Completing the circle of care

Completing the circle of care

Jul 01, 2007

A typical day in a veterinary practice has ups and downs. On the up side, you may diagnose a difficult case or bring a patient back from the brink of death. On the down side, you may try your best to save a patient only to lose the battle and the life. That experience is humbling in a profession where compassion for pets guides every decision.

But nothing can bring you to your knees faster than the raging, distressed client who, in response to a bad outcome, accuses you or your team of being uncaring and demands his or her money back. It's heartbreaking. It's not even about money at this point, although you've most likely invested a lot in this pet's care. It's about the fact that you do care, but for some reason that compassion was not relayed to the client.

Even if you return the money, it won't change the way the client feels. He or she is likely upset about other issues. The money is just a tangible way to avenge a perceived injustice. And you're left wondering, where did it all go wrong?

Most of the time, a client's anger has nothing to do with how the case was handled medically. You can lose a pet no matter how hard you try, and clients will be satisfied if they feel you treated them right. On the other hand, you can make miracle saves all day long and still lose clients if they think they were treated poorly. The key is this: How well does your practice care for people? If no one takes responsibility for making sure each client feels well cared for, you may face all kinds of cranky pet owners—regardless of your skill and expertise. One solution: Hire that "someone" who focuses only on the client experience.

What do we call this team member?

Getting client service to click
A staff member who focuses solely on client care can be called many things: care coordinator, client advocate, or client service technician, for example. If your practice is an emergency or specialty hospital that depends on referrals from the veterinary community, you have another client base besides pet owners. In this case, you may call your team member a referral coordinator, public outreach coordinator, partner relations manager, or referring hospital liaison.

Regardless of the title, one thing must be clear: This person is responsible for cementing the relationship between clients and your practice.

What kind of person is right for the job?

It takes a special individual to excel in veterinary client service. He or she needs to possess a well-rounded complement of skills and knowledge. First and foremost, this person must have outstanding communication skills and perceptible compassion for people who own or refer pets.

A client service expert must also want to learn, because often the best candidates won't have a medical background. A client service expert needs to be able to communicate your expert medical care so clients understand it. This requires visible confidence, and that can't be faked. In other words, this person will need to develop true understanding of your medical care. Your service expert may not know it all, but she must be able to say with confidence, "I don't know; that's a great question. Let me find out for you." If clients sense a lack of confidence, they'll lose trust in your practice, and once that happens, it's difficult—if not impossible—to gain it back.