Give veterinary clients my cell phone number? Really?
I was excited to see Dr. Marty Becker’s latest Practice With Heart column, “Call me!” in the June 2013 issue of Veterinary Economics. I’ve been espousing the same motto for many years and frequently jot my number on the report card I send home with clients following an exam.
I find it very helpful for new clients and for clients with pets that have more serious health issues. It also works well when I’ve just seen a sick pet and we’re heading into the weekend. If something happens, I’d prefer the client try to reach me before calling the emergency hospital, because most often, without the pet’s history, after-hours clinics can only recommend bringing the pet in. While this might be warranted in some cases, many times it’s not necessary—and clients will be much happier if you can save them time and money.
While Dr. Becker and I advocate giving out our numbers to clients, I find most veterinarians aren’t interested in doing so. I think some veterinarians are worried about the pain-in-the-neck client abusing the privilege, or that maybe from a female perspective, it’s worrisome to share a cell phone number. But I also think many veterinarians want to be done with work when they’re done for the day. Some veterinarians feel they work hard at the clinic and aren’t compensated enough to be always available—and besides, that’s the beauty of having an emergency clinic.
A couple years ago, I was at a customer service meeting and one of our pharmacy representatives said, “I’m sorry, guys, but to be honest, I think it’s easier to get a hold of my own doctor than it is my veterinarian.”
And this may be true—many doctors have paging services and can be reached in one form or another, so their patients don’t have to go to emergency care. In fact, a few weeks ago I accidentally “butt-dialed” the head of cardiology at our university hospital and he actually picked right up, even though he had no idea who was calling. Pretty impressive, right?
Good for the client—and you
For veterinarians to survive in today’s competitive market, we need to make ourselves available, and the cell phone is an easy way for clients to keep in touch with us. But that doesn’t mean we need to be on call 24/7. I let clients know I’m not always available, but that I’ll do my best to get back with them when I can. I think clients are wowed and impressed by this—they see I’m dedicated and not just in it for the money or there for them when it’s convenient for me. The fact is, very few clients call me and when they do, they’re very appreciative—some even request I charge them for my time.
I also tell clients I’m giving them my work cell phone number—not an alien concept, as quite a few folks have two phones for business and personal calls. Keeping a separate phone for business purposes might make some veterinarians more comfortable with the concept—and you can always change phone numbers if you have a pestilent client.
At any rate, I second the idea of asking pet owners to call me. In today’s practice environment, it’s a great way to bond with clients. You can even screen your calls with voice mail or caller ID and get back to the client at a time that’s convenient for you, based on the urgency of the call. I see it as a win-win situation for everyone.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, is president of the Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan.