Excuse me, but no more excuses

Excuse me, but no more excuses

Oct 01, 2005

How many times have you heard a staff member make an excuse? "I can't look that up because our computers are down." "No, I can't speak more clearly, I just got my tongue pierced." These excuses are meant to pacify clients, but what they really do is lower your standard of customer service and patient care.

Excuses lead to unaccountability. The UPS truck leaves at 5 p.m. whether our lab samples are on it or not. If I fail to order vaccine until after 4 p.m. on Thursday, we'll be out until 1 p.m. the following Tuesday. No excuse will change those hard facts.

Yet again and again, excuse givers think they're relieved from responsibility because they have a "good" reason. For example, when our practice computers recently caught a virus, the repairman said he'd come that day. But we didn't hear from him for several days. His excuse? The job he was working on took longer than he expected. Our clients wouldn't put up with that type of care, nor would I expect them to.

To be fair, veterinary practice is challenging. With every ring of the phone, our schedule, focus, priorities, and resources may change. Emergencies happen. Clients cancel, come late, and don't show. The phones keep blinking. People and pets form a line at the front and start to growl at one another. In Room 3, a boy is saying goodbye to his closest friend, while in the treatment area, a technician prepping for surgery realizes the oxygen tank is empty. And the loud noise up front? That's the busload of 6-year-olds ready to take a tour.

The receptionist, trying to explain to Mr. Callsalot why no one's phoned him with an update on his rabbit Sickly since the last update, says, "We're swamped. It's wild here today." Terrific. Mr. Callsalot sees chaos, irresponsibility, and dysfunction. He hears that you don't have time for him and his pet. I doubt any of us would leave our car with mechanics who're out of breath from running into each other in a wild frenzy of "professional" car repair.

I'm not saying that things are never crazy. But anxiety and exasperation, though they may be normal human reactions, are draining and counterproductive.

The bottom line: I wouldn't put up with shabby care, and I don't expect our clients and patients to either. Nor should they put up with lack of concern or second-rate treatment. When something is left undone or goes badly, excuses sound hollow. The fact that one of our staff members is out on maternity leave—and another called in sick—doesn't lower the standard of care.

Excuses are full of self-interest and take the focus off patient care. My goal: Train my staff members to avoid excuses. This isn't easy; we're often comfortable shifting blame. But new behaviors can be taught—and learned.

Of course, the place to start is with the doctor. That's the hard part. So next time you find yourself thinking of a good reason, kindly show your excuse the door.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jim Kramer, a certified veterinary practice manager, is a partner at Columbus Animal Hospital in Columbus, Neb., where he practices.