The impact of increased demand on receptionists - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

The impact of increased demand on receptionists

Life in veterinary practice has changed considerably in the last few years, but how have these changes affected those working front of house?

British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) logo

The British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) has recently been looking into the impact of increased demand on receptionists, a topic we are sure everyone in practice has been thinking about. Here are some real-life experiences from those working in a front-of-house role.

Kayleigh Walker (Drove Vets)

“Over the last couple of years, with pet ownership in the UK hitting record highs, the demand on veterinary practices has increased significantly. As veterinary receptionists, day-to-day our workload has also increased with the demand: trying to find appointments for all the new patients as well as the sick animals, keeping up with our daily duties and of course the phone that never stops ringing! In addition, due to the pandemic and guidelines surrounding COVID-19, we have had staff shortages meaning overtime has been needed to ensure reception is covered. All this on top of the abuse veterinary receptionists have been receiving from clients has caused every one of us a lot of stress.

With the increase in demand, team morale within reception teams is currently sitting low, with only 37 percent of veterinary receptionists being satisfied with team morale

“With the increase in demand, team morale within reception teams is currently sitting low, with only 37 percent of veterinary receptionists being satisfied with team morale as found by the BVRA 2021 Survey (Sadiwskyj, 2021). I think it’s really sad that on average just 2 out of 10 veterinary receptionists feel safe at work in the current working conditions. We need to do more to educate our colleagues and clients, to encourage better working environments.”

Laura Cutforth (Gower Vets)

“When I started out as a veterinary receptionist, I used to enjoy cuddling the new pets, interacting with the clients, spending 10 minutes on the telephone selling the practice to the best of my ability. It’s been over two years since I can remember having the time to give that level of service. The shock and horror in the voice of a client that is told “I’m sorry, we cannot castrate Jasper for three months” always surprises me. Society has become far more demanding and less tolerant, and this can be seen in the waiting room of our practices. It feels like a daily occurrence that we are having to deal with increasingly angry clients; sadly, as front of house, we are taking the brunt of this abuse and it can be extremely draining on our well-being.

It feels like a daily occurrence that we are having to deal with increasingly angry clients; sadly, as front of house, we are taking the brunt of this abuse and it can be extremely draining on our well-being

“However, while having the same old conversation with a colleague about our daily abuse, it occurred to me that we ourselves have become more demanding and less tolerant. We are demanding that our clients wait for their appointments, delay their boosters for three months, wear a mask, sit there, no more than one in the consult room, rearranging appointments at short notice because we have no staff. Overall, I’m not sure that makes for a positive experience, for either struggling reception teams or our clients, and this seems sad.”

Danielle Bowers (Drove Vets)

“At the start of the pandemic, a lot of practices were running on skeleton staff and advised to restrict routine veterinary appointments. Due to the growing pet population, particularly at that time, we found ourselves in constant battles with clients over the phone who did not understand that we could not see their pets for their routine appointments. The stress of the pandemic affected most but, unfortunately, the receptionists got the brunt of it.

“A lot of practices introduced online systems to remote consult and avoid unnecessary trips to the surgery. These systems were brought in quickly and without proper training but were to be used straight away. This was another nightmare for veterinary receptionists to have to deal with on top of the thousands of calls and emails daily that we were already receiving. Due to most practices being unable to allow clients inside with their pets, we were finding ourselves having to help the vets locate and examine pets from very busy carparks. After appointments, trying to hand over any required medication and take payment took much longer than it did before. This was taking receptionists away from the busy calls, emails and messages being received, leaving them to escalate out of control before we could get back to action them again.

We ask the receptionists to rate their overall job satisfaction level out of 10 each year and were saddened to see that in 2021, a year into the pandemic, the job satisfaction level averaged a poor 3 out of 10

“The BVRA carry out an annual survey for veterinary receptionists where we gain a good insight into how things are going in most practices across the UK that year. We ask the receptionists to rate their overall job satisfaction level out of 10 each year and were saddened to see that in 2021, a year into the pandemic, the job satisfaction level averaged a poor 3 out of 10. This figure should be much higher as job satisfaction is one of the leading reasons why veterinary receptionists stay in practice.”

In summary

Post-pandemic, life in practice today has changed considerably from that of two years ago. Society generally seems less tolerant. But should we pause and take stock before jumping in on the defensive? Everyone feels and responds to stress differently. Perhaps we should take a deep breath and actively listen when someone is expressing negativity our way.

What is that client really asking you? Is their response personal or are they having a hard time expressing themselves, or are they just worried about their pet, money or something else? Are you greeting them with a negative or positive attitude/demeanour? Do you go to work ready for a fight or are you ready to have a good experience? Are you doing your best to communicate with others in a way that is kind and patient?

Much of the time it will be the situation and not the person that is causing the trouble

These are the questions we all need to stop and ask ourselves. There will always be the difficult, demanding, angry clients, and some that you will never be able to reason with, though much of the time it will be the situation and not the person that is causing the trouble. If we remember that and try to take a deep breath, make allowances and empathise, perhaps we might be surprised at the result. And it’s interesting that our brains are hardwired to look for things that confirm our beliefs; so, if we believe that all clients are grumpy and our day will be stressful, we’ll unconsciously focus on only the things that happen that confirm this and miss anything positive. Switch it round: expect to have a good day and while it may not all be sunshine and roses, perhaps it won’t be all gloom and doom either.

Kay Watson-Bray

Kay Watson-Bray began her career in veterinary nursing before moving into veterinary education, supporting veterinary professionals to achieve postgraduate qualifications across Europe and the UK. She has significant expertise in accreditation, awards and certification within the veterinary sector. Kay is co-founder of the British Veterinary Receptionist Association and Colourful CPD.


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