We are 14 months from the start of the pandemic and for the majority of veterinary hospitals curbside is still being practiced in some form. No matter what version of curbside you are dealing with, chances are you are dealing with client curbside crankiness.
Curbside crankiness likely stems from a myriad of factors including the stress of the pandemic and brand new pet owners. There is no denying that every person has been affected in some way by the pandemic. Pet owners, just like veterinary teams, have had to navigate jobs (or a lack thereof), kids going in and out of school, family members staying home from work, life being cancelled, and individuals contracting the disease. Many pet owners are first time fur-parents which adds to the stress. The pandemic has seen pandemic puppies and covid kittens being adopted into first time pet owner households at staggering rates. This has left veterinary hospitals seeing record setting caseloads resulting in an increase in wait times and a decrease in communication to pet owners. Stressed out clients are taking it out on the short-staffed veterinary team. So, what’s an exhausted veterinary team member to do about Curbside Crankiness?
1) Start off With Boundaries: You need to explain to clients how the process works. Having a written explanation printed out in flyer form to give to clients helps to do that. In the explanation should be a statement asking clients to “recognize the team is working hard to meet the demand due to the increase in pet ownership that occurred over the past year” and “please remember to treat your hard-working veterinary team with kindness and respect.”
During the first interaction with the client an acknowledgement that curbside may be difficult for them and thanking them for their amazing patience and kindness is important in keeping clients happy. The other key to happy curbside clients is paying a compliment to their fur kid. Shower the pet with praise at the first meeting and clients will be put at ease.
2) Rethink Communication: I hear all the time about how the veterinarian does not have time to go outside to speak to the client. This argument falls flat to me. Veterinary technicians, assistants and client service representatives have made the time to speak to clients outside in all weather conditions. It’s hard for clients to respect and trust a veterinary hospital when they never see the veterinarian. Not to mention that conversations become misconstrued, and explanations are harder to provide over phone. When veterinarians go outside to speak to clients the day moves along faster.
The reason why the day runs smoother and faster is because clients are less cranky when they feel the veterinarian cares about them and "they are getting their money's worth." Clients will stop asking “to speak to the vet” if they had a direct conversation mask-to-mask (6-10’ apart) outside with the doctor. They will feel valued and cared for. The client can see the emotion and understand the words better when having a direct conversation.
Too often clients speaking to veterinarians on the phone become distracted by things in their cars. They stop listening mid-way through. To understand what the doctor said they keep asking the same questions taking up more of the veterinarian’s time or they call back. Worse, they leave not understanding about the medication, disease process or procedure and they blame the clinic for failing to communicate with them.
If your hospital is not having veterinarians speak directly to clients outside, I urge you to give it a try, even if it’s on a limited basis. See what your own experience is. While there are more walking steps involved, I have found it to be less time consuming with it resulting in happier clients.
3) A Picture is Happiness: If your hospital can send a quick photo to the client of their pet being examined by the veterinarian or technician while they are waiting outside you will decrease the curbside crankiness tenfold. Clients are waiting in their cars and thinking the worst. When clients start to worry they envision their terrified pet, and staff yelling at them. Now imagine the worrying client sitting in their car and their phone pops up a text message. They open it to see a picture or short clip of their pet inside the veterinary hospital! Talk about a stress reducer. It’s hard to yell at the team when you see a cute photo of your pet. This really only take 30-60 seconds to do, and clients love it. I mean LOVE it!
4) Return with a Smile: The last thing you can do to try to decrease curbside crankiness is return with a smile. Yes, while you are wearing a mask clients can see if you are smiling or not. Before the client even has a chance to speak do the following:
Let them know how awesome their pet is
Thank them for their patience
Acknowledge curbside is tough and thank them again for being so great
It’s really hard to yell at a veterinary professional when they come out with your pet and greet you with, “First of all Brownie is amazing! He has the cutest tail wag! Thank you so much for your patience. I know it’s hard being out here in your car. I really appreciate you being a rockstar.” No matter how stressed out they were it’s really hard to start in with the snarky, rude comments after someone says that to you. Don’t get me wrong, there are some clients that will still complain, but this ending technique proves time and time again to reduce the crankiness.
Hopefully you can apply some of these techniques to your own curbside experience. It won’t make every client turn into a unicorn, but for a few it will. Above all else remember to take care of yourself. The stress of the pandemic is still very much present, and it is combined with the increase stress in our veterinary hospitals. Be sure you go home, take time for yourself and decompress. Also, enjoy something good to eat. With curbside you get your steps in so treat yourself to something yummy after logging all those miles.