How to keep a great receptionist

Letting your receptionists know you appreciate them is a great way to start. And now is the perfect time to do it—Veterinary Receptionist Week is April 18–April 24.

Veterinary Receptionist Week is the brainchild of Ethel Pawlak, a former practice manager who got her start as a receptionist at veterinary hospital when she was 18. Pawlak’s been wishing coworkers a happy Veterinary Receptionist Week since at least 2007—years before she floated the idea of an official week of appreciation.

She got serious about it five years ago. “I was fortunate enough to be working at a practice group that let me ‘run’ with ideas.” As it happened, her duties included marketing and social media outreach. “I started by thanking some of our local referring practices by sending over snacks during what I dubbed Veterinary Receptionist Week.” When those practices seemed receptive, she started promoting the idea of a Veterinary Receptionist Week on Twitter and Facebook. “It got off to a slow start,” she admitted, “but I figured any veterinary receptionist love is good love.”

Because veterinary receptionists may not be celebrated as often as other hospital staff. While Pawlak believes that the rapid turnover of receptionist staff that plagues many hospitals is related to that lack of appreciation, she acknowledges the basics: “Fair pay, good benefits, and great working conditions go a long way in keeping a good receptionist,” said Pawlak. Still, a little appreciation also goes a long way.

Pawlak can attest to that firsthand.

“At my first animal hospital job, one of the doctors left a small envelope for me one day,” she remembers. “Inside was a card and a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins. The doctor had written just two or three short sentences of appreciation on that card but the words were specific things about me and the work that I contributed to the hospital.” (A big hospital with a large staff.) “It made me feel super special that a leader took time to write something for me personally.”

The ice cream’s long gone, but Pawlak still has that card safely stored in her “box of cool memories.”

And while Pawlak said she’s been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful, caring people in the decades since, “I'll never forget how Dr. Henry left that special envelope for me.”

Judy Rose Lanier, CVPM, CVA, AAHA Learning Programs manager, and former practice manager, agrees with pawlak on the important role receptionists play in the success of a practice.

“They’re the first person clients interact with, whether on the phone or in person,” Lanier told NEWStat. “That initial interaction can set the tone for clients’ entire experience at your practice.”

“They’re also the last person the client interacts with,” she added. “And that interaction can determine whether clients decide to come back.”

Lanier says it’s a tough job: Your receptionist inevitably deals with grieving or angry clients and constantly ringing phones—plus never-ending to-do lists.

And receptionists can’t have a bad day. “There’s no place to hide from the public,” Lanier said. “They’re always front and center, and always expected to dry those tears and put on a smile at the drop of a hat.”

In short, if you’re lucky enough to find a great receptionist or client service representative, do your best to hang on to them!

It helps to know what to look for when hiring. Lanier’s checklist includes:

  • Someone who loves organization (“Look for list makers!”)
  • Time-management skills
  • Emotional intelligence (“You want someone who understands how different personality types like to be communicated with—and how to do it.”)
  • Great communication skills

Pawlak’s best advice to hospitals to retain great receptionists?

Be one of their future “cool memories.”

For tips on how to train a great receptionist once you find them—and training an outstanding client service staff in general—check out AAHA’s Complete Guide for the Veterinary Client Service Representative.

Photo credit: © Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Getty Images Plus