Good Practice - Customer Service


Jane Davidson RVN veterinary-nurses, Veterinary Surgeon

Sometimes it’s hard to quantify what we do in a vet practice on a daily basis. We see humans and animals, we carry out medical and surgical procedures after diagnosing or to find a diagnosis.

So, we’re a medical provider? Yes? Well, yes but we are overall a service provider, the service we provide is our medical skill.

On a google search the definitions of “service” are below:

It seems we appear in more than one definition! We provide a service as in the noun no1, but we are also often helping with the delivery of the service as described in verb no2!

However, I’ll focus on our role in the first definition: helping or doing work for someone.

Yes, we work with our clients! I think that’s an interesting mindset to consider and one that puts last years BVA survey results in a different light depending on your current view.

I can empathise with the survey respondents – 90% of vets and vet teams have experienced overtly negative experiences with clients. I have too, in the vet world and in my retail career before this. It’s not nice and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But I feel there is a difference between retail and practice and think that focusing on the survey results aren’t the key, up moving into the advice given at the end of the report.

I have always felt that the situations I’ve been in retail I have had no control over why the person was shoplifting or when they were upset over store policy I had no control over a companies’ decisions.

I feel that in the vet world we have a lot more control about how we interact with our clients and we are usually more flexible (within the law) to be able to set up a customer care system that helps the clients AND the staff.

I think to start by seeing that we ARE a service industry is key. In many ways it doesn’t matter if the service is cleaning houses or providing medical treatment, we are still helping other people. Where it does matter is the complicated nature of medical work, the differences across vet practices which in many ways should be celebrated, but in a country used to the NHS is often seen as a negative by clients.

For clients, it can be hard to know what a vet offers. I’m sure we’ve all inwardly rolled our eyes when a client walks into the average first option 1-2 Vet/Nurse practice but assumes there will be staff and equipment equivalent to Supervet. While we know that this is a referral practice and there is a process involving first opinion vets to get the animal to a feral practice if needed that process and journey can be hard for a client to know about. To a vet, it’s a vet, isn’t it?

The same with cost. In every other aspect of life, many people shop around for the best deal. Note I’m saying ‘Deal’ not ‘Price’ because the two are not the same. Many people are willing to pay more for convenience or for a good service – I.e. they feel cared for.

That’s why looking at the list of advice on the BVA survey is important, as is looking at the service you provide from the customers' eyes. As I’m now a ‘client’ of my vets rather than full-time staff I use the same service as clients. I also use several vets for my pets’ ailments – yes, I’m That Client… It’s very eye-opening to see the front of house of vet practices, and not always in a good way.

I’ve avoided issues in vets, but only because I know the way things work. I’ve chased paperwork and insurance claims, I’ve paid for extra parking time as I know certain places always run late, I ask in advance for direct claims if they might be needed. Because my time and money as a client are as valuable is yours I do this, but as a client should I routinely be chasing payments, paying extra for parking because you run late regularly. Should I be the one to mention how the bill will be settled, should that not be a conversation you as the service provider has as part of a consult? Because for most people they won’t mention the difficult conversations if you won’t.

While some staff want to avoid talking money as they worry it can make vets seem ‘money grabbing’ people don’t mind paying for a service they can see with their own eyes and understand the value of. It’s when the necessity and cost of treatments and likely outcome aren’t fully explained that tempers fray.

The BVA advice is a great starting point and I’d like to add a couple of other suggestions:

  • Record incidents
    • Date, time, service used, staff involved, and what happened
    • We can’t improve what we don’t measure so this is important
  • Review the record and try to spot any patterns, is there an issue OOH, or with Rd tomatoes and final bill of certain procedures?

We record and discuss clinical issues to make improvements so let’s try the same with our customer service.

I can’t guarantee if you follow the advice that you’ll never have an unhappy client again, but you should hopefully be in a better place to help them, and you.

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