by Tyler Grogan, CVT
Over the past several years, the importance of client experiences in veterinary practice has become evident and discussed in detail. The way we approach conversations with clients regarding everything from medical advice by the veterinarian to billing by our client care representatives can make or break your hospital’s reputation. The client experience is one of the most important parts of our profession, but I also feel our expectations about providing excellent client experiences may be skewed in the wrong direction. Many of the conversations I see and hear about client satisfaction in the veterinary hospital are based on the basic principles of customer service. But, when we provide excellent customer service using those principles, sometimes we still see those scary “1 star reviews” appear online with a lengthy anecdote about Fluffy’s heartbreaking diagnosis and how they felt rushed or misunderstood or confused. That’s why I want to stop teaching customer service and get back to where human medicine began — at bedside manner.
There are quite a few reasons I believe bedside manner and customer service are not interchangeable terms. Bedside manner cannot be stretched across professions because the profession of medicine is unique. Discussing medicine, whether a person or a pet, is personal. In days past, doctors would go to the homes of their patients and have personal, oftentimes scary and even more oftentimes uncomfortable, medical conversations in the comfort and privacy of someone’s home. Even more commonly, the family of the ill person was with them in their time of stress and poor health to support them and hear these conversations too, when warranted. Fast forward to today’s high-speed world and where has bedside manner gone? It’s transgressed into having these conversations in unfamiliar, isolated rooms of hospitals. When we talk about customer service in the veterinary hospital we are missing a vital element of our conversations with pet owners. We are taking them to some extremely vulnerable places while they sit on a seat in our hospital, alone, without their creature comforts and maybe in the middle of a life of other troubles we know nothing about.
Think about your best customer service experience. You probably fall into a memory of a waiter at a restaurant who went out of the way to bring you an off-menu item, or a cast member of a theme park creating a little extra magic for your kids on your last Disney vacation. While these experiences made you feel personally reached, it’s a positive association. In medicine, your positive experiences are not necessarily the ones that leave you feeling well taken care of or valued. The times we can stand out and we should stand out is when we are dealing with those painful, invasive and sometimes scary conversations because you aren’t going to come across those types of moments in your average business. It’s easy to get wrapped up in clients being grouchy or upset, but I urge you to stop and consider where those actions are coming from.
We start our appointments with asking personal information. When an obese Dachshund walks in the door and you start with questions like, “what food do you give your pet?”, this is a glimpse into someone’s day to day life. It’s personal. So when they respond with whatever over the counter brand they give their pet, there is probably a long list of justification or reasoning going on in their head that they may not feel vulnerable enough to share. They might be embarrassed. Even small things like this are more intimate conversations that warrant respect and patience. Doctors of the past were invited into the homes of their patients. Consider that while these interactions are happening today in your hospital, clients are still extending an invitation into their personal lives and stories by coming to you. Next time you’re thinking about giving someone a great experience in your hospital, tread as kindly and politely into every appointment as though you were invited into that person’s home.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the UnchartedVet editorial team.
Tyler Grogan is a Certified Veterinary Technician from Orlando. She is passionate about cultivating great culture in veterinary practices and sharing stories of the superheroes in our profession! Out of the clinic, Tyler loves exploring the Sunshine State with her husband and anywhere else in the world they can travel!