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Veterinary Forum April 2007 (Vol 24, No 4)

Doctor to Doctor: "Sending mindful messages to your clients"

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    Now that your staff is well-informed, well educated and presents a professional image, it's time to give more detailed attention to the messages you are sending your clients. Take advantage of the client "waiting period" by providing informative reading material and helpful signage. And make sure the reception area is clean and comfortable.

    Think of the reception room as the nerve center of your practice: It is where appointments are made and client relationships are initiated and — hopefully — maintained.

    When clients first step into the foyer, they shouldn't have to struggle getting their pets through the door. Be sure you have a working doorbell in case a client needs assistance and a front door that is easy to open and automatically closes once the person has entered.

    Keep in mind that some clients might spend most of their hospital visit in the reception area. To help keep them calm and at ease, the following details should not be overlooked:

    • The area should be free of odors and well ventilated.
    • The temperature should be comfortable, with HVAC fans running continuously.
    • Ceiling tiles and air vents should be clean and free of cobwebs.
    • Paint on the walls should be fresh (repaint every 2 to 3 years).
    • Brick walls should be sealed with silicone to prevent moisture and odor absorption.
    • There should be sufficient lighting with no dead bugs in the fixtures, no flickering lights and no unlit bulbs.

    Make yourself at home

    If a client is going to be waiting for even 5 minutes with a pet, he or she should feel as relaxed as possible. There should be ample seating in the reception area that can accommodate everyone who is waiting, and chairs should be comfortable and clean.

    Most clients will look for reading material to peruse while waiting to be called for their pet's appointment. But, you want to send a positive, professional message — it is difficult to overcome a negative impression, so you need to select suitable material. Ideally, all publications and pamphlets available in the reception area should be related to veterinary medicine. It is important that you and your staff members read all material accordingly. If you decide to have music playing in the reception area, make sure it is not too loud and is appropriate for everyone.

    It also is important to send a "clean" message to your clients by having a spotless reception area, sterile exam rooms and a sanitary restroom. The restroom should be decorated professionally, keeping in line with the tone of the clinic. It should be stocked with extra toilet paper and paper towels. Be sure the restroom contains a mirror, baby changing table, commode plunger and trash can. There should be no dripping faucets or running commodes. And don't forget to post a sign: "If you find anything wrong with this facility, please notify the receptionist."

    Décor details

    When clients aren't reading magazines or chatting with each other, they are likely scanning the walls. Wall decorations are not for ambience alone: They should educate your clients about hospital services and policies, as well. All posters and signs should be framed. Do not use scotch tape or thumb tacks, as it will look elementary, not professional.

    In addition to posting diplomas, professional honors and certificates, the following signage ideas are both decorative and functional:

    • Welcome to Tour Hospital on Request
    • Emergency Service Always Available
    • No Smoking: Anesthesia Gas in Use
    • Medical Equipment in Use: Please Turn Off Cell Phones
    • If Too Hot or Too Cold, We Will Gladly Adjust the Temperature
    • Services Provided in the Following Order: Emergencies, Appointments, Walk-ins

    In addition, be sure to post the clinic's boarding policy, vaccination policy, financial policies and external parasite recommendations. To add color to the room, include pictures of dog and cat breeds and passive marketing pictures that outline dental care, heartworm preventive practices and flea control.

    If bulletin boards are hung on the walls, be sure all materials are organized and up-to-date. Include a staff directory, as well as pictures of clients and their pets on bulletin boards.

    Office organization

    The receptionist's office must be clean, neat and organized. He or she needs to prevent and control clutter so that all important documents are easy to locate. If the receptionist can't find a medical record, the client might assume that the entire practice is disorganized. Furthermore, the receptionist should be able to quickly locate any information regarding practice policies and services.

    The following are tips to keep the reception area organized, instructive and efficient:

    • Organize medical record files.
    • Have new client forms ready on clipboards.
    • Mount telephones on the wall to conserve desk space.
    • Display over-the-counter products for purchase.
    • Keep a postal scale on the counter for weighing small pets.
    • All printed materials should include colorful graphics and be printed on heavy paper. Check handouts for spelling and grammatical errors.

    A closing thought

    Remember, clients are receiving both obvious and subtle messages with each experience at your clinic. You want to send the right signals and, most important, ensure clients that you are concerned about their personal comfort in addition to the health and well-being of their pets.

    A closing thought

    Remember, clients are receiving both obvious and subtle messages with each experience at your clinic. You want to send the right signals and, most important, ensure clients that you are concerned about their personal comfort in addition to the health and well-being of their pets.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: "CAM — The Big Secret No One Is Telling You"

    didyouknow

    Did you know... It is no surprise that most thank-you letters sent to veterinarians and their teams are related to compassion and empathy shown during emergency and end-of-life discussions with clients. 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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