“The customer is always right.” Most of us have heard that phrase in relation to customer service, and I have to believe that the intent was to encourage good communication and a genuine desire to assist each and every client. The pendulum has swung somewhat, and what often happens instead is we prioritize the needs of the client, sometimes to the detriment of the relationship we have with our teammates.
Why should this matter anyhow? We all know how difficult it is to find, train and most importantly, retain good team members. We know how dependent we are on team members to get through our day. We know how important it is for our team to be supportive of our practice goals so our practice is successful. In return, we need consider the messaging we send to those team members.
The highest category of business expense for most hospitals is salaries of support teams. Well managed practices keep this cost around 22%, but they can be much higher. Conservatively, that’s a fifth of your total expense for running a veterinary hospital. There probably isn’t any other expense category of that magnitude that you would leave to its own devices, so why do we do so with our teams?
This is not just about praising our teams and thanking them. Let’s try this thought experiment. What if we were to treat our teams with the exact same courtesy, respect and patience that we ask them to give to our paying clients? You might find it easier to categorize your team and clients into two categories: Internal and External clients. Now give some thought to your interactions with your team.
If you offer coffee or other refreshments to your external clients, do you ensure that your team has time to eat lunch and go to the bathroom? Do you strive to be on time for every appointment with an external client? If so, are you on time for team meetings when they are scheduled?
If your internal client has their own pet booked for an appointment, do you bump their appointment in favour of an external client? Would you ever ask an external client to move their non-urgent appointment in favour of an emergent problem for an internal client’s pet?
Do you tolerate gossiping in your hospital amongst your internal clients? If so, you might be inadvertently condoning external client bashing. If you don’t tolerate gossip about your external clients, why would you tolerate it amongst your internal clients? Would you permit an internal client to be abusive to an external client? If not, why would we condone the opposite?
Do you thank your external clients for coming in to see you? Do you thank your internal clients for making a positive difference in the lives of the pets who are seen at your hospital?
There are many other comparisons that we can make between internal and external clients, and by renaming them, it may help to make the behavioural expectations for both ourselves and our team clearer. If you have had an epiphany after reading these notes, fear not. This is an entirely correctable problem, and it starts at the top. Leaders have to be consistent in their treatment of Internal Clients, and unfortunately, a change in behaviour needs to be consistent for 6–12 months before team members will believe that it is a permanent change. Very commonly, a consistent change in behaviour won’t even be noticed for 3–4 months! (So, hang in there!)