It might sound odd for a veterinarian who writes on how best to use consumer technology in veterinary practices to be talking about employee satisfaction, but it really isn’t.  One of my favorite B-school professors said that the focus on information technology (IT) should be much more on the information than on the technology.  Technology is a tool that people can use to be more productive and get better results…but people have to use it.  They have to work together to figure out how to take the information and create value out of it.  Which brings me to something another B-school professor said:  it’s all about the talent.

Mid section group of young doctors in a meeting at hospital

What About Employee Satisfaction?

I’ve written previously about a wonderful little book about human hospital management, but the principles espoused in the book apply equally well to veterinary practices.  It’s called, If Disney Ran Your Hospital:  9.5 Things You Would Do Differently and the penultimate chapter has a fascinating section on employee satisfaction.

The author, Fred Lee, makes a very interesting statement:

“I did not get the impression that Disney existed to satisfy employees.  Employees existed to satisfy Disney guests….There was no tolerance for employees who deviated, even slightly, from cultural norms.  Behavioral standards were exacting and strictly enforced.”

Think about that for a bit and let it sink in…this runs counter to what you hear from most human resource folks.  “Make your employees happy and they’ll make your clients happy.”  Sound familiar?

What if that’s backwards?  Don’t get me wrong; Disney spends a lot of time and money getting exactly the right people to work there.  Their interview process is demanding and they have a fantastic brand that keeps the pool of applicants full with people young and old.  But like other companies where customer satisfaction is legendary (Zappos and come immediately to mind), Disney doesn’t pay very well.  Nor do they have outstanding benefit packages or other lavish employee perks.  What if above average pay/benefits is not linked to job performance in customer service businesses?

A Completely Different Hiring Mindset

A better explanation for this phenomenon is that these companies focus on finding self-motivated people who are enthusiastic and enjoy taking care of their customers.  They have intrinsic motivation:  they’re not in it solely for a paycheck or benefits.  Like Disney, they’re looking for team members to truly enjoy helping people…not just saying it in an interview.  They’ve also got a training program powerful enough to allow them to TRULY hire for personality, not skills.  They also believe firmly in the HR mantra of “Hire slow, fire fast,” but that’s a topic for another blog.

Am I doing it wrong?

What if employee satisfaction is one of those fleeting goals that, like happiness, never seems to come to those who actively seek it?  What if satisfaction is a by-product of doing your job well?

Traditional thinking: “If I make my employees happy, they’ll enjoy their job and take great care of my clients.”

Disney thinking: “By building our team with people who enjoy serving clients, I’ll end up being surrounded by people who are deeply satisfied with their jobs.”

Big difference.

Client impressions should always come first because they are an important driver of client loyalty, which is another topic I’ve written on extensively.  Each member of your team has incredible power to either add or destroy value with each client interaction, but none more so than your client service representatives.

Reception Is an Area, Not a Job.

Who is the first person your clients see when they walk in your practice?  Who checks them out and is the last person they see before they walk back out the door?  Client service representatives (CSRs).  They’ve gone by a few names over the years, the most popular of which is “receptionist,” but I really prefer CSR.  It’s a more modern term that reflects the variety of jobs this person is required to do beyond merely receiving people into the building.

This is a job for which you must be an absolute zealot about client service.  These need to be nice people who genuinely like making people happy.  Serving others comes naturally to them and they’re almost always happy:  you’ll know them when you see them.  They don’t make fun of clients behind their back, don’t roll their eyes in disdain when describing a client or patient’s needs, and they make other people around them happy.

Two Funny Beagle Dogs Running

Where to Start?

Focus on hiring CSRs who come from the hospitality industry.  You can teach them what they need to know about veterinary medicine during training but someone who has worked for, say, Marriott, will be coming to you with a wealth of client-focused training.  Naturally, you should be checking references, but an applicant who worked the front desk at a high quality hotel would be definitely worth interviewing for your CSR team.

There are also consultants who specialize in HR and hiring/firing practices who can help you do your first couple interviews along the lines of “see one/do one/teach one.”

Good luck!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

MarkOlcottSurreyPicAbout the Author

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, a software company that is redefining the way information is shared in veterinary medicine.