WA Veterinarian Magazine
The practice of surgically de-clawing cats has become a controversial topic. Veterinarians are faced with clients that threaten relinquishment or abandonment of cats if the surgery is not performed. An opposing viewpoint is offered by an increasing number of anti-declawing activists that feel the procedure causes mutilation of the cat and is inhumane. These activists, passionate about their cause, have become very aggressive toward veterinary hospitals that provide declawing services.
In August, 2015 the AMVF’s “America’s Favorite Veterinarian” contest was abruptly cancelled, due to the vicious cyberbullying of competition finalists by anti-declawing activists. The cyber-bullying included “the circulation of fraudulent negative advertisements, negative reviews, and threatening phone calls” according to a press release by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation1 . More recently, veterinarians in the Salt Lake City area have had their hospitals actively picketed by anti-declawing activists. These hospitals have been targeted when activists have called, price shopping declaw services. When a price was quoted, the activists appeared the next day to picket at the hospital locations.
How can hospitals avoid becoming targets of unwanted and unwelcome negative publicity? Two clear solutions exist: evaluation of services offered and how those services are presented by your team to clients/prospective clients.
The primary challenge is that the customer service representative (CSR) works to establish a transactional as opposed to a relational interaction.
Does Your Hospital Routinely Evaluate the Services it Offers?
As a practice owner, I critically examined how and why I offered services on an annual basis. There were procedures that were “purposefully abandoned” when they failed to meet the criteria listed below:
- Does the service offered fit with our culture? In other words, do we feel good about performing this service?
- Does the service offered provide a clear benefit to the client and the patient?
- Is the service offered in a manner that meets or exceeds best practices medicine?
- Does the service offered make good financial sense?
The result of this exercise allowed my hospital to focus on meeting client needs as well as allowing my team to be true to their collective values. Due to the positive outcomes that my hospital experienced, I routinely undertake this exercise with my consulting clients.
How Does Your Team Convey the Value of the Services You Offer?
One of the services that I offer as part of my consulting practice is a competitive market analysis. This in part involves calling practices that are either geographically or philosophically similar to my client’s hospital. While most hospitals score very well on their initial phone greeting, the quality of the dialog quickly deteriorates. The primary challenge is that the customer service representative (CSR) works to establish a transactional as opposed to a relational interaction.
A transactional interaction is devoid of a personal connection and is characterized by the caller asking a question, and the CSR replying in terms of what the price of the services are. There is no attempt to establish common ground with the caller and typically no attempt to schedule an appointment. The caller is left feeling underwhelmed and unimpressed.
A relational interaction is one in which the CSR works to establish rapport with the caller. The caller feels that the CSR and by extension the hospital, truly cares about them and their pet. They feel validated in their decision to call this hospital and experience a sense of connection. They are motivated to schedule an appointment. Please see the box below for the components and an example of a relational interaction.
Relational Interaction Example
- They ask what the caller’s name is and use it in the conversation. “Mrs. Smith, thanks for calling ABC Animal Hospital today. How may I help you?”
- The CSR asks about the pet and further personalizes the conversation using the pet’s name: “Mrs. Smith, we love cats and Leo sounds like a character. I look forward to meeting both of you.”
- The CSR explains services in terms of the value that they bring to the client and the pet, not what they cost. “Mrs. Smith, I am happy that you called today asking about dental services for Leo. At ABC Animal Hospital our dental treatments are comprehensive in nature. The dental procedure starts with a complete blood panel evaluation, so that our doctors can individually tailor the anesthesia to Leo’s needs. It includes a complete pre-anesthetic physical examination as well as a veterinary technician dedicated to Leo for the entire day, including monitoring him while he is anesthetized and during the recovery period and personalized anesthetic protocols. A second veterinary technician will act as his dental hygienist, cleaning and polishing his teeth and taking x-rays of all of his teeth. She will also record any abnormalities seen on a dental chart. The doctor will evaluate the x-rays and examine Leo’s mouth. If there are any concerns about problems with his teeth or gums, the doctor will call and discuss recommendations with you. Leo will go home later in the day during a scheduled discharge appointment, where we will review the dental chart and x-rays with you. We will also discuss any special care Leo needs. What questions do you have for me, Mrs. Smith?”
- The CSR asks for a commitment. “Mrs. Smith, we would love to help Leo live a long and healthy life. We can schedule Leo for a new patient examination today at 3:00 PM. How does that sound?”
As veterinary professionals, we face increasing competition for our client’s attention and resources. I believe that the most important position, and most difficult, is that of your front desk team. They are the gatekeepers of your practice and their communication skills and style are the first impression of your hospital that a prospective client will form. Investing in their training by providing guidelines and tools, and continuing to train your entire health care team to interact with clients in a relational manner increases not only client satisfaction and retention, but workplace happiness as well.
“How Much is a Declaw?”
Relational interactions are a key strategy in the prevention of becoming the target of unwanted negative attention. By training your front desk team to promote the value of the service, as opposed to quoting a price, you are depriving the anti-declawing activists the ammunition that they need to attack your hospital. Formulate a scripted statement and train every team member that answers the phone about the importance in following this protocol.
In the case of a request for a price quote for a surgical declaw, the CSR should explain that some information is needed. Obtain the caller’s name and the pet’s name. Ask why they want the surgical procedure performed. A scripted response might sound like:
“Mrs. Brown, thanks for calling ABC Animal Hospital today. I understand that you are interested in having your cat, Puzzles, declawed because your husband is on blood thinners and you are afraid that Puzzles will scratch him and cause problems for your husband. The decision to declaw Puzzles is a complex one and will require a frank discussion with one of our doctors. May I schedule an appointment for you and Puzzles?”
In Salt Lake City, the callers’ persisted in attempting to obtain a price for declawing a cat. It is critical that your team has a ready answer for continued pressure for a price quote:
“Mrs. Brown, I am sorry that I am unable to quote a price for a declawing surgery. As I have explained, this is a complicated discussion and is one that the doctors have requested to have with clients.”
A possible outcome might be the direct question “So you do perform declaws at your hospital?” In this case, a reply could be:
“Mrs. Brown, that involved decision is between the client and the doctor and is based on the medical needs of the patient. May I schedule an appointment for you and Puzzles?”
Wendy Hauser, DVM, a small animal practitioner for 26 years has been an associate, practice owner and has enjoyed a successful practice sale. In January 2015 Dr. Hauser left her position as a Technical Services Veterinarian to establish Peak Veterinary Consulting (www.peakveterinaryconsulting.com). She is highly engaged in AAHA in both new initiatives and leadership and was responsible for helping design and facilitate Colorado VMA’s Power of Ten, a recent graduate leadership academy. The recently published co-author of “The Veterinarian’s Guide to Healthy Pet Plans”, she enjoys consulting with hospitals and presenting workshops on hospital culture, leadership, client relations and operations.