How to Save Your Veterinary Receptionists
I’m tired of losing our front office team members. You know, the ones everyone forgets about. The ones that veterinary medicine has given various titles to in an effort to make them feel appreciated. Titles like client service representative, client care coordinator, veterinary receptionist or veterinary medical receptionist. The problem is all those titles don’t do anything unless veterinary hospitals are prepared to make four significant changes. Here's what every veterinary hospital needs to do in order to save the veterinary receptionists.
Increase it. We expect individuals to take on one of the hardest roles in the hospital and we pay them a salary that they cannot afford to live on. They are the forward face of the hospital. They deal with more client issues than any other team member. They often ensure that the hospital runs smoothly and that the veterinary team is paid for their services. When you ask any other team member whether or not they would want to work the job of a veterinary receptionist the answer is no. Why not? The answer is always because "it's too difficult." Yet, we pay them the least of any of the positions in the hospital.
Why does veterinary medicine think it's okay to drop someone into a role in the front office and provide them little to no training? The hospitals that do provide training focus it on a limited scope of the overall role.
For those of you who do provide training I want you to develop a more comprehensive training program.
Do you provide ethics training?
What about conflict resolution?
How about communication skills?
All of these things are provided to a human medical receptionist before they even can start answering phones. Yet, the majority of the time the veterinary receptionist is expected to answer client calls on the first day and is expected to learn on the job while the job is actually happening.
I'm going to challenge this even further and ask why we are not providing basic anatomy and physiology education to our veterinary receptionists. Why are we not covering basic illness and injury? Do we not think that clients are going to ask them basic medical questions? How is a brand new front desk employee supposed to know why a dog with a corneal ulcer is being sent home with an Elizabethan collar?
We have not provided them any more information than a client has and yet we expect them to answer these types of questions. And when the veterinary receptionist asks for clarification from a veterinary technician or veterinarian they are often met with snappy replies and individuals who treat them like they are less than.
Seriously, be nicer to the veterinary receptionists. At times, members of the team are short, rude, condescending, and even belligerent to the veterinary receptionists. Our hard working front office team is not only disrespected daily by clients, but also by their own team members.
The front office is often forgotten about. Pizza arrives for the whole team and no one tells the front office about it. The doughnuts show up and no one offers any to the front office. Meetings happen and someone has to cover the front office so they aren't even invited to the meeting. I can't understand why this is an issue in most hospitals, but it is. We need to treat the front office as veterinary professionals like the rest of the hospital.
CREATE A CAREER PATH
You need to treat the front office as if it is a career in veterinary medicine. Like the rest of the careers in the veterinary hospital there should be a clear career path for those who work in the front office. We should have the ability to groom veterinary receptionists to be coming assistant practice managers, then into practice managers and then maybe into hospital administrators. They should have the ability to be supervisors or managers of their own department. Why can't the hospital help support their education to becoming a veterinary technician from an AVMA accredited school?
Too often, we present none of these paths. We just assume they are there temporarily. We seem surprised when they leave so quickly and annoyed when we have a hard time finding qualified people. Until we start making it a sustainable career in our hospitals we will continue to have high turnover and struggle with finding staff for the role.
Do I believe we can do better for our front office team? Yes, absolutely! As a profession we need to stop with “what always has been” and shake things up. Focusing attention, more salary and education to our front office team will only make our hospitals better.