The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way many of us do our jobs. While we are settling into new routines, Client Liaison Erin Neilon, reviews a few key communications tips for your clients and your team.
A lot has changed over the past few months when it comes to daily interactions with people. Do you hold the door open for someone? Do you sit next to your new co-worker for lunch? Do you bring in snacks to share with your team? In most of these instances, the answer is unfortunately no. This means that we have lost a lot of human interaction since the start of COVID-19, and working at an animal hospital is no exception.
Previously if I needed to have a difficult conversation with a client, it would be in person. It might have been sitting next to someone if they're considering euthanasia, or just extending a hand onto a client’s arm after their pet has passed. Before COVID-19, clients would ask me for a hug, and thank me for how I helped them navigate this process. But due to COVID recommendations of maintaining social distance, none of this is possible. It’s really tough, to know that someone is looking for kindness, compassion, and empathy, and know that you have to stay on opposite sides of the room.
With my time in the pet loss support program, I've heard from people that the lack of human touch as a comfort is a really big thing that we're missing these days. I’ve found that while there isn’t a replacement for human touch, there are a few ways to support clients and your team.
Be transparent, and acknowledge that this is hard. Being upfront about your hospital’s policies, procedures, and how a visit will go is very important in helping clients. If your client is in an emergency they may not have read your sign on the front door and parking space. They may not have checked your clinic’s website for policies regarding masks, allowing customers in the lobby, and how their pet will be triaged. Remember that you play a big role in setting them up for success. Be ready to answer questions about why these policies are in place. Be ready to give them an accurate wait time before the doctor will call them. And remind them that everyone at your hospital is doing the best they can.
Be educated in what your clinic is offering. Early in the response to the virus, it seemed like there were new policies and updates almost daily in an effort to keep clients and staff safe. What set of symptoms qualifies for this virtual visit? How many family members can be in one exam room? Can an ICU patient’s family visit during a hospital stay? Making sure you know your hospital policies inside and out will help minimize confusion, and ultimately, frustrated clients. Express to clients that the experience they had at your clinic last month, may look different today. Explain how they maybe can’t visit in the ICU, but your clinic can send photos and videos of their loved one. Or, how they can’t be present for end of life, but they can visit privately before and after, or be present by a video call. Setting up clear and thoughtful expectations will help your clients from the moment they arrive throughout their visit.
Recognize compounding losses. One of the big things I’ve noticed and experienced is compounding losses. A client may have lost their job or housing security, they may have concerns about childcare, and they might have immediate family members with compromised immunity- all of which can contribute to increased stress and anxiety during this time. With an unexpected pet emergency, this exacerbates the stress and the sense of loss they were already feeling. Every day, a lot of people are experiencing compassion fatigue and seeing their pet hurt or sick compounds their sadness. I think it’s important to remember with every client that they may have made hard decisions to get to your clinic, and may continue to make hard sacrifices while they are there.
Give yourself a break. If I have an emotionally charged situation, I’ll advocate for myself and say, “Hey, I need to step out and get a breath of fresh air.” If I see a coworker after dealing with a tough situation, I’ll say, “Take a minute for yourself.” Our team is really good about recognizing when we can step in and support each other. It can be difficult to meet our own basic needs with higher caseloads, more time spent on the phone and wearing a mask (making simple things like drinking water or snacking more difficult). I think it’s important now more than ever to recognize small acts of kindness and empathy. We’ve all heard the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” probably fifty times this week- but it’s true. Taking care of yourself and your team is incredibly important so you have the energy to take care of your clients. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.