(This post was originally published on June 8, 2016, and has been updated to be even more fantastic!)
As consumers, we have a lot of choice, and finding information and reviews on the products and services we are looking for is easier than ever. As business owners, that means that the competition can be fierce, and you are held to higher standards than ever. In a way, that’s a good thing – it forces you to search for new ways to stand out, and your customer service experience can be the key to differentiating your clinic from the competition and even encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations.

But what exactly is “customer service?”

It is not just about being nice – although that’s an important part of it!
Customer service is one of those things that can mean different things to different people and can include:

  • Listening carefully and asking questions so you understand the client’s need.
  • Fully meeting those needs before, during, and after every interaction.
  • Showing genuine interest in the person and their pets.
  • Providing prompt, helpful, thorough responses.
  • Treating people with warmth and respect.

Saying that you want to focus on the customer and telling your staff to provide good service is not overly helpful. Sharing the above possible definitions may not help either.
In order to provide an excellent service experience, you need to determine what that means to you.
For example, here at LifeLearn, we pride ourselves on making our service calls as comfortable as possible, and show our clients that they are our first priority. That includes:

  • Answering the phone within the first ten seconds.
  • Responding to support tickets within the first hour.
  • Finding a resolution within one business day.

While boiling our customer service goals down to a few points doesn’t fully describe the experience we are trying to create, it gives us some ways to stay focused and remember to give every individual the time and assistance they deserve. It also gives us a measurable way to determine whether we’re living up to our customer service goals, and objective tasks that can help us on the road to great service every time.

The 4 Ps

Regardless of the words you use to describe customer service, there are some key ingredients that go into every excellent customer experience. Conveniently, they all start with P:

Promptness

While you can quantify this if you want to, it’s not always necessary. For us, delivering a resolution in a timely manner is crucial – our clients are depending on us and we have to be ready and willing to get it done as soon as we can.
In your veterinary practice, promptness might include greeting people and their pets as soon as they come in, trying to keep wait times low (and thanking clients for their patience when their wait has been longer than average), answering the phone within a few rings whenever possible, checking social media so you can ensure you’re providing excellent social care, and replying to emails within a few hours.
It is important to remember that being prompt doesn’t mean you have to have the answer or a complete resolution in the moment – people just want to know you’re on it. A simple “Thanks for getting in touch – I am looking into your question and will get back to you,” is great, and much better than rushing to an answer in the name of efficient resolution.

Politeness

Everything moves at such a fast pace, and everyone is so busy that politeness is almost a lost art – but saying “hello,” “good afternoon,” and “thank you very much,” are all part of basic customer service.
Don’t you hate it when you walk into a business and no one even looks up? They are obviously all in the middle of something – but would it kill them to just say, “Hello! I’ll be right with you”? The same is true in your practice. Even if you’re on the phone, eye-contact and a quick smile will do the trick.
Politeness isn’t just important when someone calls in or arrives at your practice, it’s important throughout the client interaction. Good manners and a little bit of warmth are basic expectations for most people. We know your schedule is jam-packed and each appointment may be short, but politeness goes a long way to making each client feel like you’re taking the time necessary to focus on them and their pet’s health.

Professionalism

All clients should be treated professionally. This doesn’t mean you can’t joke around and show a bit of personality – but what does it mean?
Of course it includes the obvious: being polite and respectful, dressing appropriately, and acting within the law and the ethical codes of the veterinary profession. But there is more to it than that.
People seek out professionals because they need access to knowledge and skills they don’t have themselves. When someone calls us for help with something, we don’t just take their question at face value; we ask questions and try to understand the full extent of their issue, and offer up alternatives they might not have considered.
Similarly, everyone in your practice has education, skills, and specialized knowledge that pet owners need. They are coming in with an issue, and they are relying on your expertise to get to the root of their problem. This involves taking the time to:

  • Ask questions to be sure you are fully aware of the situation.
  • Be present and listen, rather than thinking about your response while the person is talking.
  • Use your intuition to hear what they’re not saying, and probe a little deeper.

With a full waiting room, a surgery to get to in an hour, and a ton of paperwork, it can be tempting to rush. But slowing down and being present allows you to be more effective – and you’ll find it doesn’t take a lot of extra time.

Personalization

Personalizing the customer service experience is perhaps the simplest thing you can do for the greatest impact. This shows pet owners that you see them as people, and see their pets the same way they do: as family members rather than just patients.
Calling people and their pets by name, for example, is so basic but is appreciated. Set an expectation that people should know the names of the next few people and pets expected through the door, so that when they arrive, you don’t wait for them to say “I am here with Toby.” Instead, greet them with, “Hi there! This must be Toby.” The same extends to the examination room – everyone should be prepared with the names of the pet and the pet owner when they walk into the room.
When you think the visit is wrapping up, ask if there are any questions about what was discussed. If there is a new diagnosis, offer to follow up with more information, either in the form of a printout or an email to help them further understand what’s happening. Let them know that you will happily answer the questions that might arise when they have had time to review the information and process what you’ve said.
[Related: Using Client Education Resources for Good Customer Service]
When you personalize every interaction, you make the client feel valued and appreciated.Promptness, Politeness, Professionalism and Personalization: these 4 characteristics are the key ingredients to any successful service interaction, and when you think about it, they are the basics you expect to receive as a consumer. Keeping these four things in mind at all times will help guide you in providing an excellent experience for every pet owner.

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