TERRI JOHNSON, AAHA PRACTICE ACCREDITATION
Veterinary practices provide care to patients that can’t speak for themselves, and as such, the veterinary team relies on the owner for a great deal of information. Communication between clients and veterinary practice team members is critical to providing care for pets. As a pet owner, you’re looking for services that not only make your pets feel better, but help you feel better as well.
Although client service is different everywhere you go, AAHA-accredited practices voluntarily meet specific standards in this area. They go through an evaluation process at least every three years, and client service is one of the areas in which they’re evaluated. Going through the accreditation process helps AAHA-accredited practices to identify problem areas or areas where they can improve and keeps them focused on continuous progress. The AAHA Standards of Accreditation encourage practices to train and work with their teams to provide top-notch care and service to their clients and patients.
Tracy Cahalan, office manager at the AAHA-accredited Berkshire Veterinary Hospital in Pittsfield, Mass., says they really focus on building relationships with their clients in addition to providing great client service.
"Probably the most important thing a practice can do is establish a good relationship with a client," Cahalan says. "Bonding with clients promotes long-term relationships. When clients feel comfortable and familiar with a practice, they come back."
Providing client service in a veterinary practice means meeting the personal needs of the people, as well as meeting the medical needs of the patients. Veterinary medicine is similar to pediatric medicine – the patient cannot put into words what’s going on. Cahalan sees her clients as an asset to their practice.
"Good client service begins at the front desk,” she says. “Our front office staff is the first impression clients have of our hospital. Greeting the client in a friendly and positive manner and knowing the pet’s name is the way we begin every visit. We work to make clients and their pets feel comfortable and welcome as soon as they walk in the door."
AAHA-accredited practices are encouraged to get feedback from their clients through both informal and formal methods.
Cahalan explains, “Taking the time to listen to why clients are there for the visit and not making them feel like they are just a number is an important part of what we do every day. We strive to give each client individual attention and take time to thoroughly explain instructions before patients are discharged. Taking the time to do follow-up phone calls to check on the pet’s progress also helps us stay connected to our clients.”
AAHA-accredited practices are also able to review their processes and procedures addressing client service continually because they are evaluated every three years. Practices are encouraged to train staff members to deal with many different situations.
“I believe that staff members should try and handle client problems themselves first, but I am always here to assist them or to talk to the clients myself if needed,” Cahalan says.
The majority of people working in veterinary practices have chosen this kind of work because they love animals and want to help make their lives better. Cahalan is one of them.
“I have worked at Berkshire Veterinary Hospital for 23 years. Many of our staff have been here for more than 20 years. At our hospital, our staff is like a family; I believe this gives clients a sense of security.”
Client service can sometimes be a rare commodity in our fast-paced world, but in taking your pet to your AAHA-accredited practice, you can expect it.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter May / June 2011, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2011 AAHA. Find out more.