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Phone Skills to Set Your Practice Apart

Kim Haebler , Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery, Leesburg, Virginia

July 2018|Peer Reviewed

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Phone Skills to Set Your Practice Apart

Clients have many options when selecting a veterinary team for their pet’s medical needs. For this reason, team members must make the most of every opportunity to set themselves apart and to showcase practice values. Every phone call is such an opportunity.

Following are a few suggestions, based on the author’s experience, for impressing clients and practicing exceptional customer service that can lead to increased client retention and satisfaction and help secure new clients by making an exceptional first impression.

Attitude Is Everything

Expecting team members to always be in a fantastic mood and ready to answer the phone enthusiastically is unrealistic. Nevertheless, they need to always sound that way. 

If a team member sounds bored, rushed, angry, stressed, or uncaring, clients will definitely notice. When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, a team member should take a deep breath and regroup to help maintain the positive attitude. Clients are drawn to practices with genuinely happy, caring team members who truly love what they do.


Smile! It is a lot harder to sound grouchy when smiling.

Take Notes

The team member answering the phone should always be ready to take notes. Clients will start the conversation by stating who they are and why they are calling, and this should be noted in writing or on the computer so clients do not have to repeat themselves. Practice reflective listening to show clients they are valued and their needs are important. Reflective listening means relaying information back to the client for clarification and to ensure his or her needs will be accurately met.


To show you are hearing what the client says, use reflective listening and say, for example, You are concerned because Fluffy is not drinking any water. Is that right?

Focus on the Positives

There will be times when a client has to be told No or given an answer that is not what he or she was hoping for. Following up with a positive statement is key so that the client’s attention is redirected away from the negative and toward the positive. Using carefully worded responses and showing compassion will clearly demonstrate that the pet’s best interests are the priority. 

For example: A client calls about his or her pet’s ear infection. The client requests a refill of the same medication used to treat the same condition a year ago. Although this is not a reasonable request, rather than saying, You need to come in for an examination, say, I am so sorry to hear that George’s ears are bothering him. The ear medication we prescribed last year may not be the best medication to treat his current condition, but we really want him to feel better as soon as possible and to be sure that we prescribe effective medication. I would be more than happy to schedule an appointment for George so we can determine his best course of treatment.


Inflection is everything. Be sincere!

Respect Clients’ Time

Happy clients are the lifeblood of a successful practice and almost every client contact begins with a phone call. All clients deserve the undivided attention of whomever answers the phone. If no team member is available to properly address a phone call, do not keep the client on hold for an extended period of time. Give the client the option to receive a call back, and then stick to the time frame promised for the return call. No client should feel ignored or forgotten.


When asking if a client would mind holding, let him or her know how many clients are already waiting to be helped to provide a general idea of the wait time. The client can then choose to remain on hold or receive a call back.


Clients who call on the phone or walk through the door are what keep a practice in business, and they deserve the best from every team member every day. Showing genuine compassion and respect builds healthy relationships with clients and fosters the health and happiness of their 4-legged family members—the practice’s ultimate goal.

1 Use every phone call as an opportunity to provide exceptional service that will satisfy and help retain clients.

2 Never keep a client waiting on the phone and make him or her feel ignored or forgotten.

3 Smile! Smiling while talking conveys a happy, caring attitude.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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