1: Expecting that we know you by your pet’s name. This one was suggested by Amber, who frequently receives calls from pet owners who say, “Hi! It’s Courtney with Coco….I need to make an appointment to get her nails trimmed.” When Amber asks for Courtney’s last name, she gets attitude that she doesn’t recognize Courtney’s voice.
I see Amber’s point given that her practice has over 5,000 active clients; a receptionist can’t possibly remember everybody. That said, if you’re a client who visits monthly and spends $10,000 a year there, it’s understandable that you might expect some level of familiarity with the staff.
One way CSRs can get the information they need without upsetting the client lies in the way Amber asks for Courtney’s last name. If she doesn’t know which Courtney/Coco she’s talking to, don’t just say, “Last name?” and wait for her to respond. Instead, say, “Great! We’d love to see you both….can you remind me of your last name so I can make the appointment?” An upbeat tone is SO important, especially on the phone!
2: Wanting a nail trim/bath/grooming reservation, etc., for a pet whose vaccines are overdue. Paula suggested this one as a common occurrence, especially in the summertime or over the holidays. Clients want to make an appointment to get something done that they perceive as being “no big deal.” And they’re right. There are a number of procedures done every day that are very straightforward.
The challenge is that, if your dog is overdue on kennel cough vaccine but Paula lets you make an appointment for a nail trim and your dog then gets kennel cough while in the office, you’re not going to be happy. Or if your cat “only” needs a lion cut, but is overdue on rabies vaccine and bites somebody while being groomed, you’re in a bad place. Just like immunization requirements for kids to attend school, these hospital policies are in place for everyone’s protection, and that includes both you and your pet.
3: A pet has been sick (i.e. vomiting) for 4 days but you’re calling 10 minutes before
closing when the clinic is triple booked, because now it’s an emergency. You don’t want to go to an emergency clinic and you insinuate the CSR doesn’t care about animals because she won’t keep the office open late for you. Megan suggested this one and it’s a classic. Physicians might see this stuff too, but I can tell you that it happens very frequently with pets. It’s one thing to monitor a pet for a little while to see if they get better, but if you think your pet is sick, they are probably sick. Nobody debates that a pet who has been sick for a couple days needs a trip to the veterinarian, but the question is: Why didn’t you bring them in two days ago? Or call earlier today when you’d have more options for appointment times ?
4: You want medications prescribed over the phone without an exam. Brent mentioned this one, and the typical scenario is an itchy Golden Retriever who gets a “hot spot” every spring. The owner is confident it’s a bacterial skin infection, not just allergies, and just wants antibiotics: She doesn’t want the cost or inconvenience of having to bring the dog in for an exam. I agree that there are situations where a veterinarian might prescribe medications for a patient without an exam. But it’s pretty rare.
First of all, lots of things can look like a skin infection to a layperson. But, even if there was an infection, how bad is it? Will oral medications be enough or will shampoo therapy be required too? Neither of these important questions can be answered over the phone.
Clearly, it’s not in a pet’s best medical interest to skip the exam, and it might not be in your financial best interest either. What if it wasn’t a bacterial skin infection after all and those expensive antibiotics weren’t necessary? Or, what if it’s much worse than the client realizes and the veterinarian ends up treating with an inadequate dose of antibiotics or for an inadequate period of time? The infection never goes away, comes back with a vengeance when the meds are stopped, and you have to spend twice as much time (and money) getting it cleaned up. It’s really a lose/lose.
5: Leaving an emergency contact number that you don’t monitor. Margaret brought this one up as her number one pet peeve. Whether it’s a dog that gets dropped off for a dental or a cat being hospitalized for IV fluids, collecting emergency contact information is an important part of the process. The veterinary team needs to be able to contact you in case the dog, which is now under anesthesia, ends up needing an extraction you didn’t approve in advance, or the cat goes into respiratory arrest and the emergency clinician is obligated to start expensive (and usually ineffective) resuscitation until they can get you on the phone. These things happen more frequently than you might guess, and it’s the CSRs who end up stuck in the middle of a no-win situation.
Mark Olcott, DVM, MBA is a veterinarian in the Washington, DC area. He has worked in both general and emergency practice, is a published author, and holds multiple patents. He’s also the CEO and co-founder of VitusVet (www.vitusvet.com), a software company that is redefining the way information is shared in veterinary medicine..