December 29, 2016

Three Ways Client Service Representatives Can Build Client Loyalty

When pet owners visit veterinary practice, their first and last interactions are typically with the front office team. Consequently, client service representatives need to be well trained to create positive first and last impressions.
By Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
When pet owners visit veterinary practice, their first and last interactions are typically with the front office team. Consequently, client service representatives (CSRs) need to be well trained to create positive first and last impressions. Even though people take their pets to veterinary hospitals for medical care, their service experience is a major factor in determining how bonded they are to the practice and how likely they are to refer others.

Here Are 3 Ways CSRs Can Connect with Pet Owners and Build Client Loyalty:

1. Focus on Client Engagement.
Although most CSRs inherently know or have been told to be friendly, they often don’t receive training on how to use specific communication skills to enhance client engage- ment. Client engagement is about making an authentic connection with people. It’s about showing you care about the client and the bond they share with their pet. With high levels of engagement, client loyalty increases because pet owners can’t imagine taking their pet somewhere else where the service might not be as exceptional. The following communication skills are some of the easiest ways with which to engage clients:

Make engaging comments
This skill works well even when CSRs are extremely busy. Examples of engaging comments include “Congratulations on your new family member” or “It’s so great to meet you and Jake. I just love black labs.” Compliments are another excellent way to connect with clients. CSRs might say, “Chloe is so beautiful. I love her markings” or “Mrs. Smith, that is a lovely scarf. The color looks great on you.” While this communication skill may seem simple, to be most effective, team members need to remember 2 essential elements. First, the comment must be genuine. People can spot flattery that is insincere. The second element is to make eye contact. Engaging comments lose their power if a CSR is looking at the computer while speaking or is otherwise distracted.

Ask engaging questions
Asking questions increases engagement if the questions are inquisitive and demonstrate a genuine desire to find out more about the client or their pet. This skill may come naturally to a CSR that knows a particular client. He or she might ask the pet owner about their family or job. The skill is more difficult with new clients or those who only visit the practice once or twice a year. In these situations, front office teams are more likely to use the skill if they’ve been trained to consider appropriate questions. A prepared team might identify the following questions to ask to connect with clients:

• Why did you name your cat Peppermint?
• How did you decide to get a corgi?
• Tell me how you found out about our practice.
• What summer activities do you all have planned?

Convey empathy and understanding
Clients may be experiencing anxiety, sadness, or frustration while at the practice. Their emotions may or may not be related to the reason for their visit. They could just be having a bad day. Unfortunately, one of the most common responses to upset clients is silence because the team member is unsure what to say. CSRs trained to respond with kind and reassuring words can create lasting impressions. The best way to train this skill is to facilitate a team meeting that discusses common scenarios involving an upset client. This could include someone upset about a bill or an owner who is clearly tired after being up all night with a sick pet. For the client upset about the cost of care, a trained CSR would know to respond by saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I know these are unexpected expenses for Scooter.” When talking to the exhausted client, they might say, “Wow, so Charlie kept you up all night. I can see how tired you are. That must have been so frustrating.” Remember that making eye contact is an essential component of this skill.

2. Convey a Desire to Help.
Conveying a desire to help involves letting clients know the team wants to do whatever it can to make a visit to the veterinarian easy, efficient, and enjoyable. Create a dialogue with team members about being client-focused rather than task-oriented. CSRs who focus on building relationships, rather than just completing transactions, will enhance client engagement and build client loyalty.

Conveying a desire to help should go beyond the basics of saying, “We’ll get you in an exam room as soon as possible” or “Call us back if Josie doesn’t get better.” Because clients expect those cordial statements, they don’t bond pet owners to a practice. On the other hand, CSRs who say or do something that isn’t expected will impress clients. For example, rather than just asking, “Do you need help carrying everything?” (or, worse yet, not offering help), a client-focused CSR will come from behind the front desk carrying the client’s products and say, “Let me help you out to your car.”

One of the most critical times for conveying a desire to help occurs during service recovery. Service recovery refers to the process of trying to return a customer to a state of satisfaction when a service hasn’t met their expectations. CSRs need to be trained to use specific communication skills to let clients know they’re eager to help them. Ideally, the process involves these 3 steps:

• An apology or expression of empathy, such as “I’m sorry to hear this happened.”
• Validating the client’s position with a response, such as “I understand you’re upset. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
• Informing the client what specific action will be taken to assist them. Follow through to take action, and keep the client informed is paramount to this step.

Interestingly, this “service recovery paradox” means customers may think more highly of a business that has taken action to correct a problem than they would have if a service problem never happened. The concept is that people form opinions based on whether they think service providers care and have gone above and beyond to help them.

3. Communicate with Confidence About the Value of Services.
Communicating with confidence helps to build client trust, which, in turn, builds client loyalty. The best way for CSRs to gain confidence is to set up training programs that include learning about services and products, as well as how to convey this knowledge confidently. Take the example of making a recommendation for a heartworm test. A CSR might simply state, “Josie is due for her heartworm test on this visit.” Contrast this recommendation to one from a trained CSR who says, “It has been a year since we tested Josie for heartworm. This blood test will screen her for the presence of heartworms, which is a serious disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Annual testing is extremely important to verify she hasn’t become infected and to ensure we treat her as soon as possible, if necessary. Assuming she has a negative test, we’ll refill her prescription for [brand name of preventive].” This recommendation more confidently conveys the value of a heartworm test.

CSRs that are mindful about using specific communication skills and strategies to connect with pet owners and build trust increase client loyalty and ultimately help more pets get the care they deserve.
 
Dr. Donnelly received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Missouri and her MBA from Baker University. She combines her “in the trenches” practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. Dr. Donnelly has twice been named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at NAVC.

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