Exceptional customer service will make the difference between a pet owner staying or leaving your practice.
In an age where online reviews travel faster than the speed of light it’s no longer enough to deliver satisfactory customer service. Your customers expect more and they will share their experiences with the world.
The upside of this is that your practice is promoted to the community with little to no marketing cost. The downside is that when a customer posts an unfavourable review the complaint resolution has to be handled in a public forum until you can persuade your customer to discuss it further offline. This is an emotional industry by its nature and it’s very easy for small issues to blow up quickly.
After visiting many veterinary clinics throughout my career and conducting hundreds of mystery shopping calls, I can confidently say that most practices deliver good to excellent customer service. Receptionists, nurses and vets are for the most part friendly, professional and capable. However I will also say that there is some room for improvement. For example – on average, only 1 in 10 mystery shop calls I conduct on veterinary clinics use my name or my pet’s name in the conversation. Even if I volunteer this information.
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can make the biggest difference to a customer’s experience. Surprise them, delight them, be genuinely wanting to make their lives a little bit easier and your customers will happily spread the word!
In the next few minutes we’re going to look at 6 crucial elements that will help your team to stand out from the crowd when it comes to delivering customer service excellence.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Be clear about your expectations with your team members from the get-go. Everybody on the team has the ability to choose which attitude they will bring to work. If they can’t bring their A game to work every day, then they need to communicate with you about what is holding them back so that they can receive the support they need.
Being a team player means having shared goals, being respectful to clients and team members and supporting each other when the going gets tough.
- Have a team meeting to create/review your mission statement and gain commitment. Brainstorm ways to deliver excellence in customer service and agree on a consistent approach.
Discuss ways that team members can support each other. Ask why this is important and who benefits? What happens when we don’t? Be open to suggestions from the team on how things can be done better or differently. Set goals and celebrate the wins.
- Embed your mission statement into the culture of your practice. Include it in your induction for new team members, post your mission statement on the notice board in the kitchen, buddy up newbies with a mentor i.e. your best customer service legends. Share stories of how team members have embodied the spirit of your mission statement in their work and be proud of your customer service ethos.
- Apply accountability. Customer service is everyone’s job – all of the time. Regardless of whether a team member is a vet, a nurse or a work experience student, if a client looks like they need help then act – even if only to alert another team member.
Ensure that processes are in place to ensure that all customer requests or complaints are dealt with in a timely manner and that the customer is kept updated via worklists, history notes, task assignments, reporting etc.
2. Make First Impressions Count
When a client walks into your clinic with their pet they will decide how they feel about your practice in the first 10 seconds.
Gaining compliance from all team members will ensure a consistently professional, caring and welcoming environment at all times.
In an emergency it is understandable that we may sound rushed when answering the phone and have less time to chat with customers, however as a general rule all of the following behaviours will have a direct impact on your client’s experience.
- Presentation – name badges, uniforms, grooming and general cleanliness.
- Professionalism and good manners. For example, making eye contact and acknowledging a walk-in client even if they’re busy with another client.
- Using client and patient names. The power of this little habit cannot be underestimated! It demonstrates caring and active listening and helps to build rapport and trust. Clients feel recognised and appreciated.
- Being aware of your surroundings. An offer to help a customer struggling to get their dog to the car without them having to ask will go a long way.
- Making your clients feel welcome! Where practical, come out from behind the reception desk to greet your client and get down to the pet’s level.
- Telephone ettiquette – answering within 3 rings, updating clients on hold, not sounding impatient or ‘too busy’ and thanking clients for their call. And again – using the client and patient names in the conversation.
3. Empower Your Team for Success
Instil a culture of taking the initiative. Flip the switch from Reactive to Proactive and empower team members to find out what the customer needs without waiting to be asked. Let your clients know that they are the most important priority for you at this moment.
For example, approaching a client when you notice that they have been waiting for longer than 10 mins, or letting them know when the vet is running behind. When a client is having trouble handling their puppy, be confident enough to approach them and recommend training tools such as harness or an appropriate chew toy or puppy pre-school. Show you’re interested!
If you can’t provide it or you don’t know, offer to find someone who does.
When team members have the freedom to be open and aware of client needs and to take action, they feel valued and appreciated and want to make a contribution to the practice.
Did you know that ‘helper’s high’ is a physiological response to doing good deeds? According to Cedars Sinai, acts of kindness can release hormones (oxytocin) that contribute to your mood and overall well-being. This why we get those warm and fuzzy feelings when we make a charitable donation, help somebody in need or find the perfect gift for a friend.
- Give team members permission to act. At times each of us can be busy doing our work and it is easy to think ‘that’s not my job’. We might assume that someone else will mop up that spill or talk to that worried looking client or offer some advice about training for a boisterous puppy.
We get so caught up in what we are doing that we sometimes need a reminder to be more aware of our surroundings and what is happening. Always be thinking ‘how can I help’?
4. Training and Skills Workshops
Customer Service training doesn’t have to be a drain on your budget. Team meetings, working lunches and performance reviews all provide opportunities for learning, brainstorming, feedback and decision making.
- Write a list of your customer service problem areas and prioritise them for addressing at a clinic level.
- Explore your team’s attitudes towards sales and customer service and what it means to them in the context of their role.
- Seek support from industry reps to provide workshops and learning materials.
- Arrange skill sharing presentations by individual team members on a topic that they excel in or something new that they learned. This also helps provide recognition for team members and to boost morale.
5. Review and Renew
Review what worked and what didn’t. Source information from your team members, customer complaints file, social media feedback and survey results to gain insight into how clients perceive your practice. Then make small changes and evaluate the results as you go.
- Invite feedback from your team members at individual performance reviews and team meetings. Provide guidance and training as required.
- Run a Mystery Shopping campaign to find out what your practice does well and where you can improve. Get buy in from the team on how to do it better next time.
- Consider sending out an anonymous survey to clients or internally to team members asking what they really think about attitudes towards customer service in the practice and what can be improved. You can create simple surveys for free at Survey Monkey.
6. Celebrate the Successes
Maintaining outstanding customer service is hard work, but also incredibly rewarding and motivating when those rave reviews start coming in!
Happy customers = Happy Team = Happy Workplace
- Reward team members for excellence in customer service. e.g. Team Member of the Month nominations by other team members using specific examples of how that person exceeded customer expectations.
- Share success stories at meetings, via email and on the kitchen noticeboard.
- Celebrate the fantastic service you are providing to your clients and patients by thanking each other. Give your team-mates a pat on the back when you see them taking extraordinary actions to help clients.
Nobody is perfect and sometimes we get it wrong. However most customers are fairly reasonable and forgiving if we listen to their concerns and act with empathy and respect. It’s often HOW we respond to a problem that can make the difference, and if handled correctly you can turn your most distrusting client into your best advocate.
For more information about Customer Service Training and Mystery Shopping: