NAAVR hopes to provide a career path for veterinary receptionists

Launching in 2024, the North American Association of Veterinary Receptionists (NAAVR) will provide CE for customer service representatives in many areas, including conflict resolution, great customer service, and hospitality.

By Tony McReynolds

“Veterinary receptionists are the face of the practice,” said Rhonda Bell, CVPM. “They make the very first impression on clients, and the very last.”  

Also known as customer service representatives (CSRs), veterinary receptionists can make or break each client visit, effectively determining the course of every client relationship. That’s a lot of power for a role that’s often an afterthought in many hospitals. But is it a viable career?  

“We hope to make it one,” Bell said.  

Introducing the North American Association of Veterinary Receptionists (NAAVR)  

Bell, a veterinary consultant and owner of Dog Days Social Media, is a co-founder of the newly founded North American Association of Veterinary Receptionists (NAAVR). She spent years managing front office teams in veterinary hospitals, so she knows first-hand the critically important role veterinary receptionists play in the success of any hospital.  

She said if that experience taught her one thing, it’s that veterinary receptionists just want to be invested in: “If you invest in them, they’ll stay, and they’ll build our businesses. [At NAAVR], we want to create that opportunity.” 

One of Bell’s NAAVR co-founders, Debbie Boone, CVPM, owner of 2 Manage Vets Consulting Service, said the idea initially came from NAAVR’s third co-founder, Jill Clark, DVM, a veterinary consultant who runs a learning platform called Ignite Veterinary Solutions.   

“Jill reached out to me and said, ‘Deb, the CSRS that I have coming through my learning platform are desperate for more. They want to have a community, they want to advance themselves in their career, and I really feel like we need to start something for them.’”   

Training in the customer journey 

Clark calls CSRs “the orphans of veterinary educationbecause they’re often ignored when it comes to staff training. “Sometimes they might get a little bit of learning on the tail end of a lunch-and-learn that a sales rep has come in to give,” Boone said. And that’s if they’re lucky.  

Certainly, most CSRs aren’t trained in critical areas such as conflict resolution, great customer service, and hospitality.  

“All the things that really kind of tee up the experience for the veterinary customer as they come through that customer journey,” Boone said.  

NAAVR was created to change that. “We want our CSR community to be able to come here and find education that is focused specifically on them.”  

Boone, Bell, and Clark plan to officially unveil NAAVR this August at the Fetch conference in Kansas City, where they have four sessions devoted to CSR training on the docket.  

 But Boone says the cat’s already out of the bag: all three principles mentioned their plans for NAAVR on their individual social media feeds at the beginning of April, and in Boone’s words: “It blew up.”  

 Boone received more than 19,000 views on her LinkedIn feed alone. She received 109 comments that she’s still wading through, trying to respond personally to each one. It’s been shared more than 40 times. “We thought we were going to sneak it in under radar, but it went berserk on us.”  

Watch for NAAVR announcements on social media 

They hope to launch the NAAVR website in mid-May. Meanwhile, those interested in joining can find updates—as well as more information and helpful links—on the NAAVR Facebook page, where they can also put their name on a waiting list to be contacted once the site launches. They can also follow Boone, Bell, and Clark on their social media feeds.   

Boone said they plan to keep the membership fee low—just $25 a year: “We realize that CSRs are not the highest paid people in the profession, and we want to make sure that there’s a really low barrier to entry.”  

Based on the initial response, there’s been pent-up demand for an organization like this for CSRs. The mystery is, why hadn’t anyone picked up on it before?  

It’s a question that baffles Boone. “Here is a vital team member who is the front facing person—answers the phone and has three encounters with every client—[and it never occurred to anyone] that they needed an association, a voice, or specific education just for them?”  

CSR education as a road to retention 

Data from Clark’s company shows that a year after CSRs go through her Ignite education platform and receive their certification, 88% are still on the job. That doesn’t surprise Boone: “[It’s] because people have invested in training them appropriately.”   

That 88% retention figure is pretty significant given that industry-wide, CSRs typically have a 44% annual turnover rate.  

“That’s why it’s so important for us to get these trainings out to these CSRS,” Boone said. “We’re going to make our lives easier all the way around by training our CSRS appropriately.”  

 Boone says a lot of people who apply for the job of a veterinary CSR don’t plan on being in the position for very long because they see it as a foot in the door to the veterinary profession and their ultimate aim is to work in the back as a tech or even go on to veterinary school. And she has no problem with that, but that’s not who she would necessarily hire for the position.  

“I’m going to hire people who enjoy working with the public,” she said, but added a caveat: “When we’re hiring [for this reason], then we do need to give them some kind of opportunity for growth.”  

Which is why the NAAVR website will offer training specifically geared to staff who’ll be working with the public, with plans to one day to offer training certification similar to what veterinary techs can obtain now.  

Boone said there’s a definite need for certified training because there’s a lot of untested training available out on the internet. 

“But is that training current? Is it valid? Is it sensible,” Boone asks. She estimates that NAAVR is at least two years away from putting certification in place. “Of course, I don’t know,” she laughs. “It’s moving a lot faster than we thought it was going to.”  

Despite the general lack of attention paid to training and retaining CSRs, Boone knows some who have made it their career. 

 “I had people who worked in my practice for anywhere from 15 to 32 years at the front desk. And many of them retired [from that position.]” She said that’s because those particular CSRs were paid well, trained in the skills they needed, and so felt that they had a career path. In short, they felt valued. 

Who can join NAAVR?  

NAAVR membership will be geared primarily to CSRs and other front-facing client service people in the profession. Boone says they’ll also have affiliate memberships for people who can access the learning links, but not the CSR-specific online communities.  

Boone said they’re still working out the details, but their main concern is to make sure anyone who thinks they need the training has access: “We don’t want to stop anybody from having the opportunity to get the education.”  

“We want to protect the CSRs in their community,” she added. “We want them to be able to speak to each other to get tips from each other, to learn skills from each other.”  

NAAVR also has a mentorship program in the works where very experienced, talented CSRs can mentor newer CSRs. “A lot of times they’re not getting that in their practice, especially if they’re just a one doctor, one receptionist, one technician practice.”    

While the training will be focused on the front desk, Boone said it can benefit the whole staff.  

“Everyone picks up the phone at a practice,” she noted. “In a sense, they’re all customer service representatives in that moment.”  


Tony McReynolds is a temporarily petless freelance writer who lives near a dog park in Lafayette, Colorado. He dreams of one day owning a Newfie who isn’t afraid of water (which the last one was, and seriously, how is that even possible?).       

Cover photo credit:  © alexey_ds E+ via Getty Images Plus  

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



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