WE have all been into practices with a grumpy receptionist. The receptionist sits there, hidden behind a desk, scowling at clients who dare to interrupt her (or him) to say they have an appointment.
It’s a stress when there is a queue of people and then the phone rings (and doesn’t everyone know about that stress?).
Receptionists like this see their job as one of diary management and efficiency. People are there to be herded and directed. The practice owner and the vets just get in the way of what they need to do.
Being frank, this kind of receptionist would be better suited to working for a GP surgery than a veterinary practice, because they have totally forgotten what the receptionist is really there to do!
The real role of the receptionist is not to greet people, nor answer the phone, nor take payment. Those are just functions of the role. The whole point of having a receptionist – or whoever is the first person the clients interact with when they enter the building – is to make someone feel warmly towards the business.
You see, us humans are more driven by our feelings (decisions made by the heart) than we are by logic (decisions made by the brain). Our emotions developed over thousands of years and helped give us a wide range of tools to turn us into the dominant species that we are today.
So we find it very hard to ignore them. Often we aren’t even aware that we are having an emotional response.
Think about a time when, as a consumer, you were a regular client of a business and made a decision to go elsewhere. Your brain will have come up with a series of logical reasons (“It’s cheaper elsewhere” or “It’s more convenient at that other place”).
I did this myself with my dentist about 12 months ago. After 10+ years of being barked at by the “angry receptionist”, I made a mental note to pick a different practice in the future… before I’d even sat in the dentist’s chair!
My decision to move was nothing to do with the clinical care I was receiving. Instead, I finally got fed up with feeling like I was getting in the receptionist’s way.
Interestingly, when my wife asked why I was switching, I told her I was going for a closer practice for convenience. But really it was my heart that made the decision. We make emotional decisions with our hearts, and then justify them with our brains.
The decision to leave a practice has more to do with the people we interact with than all of the other factors such as the state of the building, the service received, etc.
Trouble is, this is a difficult problem to spot and tackle in a business. I’ve worked with veterinary practice owners who blame the local area and corporate competitors for poor retention and at sales.
Yet, you take the bad receptionist out of the business for a two-week holiday and the whole feel of the place changes. Clients pick up on that and it changes the way they act.
If the receptionist has been there for 10 years already, it’s very hard to know if it’s her who’s causing the problem or not…especially if you’re stuck in the consulting room all day.
I know there are more good receptionists than bad out there. But the bad ones have got to be identified and they have got to go. There is no room in any business for a key person who makes clients feel bad in any way.
Not sure if your receptionist is good for the business or bad? Here are a number of ways to find out.
Listen to your gut
If you’re not sure about your receptionist, that in itself is a wake-up call. Your emotions will give you an early warning about a bad member of staff before your brain alerts you to a problem. You know that gut feel you get about things? Trust that feeling. It’s your heart telling you what it wants you to do.
Ask your staff
Your staff are also aware of problems in your business before you are. I once managed an employee out of the business and, immediately afterwards, everyone else told me it was a good call as he was lazy. Yet that wasn’t the reason I red him. It made me impress upon my team that need to tell me what they think about their colleagues during our 1-2-1s…if several people say the same thing, you know you have a problem.
Look at how the receptionist manages her or his workload
Reception is a difficult job, with lots of competing demands for attention and a lot of detail to get right. Good receptionists just get it right. Little things like making eye contact with a waiting client while on the phone to someone else, and mouthing “with you in a minute” are all it takes. Smiling is an amazingly powerful tool. But it needs to be a real smile. Smiling with the eyes, not just the mouth.
Check they are focused on the outcome and not the systems
Bad receptionists hide behind systems. They use the method of doing something as the excuse not to do it a different way. Resistance to change is not good. The only reason to have a system is to get a result. When staff focus too much on the system, the practice is in danger of getting stuck in a rut.
Great customer service comes more from the way your receptionist thinks than the way she acts. Correct action comes from the right way of thinking. So your challenge is to help your receptionists to figure out how important they are to the business, and what their role is really about.
They need to be able to work past the stress and hassle caused by clients, colleagues and you, their boss.
And no matter what pressure they are under, to give the kind of customer service anyone would be proud to get as a client of any business.