Onboarding in the Client Service Team

Authored by Debbie Hill, CVPM, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCFP

From the initial phone call for information to final checkout, the client service staff is the first and last point for clients. It is vital that we plan for integrating them into practice culture. Knowing the high demand and short supply of good employees means new employees need to find a welcoming environment for them to stay and succeed.
Hiring a Client Service Representative (CSR) is more than finding someone with reception experience, computer skills, or years in the veterinary profession. This person needs to be able juggle the myriad of client situations encountered daily. After spending time to find the right fit, it is foolish to lose them due to poor planning.
Cordial hospitality is not every person’s inherent competency, but it is trainable once the actions that personify that feeling are sifted out. It is ludicrous to explain that it is basic respect to use a person’s name. New girl is not an acceptable form of address, and any such comments need to correction. Before they ever walk in the door, add the new employee to the phone list and the team’s Slack app or other internal communication tool. Seeing those welcome messages encourages the newcomer and warms my manager heart that the team really is trying to be open.

Prepare for that first day; schedule, name tag, uniform should be ready. A business card with practice name, address and contact info is extremely helpful. Coming into a new workplace is intimidating. Seeing a workstation set up and ready is so much better than standing around and not knowing where to sit or whether coffee is allowed at the front desk. A welcome banner, card or small poster with individual notes waiting at the workstation offers a great welcome. It builds a sense of connection inside the team. Building that team culture is as important to a practices’ success as having medications on hand.

We send a short PowerPoint presentation to new hires. It is an overview of the practice with pictures of the owner, doctors, managers, supervisors, core values, hours, and a bit of our history. This preview of the practice offers that first insight into where they fit and instills confidence that they will be able to face clients.
The manager and supervisor need time in that first shift to explain the basics. The manager that takes an hour to get paperwork complete and reviews the manual can circumvent many future problems. The supervisor will go over the job description and outlines the day. When is lunch? What about bio-breaks? Do they answer the phone on day one? One of our most successful onboarding procedures is for our Reception Supervisor to take new receptionist to lunch. She is naturally friendly, well-bonded to the practice and able to answer questions the new employee may have that no one thought to answer. The expense is covered by the practice.

Forms and protocols are vital to efficiently managing patient flow. Understanding the “what and why “of each position sets the stage for better understanding of the CSR role. Time needs to be set aside to explain these. Simply handing over a packet of documents that may or may not be read is never effective.

Take time to explain details that make for a successful CSR:

  1. How long to schedule routine surgery
  2. When to interrupt the doctor
  3. How to prep the room for the next client or who does that

Training builds confidence that is a foundation for a successful hire. Telling the new hire to “follow Liz and she will show you everything” is not effective. Liz is busy and this extra “trainer” role adds to her workload. Choose trainers wisely and set clear expectations. Without a plan, I have seen an in-depth explanation on how to change toner instead of how to schedule wellness visits. Ask the current team what they want new hires to know; what they wish they had known, what they think is the most important skill for the position. The team’s input is a great starting place for drafting or revising training timelines.

Check in regularly to see how things are going. Ask about areas where they feel weak. Are there hurdles being thrown up due to another’s fear of being displaced? The new person may never count the cash drawer and balance end of day paperwork, not because they are incapable or resistant, but because someone is unwilling to give them a chance. This restricts their growth and causes concerns for why an employee is so protective of that task.

Growing into being part of the team and not just new employee can be accomplished with thoughtful planning.