The first person that most clients come into contact with, whether by phone or in person, is usually referred to as the veterinary receptionist. However, this term does not come close to doing justice to the skill set that these dynamic, essential team members utilize on a daily basis. A more fitting term to describe these compassionate veterinary warriors is the Client Service Representative or CSR. In the American military, the Marine Corps are known as the “First to Fight” or the “Tip of the Spear.” Likewise, in the veterinary practice, the CSR is the first contact most clients will have with your staff.
CSR’s are a savvy, outgoing group that act as the front-line communicators between clients and the clinic. Pay close attention to and value what a great CSR can do for your client/patient relationships, clinic growth, case flow, and internal employee dynamics. Your CSR can mean the difference between a happy, growing client base or a practice that is stagnating. In fact, analyzing operations at the front desk is one of the most important areas to evaluate in the face of declining revenue in a practice. Read more to learn about the value of a strong CSR and ways you can support them at your clinic.
What to Look for in a CSR
Just like every sports team has different positions requiring different skills, a veterinary practice has different roles that need to be filled. Thus, matching the personality, skills, talents, and desires of individuals with the right position is critical to their personal success and the success of the practice as a whole.
Workers at the front desk should be outgoing, friendly, compassionate, and able to handle stressful situations. A CSR must truly enjoy listening and helping people with their problems, but is also able to refrain from giving medical advice over the phone. A CSR must not be reluctant to charge clients for services. A CSR should always be a good communicator that can easily make someone feel important. They should be able to handle client’s needs in a timely fashion, with a sense of importance and urgency, but not make anyone feel rushed or ignored. A great CSR can reach through the phone and connect with a client on the first call and begin the process of bonding a client to the practice for life.
Treat Your CSR as the Essential Team Member They Are
An old axiom in veterinary medicine is that the person at the front desk controls both the first and the last impression of every client who calls or comes through the door. As such, it is imperative that you show respect and value to this critical position on your team. You could have the best clinical veterinarian in the world, but if the CSR is not effective, then the success of your facility will be limited.
Because of this critical need for this role, it is important that you don’t let other members of the team devalue this position because they aren’t involved in the “fun, important stuff” going on in the back. This attitude of value and appreciation starts with the clinic managers and doctors and then is passed down to the support staff. Many times, the CSR’s are tasked with telling doctors or managers about complications or upset clients. It is important to understand the stress and challenges these conversations can entail and avoid “shooting the messenger” with our reactions.
In addition, realize that many clients are not kind to our front desk folks when bills are collected, appointment expectations are not met, or complications arise – and sometimes for no discernable reason at all. It is crucial that the top leaders in the practice understand and acknowledge the difficult challenges that CSR’s go through on a daily basis and facilitate their job through consistency in policies or charges. It is very common for clients to be perfectly fine with the doctor and then take their frustration out on the CSR when the veterinarian is no longer present.
Also, it is not appropriate to for the doctor to ask the CSR to call clients to explain a technical medical diagnosis or treatment, give unfavorable test results, or answer medical questions that are beyond their education, training and job description. When this happens, clients may direct frustration towards the CSR and make them feel inadequate if they don’t have the answers the client is looking for. Additionally, the CSR may give out incorrect information which then reflects poorly on the whole team. In short, medical conversations must be handled by doctors, regardless of how busy they are or how unpleasant the conversation might be. This it the appropriate thing to do medically, and it also protects the morale of the CSR and demonstrates appreciation for the job they do.
Your CSR’s Role in the Clinic
Clinic Flow. As mentioned earlier, a CSR is the front line for great clinic flow. Traffic starts with the CSR, so kindly communicating expectations will help direct the appointment flow according to the veterinarian’s plan. Always tell your CSR how you would like appointments and surgeries scheduled. Mistakes may happen, as CSR’s are receiving calls all day about many issues and are trying to make judgements based on client-given information. Continuing open lines of communication with your CSR will help reduce days of over- or under-scheduling and maintain consistent revenue, appropriate staffing levels, and great hospital flow.
Phone Presence. All standards for phone etiquette should be clearly explained to CSR’s during training. Hold times should not last more than 30 seconds, and if your CSR cannot resolve the hold during the 30 seconds than they need to let the client know they will call them back. A CSR with excellent phone etiquette will improve the communication between your clinic and its clients. The new client numbers cannot help but grow with great phone presence.
Positive Staff Relations. Positive communication between front and back staff is critical in a veterinary clinic. Strong communication will relieve tension that can build up between the CSR and back staff. Good employee dynamics can begin or implode at the front desk. A great CSR will maintain a positive demeanor in the midst of stress from all sides – client, staff, and veterinarian, and at the end of the visit is still able to perform accurate monetary client transactions.
Overall, a CSR is worth the investment and time and effort to train. Finding the right individual who is friendly, engaging, and can manage the practice schedule is a critical component to a thriving practice where everyone understands their role and collaborates to provide the best medicine and customer service. By clearly defining this role and matching an individual’s natural personality and talents to the needs of this position, these team members can become just the people you want to be your “tip of the spear.”