Keeping Service in Focus: Offering Superb Experiences Through the Pandemic

In these trying times, it can be hard to keep things in perspective, and the path ahead is not always clear. But providing top-notch customer service is always in focus for Neil Simon, client experience lead at AAHA-accredited Saint Francis Veterinary Center of Woolwich in New Jersey. And they know a few things about excellence there: Saint Francis was the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year in 2019.

Losing some of the face-to-face contact we previously had with our clients brought with it unique challenges.

Interview by Ben Williams

In these trying times, it can be hard to keep things in perspective, and the path ahead is not always clear. But providing top-notch customer service is always in focus for Neil Simon, client experience lead at AAHA-accredited Saint Francis Veterinary Center of Woolwich, New Jersey. And they know a few things about excellence there: Saint Francis was the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year in 2019.

Trends asked Simon to share some tips on how Saint Francis is keeping client service at the forefront during 2020.

Trends: Many practices are offering curbside/parking lot service. What steps have you taken to make this into a great client service opportunity?

Neil Simon: We began offering curbside appointments early on at Saint Francis Veterinary Center. While client and staff safety was of course the focus of our efforts, we quickly realized there were many opportunities to make this both a positive and memorable experience for our clients. We focused on the new touchpoints our clients would have with our hospital and focused on making those as special and effortless as possible.

We added a COVID-19 Alert section to our website, which has received tens of thousands of hits from all across the world. We added a video to our website that clients can watch prior to their visit, explaining what they can expect during a curbside appointment. Illustrated diagrams of the new check-in process were added to client reminders through email, and we implemented new phone scripts to remind clients of the changes and help prepare them for appointments.

COVID-19 presented us with many challenges that this industry has never seen before. We had to innovate to solve the unique challenges COVID-19 presented. We wanted to make sure we could keep track of client wait times and each appointment status from a centralized hub and thought outside the box to a different field for solutions. For example, we utilized an online waitlist service mostly used in the restaurant industry, which helps with both management of our hospital flow and gives clients a visual list so they can see where they are in line, receiving text message updates as their position changes.

It also provided a way to have a direct line of quick communication through text for appointment updates and questions. By setting our clients up beforehand to prepare them for what their new experience would be like, we were able to help meet those expectations to give the clients a positive experience at each step along the way.

Trends: During the pandemic, telehealth has really taken off. How do you turn a somewhat impersonal form of communication into a positive experience?

NS: Losing some of the face-to-face contact we previously had with our clients brought with it unique challenges. Innovative services like TeleVet have helped us regain some of those lost moments to deal with clients through a video medium. Sending pet photos, text updates during appointments, and guiding clients through the process at each step helps keep the client engaged throughout the process. Knowing what step comes next helps the clients feel more involved in their appointments and sets a tone to assure them that they are still involved in every step, even if they cannot physically be with their pet. In reality, it is not much different than when we would take a pet back into the treatment area away from the client during pre-COVID times.

The key is to keep the client looped in at every step so “the unknowns” are not so scary, but actually become part of a journey you guide them through. Technology and innovation have really opened some exciting new opportunities for us as a hospital. We plan on keeping some of the solution-driven responses we have had and incorporate them into our practice going forward.

Neil Simon, client experience lead,
Saint Francis Veterinary Center of Woolwich

Trends: What role is social media playing for you in terms of client service these days?

NS: Social media always plays a vital role in communicating with our clients. We have more than 21,000 social media followers, and the platform provides us excellent access to our clients and the public. Social media provides an excellent way to quickly keep clients updated on any policy changes or updated protocols, as well as give them a window into what goes on behind the scenes to keep their pets safe and healthy.

As new state mandates and policies went into effect during the pandemic, we were able to utilize social media to keep clients updated on how those protocols would affect their pets and our services in almost real time. We were able to reassure the public that we were open for emergencies and that we would always be there for their pets.

COVID-19 provided our hospital with the opportunity to become a leader in providing updated information for people and their pets during the pandemic. Our doctors were interviewed extensively by news and media on COVID-19 pet issues, allowing us to step up in the community’s eyes as a trusted source of information on the topic.

Trends: And finally, a positive culture and good feelings are needed in order to maintain a great client service environment. What are you doing to keep your people happy?

NS: I cannot begin to describe how proud I am of our staff and their ability to adapt and continue to provide our clients and pets true gold-standard care and medicine during this time. We decided early on that in order to best support our staff, we needed to ensure a culture of transparency with each decision we were making. Our staff needed to trust the decisions we were making and know that their safety was an utmost concern of ours.

We hosted advisory council meetings, where we gave staff an open forum to work with us and bring creative suggestions and ideas to help tackle the issues we faced. We gave them opportunities to ask questions and bring up their own ideas to ensure they were part of the process and that their concerns were being heard and addressed. We started weekly check-ins with the leadership team through Zoom to make sure their concerns were heard.

We viewed the challenge of COVID-19 as something that was happening to all of us and needed a true team effort for us to succeed. It has been a challenging time for all of us, but our staff has pulled together and supported each other in so many wonderful ways. They truly are heroes in our eyes.

The key is to keep the client looped in at every step so “the unknowns” are not so scary, but actually become part of a journey you guide them through.

 

Ben Williams is the editor of Trends magazine.

 

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/Valentinrussanov, photo courtesy of Neil Simon, ©iStock.com/svetikd

Advertisement

Close

Subscribe to NEWStat