year.
Part of our great customer service protocol must be to ramp up our communication processes.
We have the ability to push out notifications to our clients about our new protocols. We also have the opportunity to notify them about what to anticipate for scheduling and wait times. We can even utilize our phone systems such as #Weave to send out forms, checklists , and even receive payment. In times of great change, it is always wise to over-communicate with our customers.
A common phone call practices receive is the new client who cannot get in with her current practitioner, so she is calling around trying to get her pet an appointment. She does not realize that every veterinarian in the country is in the same overwhelmed and overbooked boat. So, when we informed that client that we either do not take new clients or that we “can’t book her for another two to three weeks” she is blindsided and blows up.
But what if we changed what we said? What if we adjusted our scripts? What if we said “Mrs. Jones I’m happy to accommodate you, however like every veterinary office in this area, we are booked solid for 2 weeks. I am sure that is why your regular veterinarian could not accommodate you. Are you okay with waiting?” By changing the script, we change the client’s point of view by informing them of the situation. We share our perspective before putting up the barrier that says, “we cannot help you”. We still cannot see her pet any sooner but at least she realizes this is a universal problem and not something that we are doing intentionally. Perhaps we can even offer a teletriage visit with a partner provider.
Great customer service has always involved being where your customer is and thinking, what does your customer need.
As someone lucky enough to live close to Chick-fil-A, I get to experience their outstanding service several times a month. This led me to purchase the book How Did You Do It Truett? Truett Cathy is the founder of the Chick-fil-A franchise. The book is filled with some very simple thoughts and rules about serving customers that makes Chick-fil-A so remarkable. Truett’s first rule is to be kind to your customers. He says it is the key to success. His teams are also trained to give Second Mile Service. The first-mile service is the typical speed of service, good food, and “it’s my pleasure” courtesy. The second-mile service is going above and beyond to help people. This is operating with a servient heart. The book tells a story of a woman who stopped in Chick-fil-A who had left her purse 200 miles back and she had 200 miles to go before she got home. The team at Chick-fil-A not only gave her a meal, but they collected 26 dollars among themselves to help her with gas money on her trip. That is going the Second Mile.
Over the years my veterinary teams have hand-delivered medications to someone’s house. They used our van to pick up skunked dogs and bring them to the practice for baths. My doctors made house calls to euthanize a special patient- when we did not make house calls. They have entertained generations of children with everything from Icy Pops to showing them x-rays of puppies in the womb. They have celebrated the birth of children and grandchildren with “oohs” and “ahhs” over pictures and handwritten cards sent. They have shared the grief of the loss of a spouse by handing a well-timed tissue, a shared tear, and a shoulder to cry on.
Being great at customer service is not just what you say, it’s what you do and how you connect.
Being remarkable at customer service requires you to be a deliberately thoughtful human who cares about the humans around you. People who are talented at customer service can put themselves in the shoes of their clients and empathize with how it feels to be on the other side of the counter or the exam table. They are emotionally intelligent and can control their reactions. They are intently listening and focused on how they can help. They exude hospitality. This positive energy is felt by the customer. Usually, even the grumpiest curmudgeon can be swayed to a grin by a superior customer service rep.
I have a very good friend in the United Kingdom who trains customer service for veterinary teams. I had a call with her a few weeks back to see if the British were behaving as badly as US citizens. Allison’s company records hundreds of phone calls coming into multitudes of veterinary hospitals every week and scores them for customer service skills based on her training. So, she has an intimate ear to the ground on the day-to-day operations of these practices. When I asked her if practices were having difficulties with clients she said this, “The practices who are good at communication are having very few client issues, the practices who struggle with communication are always going to struggle and continue to struggle, and the practices with poor communication are failing miserably with clients.” In my experience, I see the same thing happening here. If over the years you have laid the groundwork of trust with your clients during difficult times they will partner with you and give you grace. If you have not done the work to build the relationship then during difficult times you will have battles.
So, at the beginning of 2021 let us go back to the basics, revisit our customer service training, put ourselves in our client’s shoes and offer them an outstanding customer service experience. Like everything else – the routine may be different. The key is kindness, empathy, and going the Second Mile.
If your team needs help with communication and client service training please reach out to me at www.dboone2managevets.com
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