Marathon runners know that the final leg of a 26.2-mile race is the most challenging. Nearing the finish line, runners are mentally and physically drained and struggling with “hitting the wall.” Those who race smart and have realistic expectations, understand course conditions, and monitor the environment can conquer the wall and cross the finish line.
A year unlike any other
Dealing with Covid-19 has been a feat of endurance---similar to running a marathon. We mask up, maintain social distance, wash our hands, adjust business practices, and cheer the release of vaccines and treatments that hold hope that we will soon return to our pre-pandemic lives. Recent developments have generated cautious optimism that within a year---or even months---we can begin seeing patients and clients in our offices.
But, like the marathon runner, we cannot let our guards down before the race is over, doing so can make us vulnerable. Until the pandemic is over, we must continue to prioritize the health and safety of clients, patients, and staff, maintain business practices that ensure safety, work to strengthen the practice’s brand within the context of current conditions, and plan to eventually transition to business as usual, when the time comes.
Rising to the challenge
During the pandemic, to meet demand for care while maintaining a safe environment, disruptions in services were brief because curbside practices---a hybrid term that means providing services in the absence of a physical connections---were adopted. The term encompasses telehealth, as well as patient drop off.
While operating in a contactless environment, many practices had to sacrifice the client connections that were previously established through face-to-face contacts. Staff began escorting pets into the facility while owners bided their time in parked cars, at times contending with extreme temperatures, as they waited for the pet to be returned. The protocols provided peace of mind but were a far cry from the days of a warm greeting---perhaps even a hug--- and a few minutes of small talk with staff.
But the reality of this new reality is that even though the pandemic changed everything, client expectations of quality and excellence---components of reputation---did not change. They wanted the curbside connection to be as good as the services they had received pre-pandemic and practices were challenged to deliver in order to maintain their reputations and foster satisfaction and goodwill.
In the marathon we are all running to put Covid-19 behind us and get back to pre-2020 business practices, now is not the time to lose focus. Practices that opt to work on reputation through curbside collection as vaccinations are increasing and restrictions are easing, will be well positioned to transition to post COVID-19 operations with clients and reputation intact.
Veterinary practice management consultant Sandy Walsh, RVT, CVPM, recommends that during these difficult times, practices should adopt “Focus on Four,” a strategy for guiding practices to enhance curbside care needs by pinpointing potential gaps in workflow, defining responsibilities, assessing communication, and inventorying technology. By identifying and fixing deficiencies in these areas, practice can fix and improve conditions that will ultimately impact their reputations.
Workflow consists of each part of the client and patient interaction from the appointment request to the client’s departure, including issues such as how the appointment is scheduled, drop-off options, movement of the patient during the curbside care visit, patient safety issues, and client and patient departure considerations. Workflow should proceed smoothly and seamlessly to create a superior client experience.
Responsibilities address the who, what, when, and how of the visit and applies to all team members including client service representatives, technicians, veterinarians, and management and covers scheduling, transfer, diagnosis and treatment, and policies and procedures. When responsibilities are clearly assigned, glitches and gaps are less likely. No client wants to be delayed by internal issues that disrupt the delivery of services or gives the impression that the practice is disorganized. Clear assignments improve efficiency.
Communication, before during and after the visit, must be geared to providing clear, accurate, and timely information to the client. Technology and careful record keeping can help to improve the flow of information between the office and the client and can also save time be maintaining a detailed and accurate history that staff can review prior to the visit to eliminate time consuming data collection during the visit. Particularly during these unusual times, streamlining all communications improves efficiency and reduces errors.
Technology plays a key role in the curbside connection. Practices should select technology that works best for the practice. The technology of choice should be capable of supporting the practice’s curbside/telehealth service. Cell phones and video chat platforms are essential.
Practices can also benefit by reflecting on the quality of the client experience: Did we listen to the client? Were the client’s questions answered? Was staff empathetic and understanding? Was the process stress-free for the client and patient? Stand in the client’s (and patient’s) shoes for insights into the quality of the experience and then make adjustment as needed.
Finally, update clients about curbside and telehealth services on the practice website and other social media platforms. Stress safety procedures and outline the entire protocol to increase the client’s comfort level. Be sure to highlight the availability of any client-facing technology available.
Reputation management takes work
Building the practice’s reputation is an ongoing process. When conditions change and the practice encounters setbacks, the effort must continue. While there may be an administrator or small group driving the effort, ultimately it is the entire team that needs to buy in. By reminding staff of the importance, encouraging their efforts, and providing feedback, success is within reach.
It is unclear what role curbside will play post pandemic, but we do know that reputation building is an ongoing process which should be addressed and evaluated periodically. Conditions may change, but quality client service should be a practice’s top priority.
Be sure to check out the VHMA/PVU Management Essentials Program - Reputation Management, offering six continuing education hours.
If you missed our webinar, Enhancing the Curbside Connection, Rebuilding the Client Bond, on January 14, 2021, you can access the recording in our OnDemand catalog here.