Overcoming Communication Challenges
“Help! We’ve been really busy lately and staff are getting frustrated with each other because no one seems to know what is going on and we look really disorganized in front of clients. How do we fix this?”
While it’s great to be busy, it can be challenging to maintain a necessary level of communication between staff. Communication challenges are common for any business, so applying regular team communication opportunities is imperative – even when the clinic is busy.
Consider implementing the following regular practices to keep the lines of communication open:
- Team Meetings: Regular team meetings (e.g. every one to two months) are needed to discuss practice goals as well as solve any issues and solicit feedback from the rest of the team, especially after busy periods. These present great opportunities to keep the team on track with what is important to the practice and evaluate what can be done better. The meeting format may include:
- Formally recognizing a team member(s) who went above and beyond (i.e. present them with a gift card or movie pass).
- Discussing any issues and solutions. Ask for feedback from the rest of the team and decide on a course of action.
- Presenting a goal for the team (e.g. turning more phone shoppers into clients) and outline what everyone’s role will be to make this happen.
- Open discussion about any client service solutions and ways of making the client experience even better.
- Presenting any new ideas or products being introduced into the practice.
- Recognizing the team as a whole for any of the team accomplishments since the last team meeting.
Team meetings can be 30 minutes to an hour in length and should be organized with a clear agenda, keeping it positive at the beginning and the end of the meeting to set the tone at the start of the meeting and for the rest of the day/week. At every meeting, be sure to include time to focus on the quality of client service being delivered and how the client experience can be further enhanced at your practice.
- Team Huddles: While regular staff meetings are still necessary, short team huddles on a daily basis promote better communication for the day’s events and work to re-focus team members on delivering a high standard of client service. These informal meetings are best scheduled at the beginning of shift changes. For example, the first meeting may be at 7:58 a.m. and the next one at 2:58 p.m. All it takes is two minutes for staff to convene and for the person in charge to review the clients and patients scheduled for the next few hours, highlighting any information which helps to keep everything running smoothly and servicing clients better. It might be, “Mrs. Smith will be in with Cody at 10 a.m., a very nervous cocker spaniel. Let’s get her into an exam room as soon as possible so Cody is not around other pets coming in.” Remind the team about the little things they can do to “wow” clients. This time can also be used to recognize a team member for doing something well. End the huddle in an upbeat way to send the team away feeling motivated and ready to service clients.
- Communication Journal: When staff members work overlapping shifts, it can be challenging to ensure pertinent information is being passed on from one team member to the next. A communication journal is a useful tool allowing staff to communicate with each other regarding information they may need throughout their shift in order to deliver a high standard of client service. This is a journal that everyone is expected to read every day at the beginning of their shift and it should remain at a central location. It could include simple messages for the entire team such as, “Wednesday October 19th: please ensure the back door is locked when you leave at night as it was left open last night.”
Encourage staff to initial each entry in the journal to acknowledge they have read it. The key is to make journal entries a regular habit for everyone.
Communication may take some extra effort and time, but the return on investment (i.e. happy clients and informed staff) makes it worth it. The point is to keep the whole team on the same page, and in doing so improve the team and client experience.
By Terra Shastri, Manager of Business Development – Ontario Veterinary Medical Association
Published May 4, 2018