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Veterinary Forum March 2007 (Vol 24, No 3)

Doctor to Doctor: "Seal the deal with a winning first impression"

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    Although the exterior of the facility may be clients' first impression of your practice, the initial few minutes they spend with your staff inside the office will either seal the deal or have them shopping for a new veterinarian. Without a winning first impression, you may never have the opportunity to offer the superior services you take pride in. How important is a first impression? Well, given that it is next to impossible to retract a faulty one, it's critical that you get it right as soon as a client walks through the door.

    You are committed to making your clients feel welcome from the get-go, so it is crucial that your staff members and the interior of your practice relay that message. Remember, the little details are just as important as the overall picture.

    Staff appearance and hygiene

    Your goal is to convey a professional medical image, and that starts with your staff. Everyone should look clean, conservative and professional. White jackets should be worn over scrubs in client service areas, including the reception area and examination rooms. White shoes with white laces are preferable, and all shoes should be clean and polished. No one should be wearing open-toed shoes or sandals.

    All staff members should wear name tags; this will make employees both approachable and memorable. Doctors should wear their stethoscope around the neck when seeing patients. Likewise, assistants and technicians should be outfitted with appropriate equipment, such as suture scissors, bandage scissors, hemostats, Nye tourniquets, marker pens and leashes. Mirrors placed throughout the office allow employees to monitor their appearance before greeting clients.

    When you hire new employees, include codes of dress and appearance in the employee handbook so they understand the practice's image. Makeup, hairstyles and fingernails should be low-key and conservative, and long hair should be pulled back. Body piercings and tattoos should not be visible during work hours.

    Personal hygiene is an important aspect of professionalism that is often overlooked. Clients need to feel comfortable speaking with your employees. Breath mints should always be available, and anyone with body odor should be asked to wash accordingly. All hygiene standards need to be included in the employee handbook.

    General housekeeping

    Unfortunately, although clients may not appreciate the work it takes to keep a place clean, they likely will notice when it is not. They might even glance over the reception counter to assess the cleanliness and organization of your practice. If the front desk is cluttered with papers and there are cobwebs in the corners, what kind of message does that send?

    To deal with the overall cleaning, hire a commercial janitorial service to clean at least once a week. The everyday cleanup, however, is up to you and your staff. Assign staff members to their respective departments for daily cleaning: Receptionists can clean the reception areas, exam nurses can be responsible for examination rooms, treatment nurses can clean the treatment and surgical areas and kennel assistants can take care of the kennel, yard and parking lot.

    Create a daily cleaning checklist for each department to remind employees what items should be cleaned or washed daily (e.g., mop heads, baseboards, light switches) and what should be taken care of weekly (e.g., ceilings, HVAC vents, light fixtures, walls). Throw a "cleaning party" on a slow business day or after hours to kick-start your new cleaning protocols.

    There are simple things you can do to make cleanup easier. Place odor neutralizers in the canisters of vacuum cleaners and empty the canisters after use. Keep large garbage cans with wheels throughout the building to make trash collection from various rooms easy. Place several trash can liners in the bottom of each trash can so the staff member responsible for emptying it can quickly replace the liners. Also, keep cleanup buckets in the reception area and examination rooms that are filled with supplies to handle pet accidents, spills and other mishaps. Be sure to place a wet floor sign on the floor after mopping.

    Looks aren't everything

    So, you've spruced up the exterior and landscape and your employees are keeping up with regular cleanings while maintaining a pristine, conservative appearance. But you still have a chance to ruin your perfect first impression with an uninformed or misinformed staff.

    Each staff member needs to be informed and educated about office standards and practices. For example, if an employee tells a client the wrong price for a certain product or procedure and you correct the employee, it insinuates that your staff is neither knowledgeable nor trustworthy. Furthermore, the client may insist on paying the erroneous price. To prevent mistakes, require that all employees read training materials on services and products on their first day on the job.

    A closing thought

    By keeping the interior of your practice sanitary and by staffing professional, knowledgeable and hygienic employees, you can make a great first impression that can turn a first-time client into a lifelong one.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: "One of the hardest decisions to make"

    didyouknow

    Did you know... Every time a veterinarian speaks with a client, the conversation represents an opportunity to market the practice and its services. Read More

    These Care Guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions. They are formatted to print and give to your clients for their information.

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