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K.I.S.S. your clients!

What???? KISS your clients? Don’t you know it’s the time of social distancing, quarantines, curbside care, and so on?

Simple communication techniques to ease client tension during curbside.

I don’t mean KISS your clients, I mean K.I.S.S. your clients. When I grew up my band director was forever telling us to K.I.S.S. a difficult passage in the music, or a K.I.S.S. a difficult sequence in our marching program. It was very annoying but ultimately great advice and I have carried it with me throughout life.

Many of you know what K.I.S.S. means but just incase you need a reminder it stands for Keep It Simple Stupid (or Silly) if you need a kinder version. So, what the heck am I talking about when I tell you to K.I.S.S. your clients? Let’s discuss…

Client business relationships are struggling and tense right now and with good reason. Everyone is stressed out and cranky. Business owners and their employees are tired, bone tired. It’s a horrible season and it’s ground hog day! Clients are tired, bone tired. Everyone is stressed about time spent transacting business, money spent, jobs being lost or on the line, etc. I am writing this to encourage both parties to bridge the gap of communication. Ultimately, we must remember that we need our customers and clients to keep coming to us for services for us to stay in business. We do not however need or want to deal with crankiness, abuse, cussing, and out and out anger during these interactions. So how can we start to bridge the communication gap and reach over to the other side with a friendly hand? It always goes back to better communication but this time we need to hone our empathy and understanding skills a little more.

The first step to understanding is to try to put yourself in their shoes

You can do this physically or mentally. I got to do this physically, I had to visit my local vet a few weeks ago when my dog was having seizures. It is still the height of mask wearing, COVID fearing, curbside caring craziness. Now please understand, I have worked in veterinary medicine as a veterinary assistant, Certified Practice Manager and veterinary team training educator for 15 years or so. SO, I get it… I mean I really get it….

Back to my story, I called and asked if they had appointments available for an acute seizing but stable dog. They said yes, come down and call when you get to the parking lot. They took my basic info over the phone and then we hung up. We arrived at the vet’s 15 minutes later because we live in a small town. I called and told them I was in the parking and what vehicle I was in. They said, ok someone will be right out to take history and see what we need to do. Ok, no problem. We waited, and waited, and waited.

We saw people coming and going, we saw puppies going in and hearing the post vaccination instructions being shared into the driver side window next door. We saw another couple drive up and walk in…what was that about?  

Meanwhile, we waited. We waited in the parking lot with my 15-year-old dog who had seizures randomly that morning. We waited with no updates, or acknowledgment for 1 ½ hours. My husband was getting very angry, we both needed to get back to work.


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Before I go on, let me tell you what I know about the veterinary world:

I know how crazy the inside of the practice is, I used to manage two hospitals through those days both on the floor and as manager. I saw that the parking lot was full. I also know that my dog was stable and in no immediate threat, although they didn’t, they took my word for it. I also know and understand that the team was doing the best they can, they are very tired, scattered, and extremely uncomfortable with the communication styles required during this time. They weren’t making eye contact with anyone for fear of getting stuck dealing with someone outside of their turn. They were sweaty and gross from running around having a mask covering their faces. I know these things.  

What would I change from my client’s eye-view

FIRST and FOREMOST, manage expectations on the phone before I ever arrive.

  • TELL me how long I’ll be sitting there, most people understand you can’t help it. Even if its loooong, tell me. Respecting my time with your honesty will endear me to you.
  • Offer a drop off exam so I don’t have to sit there for 1 ½ hours waiting.

Parking lot communication tips:

  • Communicate Confidently. This takes some fortitude and emotional intelligence especially in the face of potentially cranky clients. Also, accept that faces can’t be read easily because of masks.
  • Create a Curbside Concierge Host role within the practice. Assign someone with the role of greeting and checking clients in and giving them current status updates.
  • Look at the scene from the client’s eyes and proactively head off any issues. This means you have to know what is happening inside the practice and out, again having someone who is serving as Curbside Concierge Host may fit this spot perfectly. I knew I had a sick dog and the healthy puppy next to me got to go in first and get vaccines. Any John Q. client would question this or at the very least get frustrated by it.
    • Proactively explain that the doctor that is going to see your sick patient has two other sick patients ahead. There are also a series of puppy vaccines and other checkouts happening by the technicians and other team members so just know we aren’t forgetting about you.
    • It explains away the fact that I’ll be seeing ‘other’ pets going in before mine.
  • Touch back in with them every 30 minutes or so, either by driver side check-in, phone call, or text, or just wave. Just let them know they haven’t been forgotten.

Food for thought

When you consider the entirety of the visit, meaning the anatomy of the visit, this was just the calling for an appointment and waiting to be seen. We haven’t even approached the history taking, physical examination, diagnostic recommendations, possible diagnoses, treatments, and then the dreaded payment request for services rendered.

Before any of that stuff could happen, I was already primed to have an angered outburst because my time was being spent with no communication from inside and my worry over my dog was fanning those flames. My husband was already mad and frustrated, his ship had already sailed.

You may be on-time seeing patients 95% of the time and the one day a client has to wait a few minutes extra and has the nerve to get angry about it isn’t fair… Except that this is their one experience with you and you were late so their experience rating is 100% negative so far. Perspective.

So let’s get back to K.I.S.S.-ing.

Keep It Simple Stupid and follow the Golden Rule ‘Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You’. I promise I am not patronizing you; I am gently reminding you that these folks are your life’s blood, they pay your bills and keep you employed. So, let’s work hard to connect on their level where they are and prevent major issues, stress, and anger.

This may require a little research on your part because times are different, protocols are different and its all we can do to learn our side much less get a sense of the OTHER SIDE. I encourage you to shed your own biases about what their experience is like vs what your experience is like and truly try to see it from their perspective.

Keep your client care and service simple. Apply the Golden Rule. Communicate proactively and proudly. Encourage your team members to communicate confidently. Clients just want to know what is going on if you tell them they don’t have to make up their own versions themselves!  

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About Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP

Certified Veterinary Practice Manager and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional with 15 years of veterinary hospital management experience. My passion lies with the small business owner specifically in veterinary medicine but not exclusively. I love coaching, teaching, developing and creating opportunities for veterinary practice success. I want to help overwhelmed stressed out practice owners, managers and veterinary teams make sense of the sticky areas of veterinary practice management.

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