In a recent survey, 92 percent of practices reported that they had resumed normal opening hours and 85 percent were now allowing clients – albeit in limited numbers – back into the practice (BVRA Receptionist Survey, 2021).
While this is a positive step in the search for “normality” and for relationships with clients, it brings new challenges to front-of-house teams.
The BVRA spoke with their trusted ambassadors who are all active veterinary receptionists to find out more about the impact of these challenges.
Face-to-face customer care
Customer contact over the past two years has been limited and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, transactions have been dealt with over the phone or via an app, as opposed to face to face. Reception teams have struggled to convey understanding and empathy to their clients during this period, made even harder by not being able to use body language and facial expressions when communicating. Some clients have become frustrated and have had heightened emotions and less tolerance. Having clients back in the waiting room has meant that front-of-house teams can deliver better customer care and can rebuild relationships and confidence with their clients.
Having clients back in the waiting room has meant that front-of-house teams can deliver better customer care and can rebuild relationships and confidence with their clients
Our receptionists report that for some clients the opportunity to witness the busyness of the practice reception and the pressure on the front-of-house teams has resulted in expressions of respect and gratitude. For others, tolerance levels have dropped and they seem to expect much more than before the pandemic, perhaps because of the uncertainty and worry experienced throughout the last few years.
Most practices still have rules for the clients to follow to try to safeguard everyone within the practice. Dani Bowers of Drove Vets reports that they have encountered difficulties enforcing these rules as it can cause tension and conflict with clients, which takes away from the goal of trying to establish and rebuild positive relationships with clients.
During the pandemic, waiting rooms became pharmacy overspills, additional storage, staff gathering areas and general dumping grounds. Inviting the client to return meant a large tidy-up operation and trying to find new homes and space for things that had become part of the furniture over the past 18-plus months to restore the area for its original purpose.
Receptionists have had to return to a “clear desk” policy and keep desks clutter-free to promote a professional work environment. They have had to retrain staff regarding GDPR and the implications of leaving potentially sensitive information out for all to see, compromising client confidentiality.
Jaime Morgan, a Vets4Pets receptionist, reports that keeping the reception area clean has become a more time-consuming task, adding more time pressures to an already busy role
Jaime Morgan, a Vets4Pets receptionist, reports that keeping the reception area clean has become a more time-consuming task, adding more time pressures to an already busy role. Sanitisation procedures between clients is an additional but necessary task, as well as the additional tidying up from the inevitable mess created by the patients and the clients coming through reception.
Communication among the team
Laura Cutforth of Gower Vets highlighted that before the pandemic the relationship between front of house and the clinical team could sometimes be distant, and receptionists struggled to form relationships with vets. The absence of clients in the practice afforded the unforeseen opportunity for these relationships to develop and strengthen. Vets were more present in the reception area; receptionists were delivering patients to the vet in consulting rooms and more direct communication took place as there were no client consultations to disturb. Additionally, “keeping up appearances” in front of clients was less relevant so personalities shone through. Colleagues experienced more of each other’s role and greater levels of respect and trust occurred among practice teams, creating stronger working relationships. Laura reports that now that clients have returned, receptionists have found that they can communicate better with vets, and there is a mutual understanding and a higher tolerance that means receptionists can approach vets with more confidence.
Receptionists have found that they can communicate better with vets, and there is a mutual understanding and a higher tolerance that means receptionists can approach vets with more confidence
During the time with no clients in the practice, staff may have become somewhat relaxed over the conversations that were had in “public” areas. Now that clients have returned, managers are having to remind and retrain staff as to what language, body language and volume is acceptable and professional in this area of the practice. Indeed, some members of the team may never have had experience of carrying out their role with clients present.
Without clients physically present during consultations it was possible to simply walk into a consulting room to ask the vet a question. With the return of clients, reception teams are having to rely more on their internal messaging systems. This is another skill that may be a new way of working for some and that may require retraining for others to ensure effective communication is maintained throughout the team.
Communication with clients
The introduction of new technology was a necessity to be able to continue offering services remotely throughout the pandemic. Our ambassadors report that clients have become more reliant on emailing the practice with photos and symptoms and expect a resolution without having to attend the surgery. Some clients had difficulty understanding that these services were a means to an end and, now that clients are returning into the practice, are no longer deemed good practice. Management of this lies with the reception team, and it is they who experience the clients’ frustrations.
Our ambassadors report that clients have become more reliant on emailing the practice with photos and symptoms and expect a resolution without having to attend the surgery. Some clients had difficulty understanding that these services were a means to an end
However, technology has had a positive impact too, as practices have embraced apps and other systems for ordering repeat prescriptions, keeping clients informed about their pet health plans, new registrations and online payments, which help to reduce bottlenecks and traffic in the reception area. But this digital communication still requires management, and it is a concern for our ambassadors that this makes the receptionist’s role more challenging as they juggle digital communications and face-to-face interactions, creating further time pressures and leaving less time for constructive communication with clients at the reception desk for valuable conversations such as preventative healthcare or dealing with queries and concerns.
Our veterinary receptionists are vital in the successful management of clients returning into our practices. It is essential that we equip them with the required skills, support and resources to enable them to continue to carry out their roles effectively and to deliver high standards of customer care.
Thank you to all BVRA Ambassadors for their contribution to this article – Dani Bower and Kayleigh Walker (Drove Vets), Jaime Morgan (Vets4Pets Plymouth) and Laura Cutforth (Gower Vets).
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