How to Turn a "Phone Shopper" into a Client

Posted: Jan 4, 2013
Views: 5037 - Comments: 10

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Wait, come back! How do we turn a phone shopper into a client?

Receptionist on the phone

The phone rings, it’s a pet owner who has never been to your practice before and they have questions. This is great news, filled with opportunity, potential and (face it) a little pressure. I know phone shoppers may seem like a daunting task and you may feel as if you just channeled a used car salesman but it doesn’t have to be that way, after all they called you for help.

So, what approach works best?

It is safe to say that the majority of the time when we have a “phone shopper”, let’s call her Ms. “Inahurry”, that there is an element of cost involved in the conversation. If your practice is one of the lowest cost practices in town, then get that tidbit out in the open right away and use it to your advantage.

So, if we can’t offer the lowest price in town, what do we offer?

I know we have been taught that in an effort to demonstrate value we should begin to list our high tech equipment, amply educated and well trained team and our use of the best veterinary practices. You and I have a great appreciation for those details but does it convey true value to an owner? In my experience that talk does not mean much to Ms. Inahurry and it usually makes her more impatient for the financial numbers (impatience in this situation is not our friend).

We know that people may forget what we tell them but that they rarely forget how we make them feel, especially if we make them feel welcomed, important and understood (or ignored and taken for granted but that’s another blog). The phone shopper is an opportunity to make a connection with that potential client. We want to immediately convey warmth, knowledge and the ability to address whatever it is they need. Our goal is to connect with the client and we only have our voice to do it. No matter how hectic your desk is at the moment, the phone shopper will need and deserve your full attention, a smile and a conversational (unhurried) tone. Our goal is to deliver the information Ms. Inahurry is requesting but we want her to sense the person on the other end of the line sincerely wants to help, understands what it is like to be concerned about their pet and has the knowledge to help them sort through the options.

A few quick tips:

  • Immediately let Ms. Inahurry know you are looking up the information she requested and not holding it hostage until she endures a sales pitch.
  • While you are looking up the information, here is where you can make a more personal connection.
  • If Ms. Inahurry is requesting a very simple estimate such as an exam fee; we don’t have much time before she will expect an answer and a slightly different approach is needed. We will cover this in a moment.
  • Ask and use the pet’s name and if appropriate (not an animal in crisis), convey your enthusiasm to be talking about the pet and make comments somehow connected to the pet. Ask what breed the pet is and when she tells you, respond with a personal comment; maybe you have a favorite patient of that breed or just think they are fun in general. If you also have that breed at home, wonderful, clients love to hear about our pets! You are making a connection here not interrogating and ideally Ms. Inahurry will be comfortable and engage with you which will give you more time to make that connection.

We have about 2 - 5 minutes to try to make a connection with Ms. Inahurry and to give her a peek at the heart of your hospital while answering her questions. It may look something like this;

Ms. Inahurry – Hi, I need a price on neutering my dog.

Awesome CSR - I’d be happy to look that up (you are smiling here, yes I know she cannot see you but trust me, it makes a difference) and while I do, tell me a little about your dog, what is his name?

Ms. Inahurry – His name is Spiffy.

Awesome CSR  - What a great name (our voice should be filled with sincere enthusiasm here) what breed is Spiffy and how old is he?

Ms. Inahurry – He is a Beagle and he is about 9 months old.

**If you can offer a true comment or observation that shares the breed do so! We are about 20 seconds into the call and still trying to establish a connection with Ms. Inahurry. **

Awesome CSR – A Beagle, how fun! We have some wonderful Beagle patients here and they are always so sweet and busy and have lots to say.

**With any luck Ms. Inahurry will engage in a little Beagle talk that gives us an even greater opportunity to create a connection here**

Awesome CSR – I have your cost here and I don’t blame you at all for calling around, we work too hard for our money these days to not spend it wisely (continuing to make the connection, but only say what you believe because we sincerely want a connection that lasts for that pets life, not a sale that lasts for the neuter).

Awesome CSR –  As you call around please make sure you are comparing apples to apples and not unknowingly sacrificing Spiffy’ s safety or comfort because you were not certain which questions to ask. Our neuter for Spiffy is $285, the lab work Spiffy needs is $79 and the presurgical exam is $58 (we began with the highest and ended with the lowest on purpose). If you continue to call around please make sure to ask the hospital you are calling if they perform pre surgical lab work because it is much too important to leave out. He should also receive pain medication and have IV Fluids and a safe artificial heat source to keep his body temperature from getting too low while he is recovering. Everything I just mentioned is included in the prices I gave you. I know it can sound confusing but trust me it makes a big difference in the safety and comfort of the surgery for these little guys.

Awesome CSR – the last thing I would encourage you to do is go into the veterinary hospital for a visit and meet the team that will work on Spiffy and get a tour of the hospital so you can have peace of mind on surgery day. We would love to meet Spiffy and give you the grand tour and give Spiffy a new puppy toy, don’t worry no purchase required, we’d just enjoy meeting you.

Awesome CSR – Do you have any questions for me or can I arrange a tour or schedule Spiffy’s neuter for you?

Ms. Inahurry – No thank you, but thanks for your time.

Awesome CSR – Well, it was a pleasure and please don’t hesitate to give us a call or stop by if we can help and give Spiffy a smooch from me.

Did you make the appointment? Maybe or maybe not but we hope that owner hung up the phone feeling she just had an honest, knowledgeable and comfortable conversation with someone she would gladly call back if the other hospital does not make her feel the same way.

A word about hospital tours; if a potential client requests a tour, this should be an incredibly welcome scenario for you and your team. Hopefully you are proud of your hospital and when you offer a tour it demonstrates you have nothing to hide. Pet owners can develop an instant  increase in their level of trust in the hospital after experiencing a tour where the team was warm, the patients were well cared for and where they could envision their pet being safe and comfortable.  Of course, there needs to be a system in place to make sure there is not a procedure being performed in the treatment area that may shock the potential client or distract the team at a bad time. You will also want a system in place so that when you page the team to say you will be giving a tour in a few moments they know to tidy up if need be. People are very forgiving about the appearance of a working hospital but body parts should not be part of the tour.

What if Ms. Inahurry simply wants the cost of an exam? Well, remember the goal here and it isn’t to deliver that cost in a cold, dry voice and wait for her to say thank you and hang up. So, how do we attempt to make a connection here?

Ms. Inahurry – Hi, I need to know what you will charge me to take a look at my dog.

Awesome CSR – Of course, what’s going on with him or her? (with any luck, Ms. Inahurry will tell you her dogs gender so you can use it from here on out in this conversation and even better if she mentions his name).

Ms. Inahurry – He has been limping for a couple days and I guess I have to have him seen.

Awesome CSR – Oh no, poor guy, but don’t worry, we can ease his pain and see what else the doctor thinks we can do to help after his exam (less pain is valuable to the owner and it is a relief to hear someone can help). Our doctors are great at helping lameness, the exam is $58 and we can get you in at 2:00 today, would that work?

You get the idea. Our stunning medical vocabulary probably will not impress the client but a genuine connection and the ability to sincerely communicate your appreciation of the human animal bond probably will.  Enter the conversation as a fellow pet lover who believes in the hospital that they work for and demonstrate that you are there to help.

Every phone conversation and every pet owner will challenge you to connect in a whole new way; to delve into what this particular pet owner needs and values and what you and your hospital can do to help. Begin to look forward to seeing what level of engagement you can achieve and I guarantee you will become more comfortable and more successful with every call.

You won’t be able to engage and schedule every phone shopper and that’s ok, so take that pressure off your shoulders. But what you can demonstrate on every single call is that you are warm, attentive, and knowledgeable and believe in what you do and that is the exact level of care they can expect from your hospital. You never know what seeds you may plant in that pet owners mind.

Some tips to polish your skills;

  • Rehearse role play and practice.
  • Know what you are talking about. If the caller wants to know why her pet needs lab work or a pre-surgical exam be prepared to educate her.
  • Have your practice manager arrange a secret shopper as an independent third party to help critique your style and don’t be afraid of constructive criticism; embrace it because it helps you grow and improve, after all, how else do we know how we are doing?
  • Celebrate success! Whether you made the connection, scheduled the appointment, received a call back or just felt good when you hung up the phone. Celebrate. You worked hard for it.

Please don’t hesitate to comment below to contact me for any type of follow up to this blog, and don’t worry; you got this!




Cheryl Akers's picture

Jessica you did an excellent job with your phone shopper blog. So much of what we do is connecting with the clients. Most people come into our field because they "love animals" but we have to "love the clients!" Clients have choices where they take their family/pet for healthcare. We have never seen the cute little puppy or kitten walk in on its own and tell us what is wrong with it. It is mom and dad that do that. We want the client to know how grateful we are that they have given us the opportunity to care for their beloved one. Making the connection is the only way to go! Again, great job on clearly describing the situation and what should happen. Keep up the excellent work!

Jessie Merritt's picture

Thank you for the feedback and support, and you hit the nail on the head - it is all about connection and trust. As a sub topic, I would also add that it is about being proud of what we do and where we do it.
Thanks again!

Kelly Hamilton's picture

There is definately a lot of great information in this blog. My concern would be the second conversation. Do you go on to tell the caller there will be a cost for medication and any diagnostics? It seems when we don't upfront the possibilities to the client we get "Oh, I was told it would only be $58".
Thank you.

Clarita Atkinson's picture

I would be interested in hearing the answer to Kelly Hamilton's question. Thanks :-)

Jessica  Willis's picture

Even though scripts are useful but staff members need to recognize not only what they're talking about, but also that the manner in which they convey their words. When individuals are talking on the phone, communication is reduced to words, tone, energy, confidence and warmth of the voice. There are no visual cues like body language, facial expressions, and eye contact to help convey the message.
Also just providing callers a price is the wrong approach. It makes the dialogue about money and not about their pets.

Kim McIntyre's picture

In response to Kelly's question. .I usually quote the exam fee and then say any diagnostics or medications that Fluffy needs would be additional..if the owner seems hesitant or doesn't immediately agree and proceed with the booking process I usually offer something to the effect of once Dr Soandso has examined Fluffy we will have a better idea of what she needs and the doctor will make a plan with you so we can get Fluffy feeling better

Pamela Miller's picture

Being welcoming, attentive and knowledgeable with a phone shopper goes without saying. Some great tips here, but I don't recommend using the phrase, "trust me" because, as a consumer, I never do when I hear it! I also believe in being genuine and honest. I wouldn't say, "Give Spiffy a smooch from me", when I don't know him.

Michelle  Partak 's picture

I really like how you wrote this and made sure to include a sample conversation to have an idea of what to say and an idea of how to word it. So this is a big step for me but how do you suggest taking these type of calls for pricing or really any phone call like scheduling appointments when your first starting out in the field working &/or at a new clinic where your still learning how they do things and how to do everything in the computer system? I just graduated school as a tech and have only had two externships as clinic experience and the first one phone wise the only time I was on the phone was during my first week or two there at the site being trained with receptionists to learn the system and be somewhat comfortable using and finding my way doing things in it before starting in back with the techs so not much phone time at all of practice. My second site I had a couple price shoppers and was trying to figure the computer system out for doing that since not already clients with a file made to easily just make an estimate in their file and most of them were for vaccines so it was taking a while to look them all up and not knowing exactly what was needed sooooo it was really rough and awkward and was super nervous the entire time lol. Can you help with advice in these type of situations so I have more confidence and never have to go through that embarrassment again? lol I know after several it'll start to feel easier or I hope anyways but I have no idea where to begin when your actually in that moment. Any advice of in person communication with clients is also welcomed to help smooth out my beginning. Thanks in advance!!

Brandy Kagerer's picture

Michelle, you are not alone in your struggle. I remember these days all too well when I started at my last clinic. Just trying to remember all your clinic protocols while looking up prices in a software system you may not be use to can cause anyone to sweat. I'll share with you a couple of things that I did and passed on to other new staff members over the next 14 years. First, find out your clinics protocols for the most commonly shopped items/procedures such as vaccines, spays and neuters. What vaccines does your clinic offer and what type of pets are they recommended to? Its also good to know what diseases they prevent and how they are transmitted. When should vaccines be started? Is an exam required every time the pet has to come in? How many weeks apart and until what age should the pet have boosters? What age does the doctor recommend spaying and neutering? Does the clinic require pre-operative blood work? Does your clinic offer microchip and pain medications to every pet? Some of the answers are standard for the industry and some are different according to clinic policy or what part of the country you live in. Second, make yourself a price sheet. I usually included exam, vaccines, pre-operative blood work, microchip, spay and neuter. You might even add fecal and heart worm test. I found these items would cover 90% of what a price shopper is looking for when calling. You might want to ask the clinic manager if a price sheet or vaccine protocol sheet already exists. If not, offer to type one up for yourself and any other new staff that might be struggling. Mine turned into something that was tweaked a little and handed out to new clients coming to the clinic looking for information. It really saves a lot of time over the phone or at the front desk!

I also worked in hotel management for a time and was taught how to gently describe the value of your hotel. For example, when a guest called asking how much a room was we were trained to say 3 things our hotel offered before giving the price.("Your stay includes a complimentary breakfast in the morning, an indoor heated pool, and nightly chocolate chip cookies. Our double queen rooms are $89/night.") I have used this strategy when a price shopper calls asking about spay and neuters. It buys you time while you gather your price sheet and gives an opportunity to confidently tell the client why your clinic is valuable. Don't be afraid to tell people what your clinic does well or what sets you apart from the other 3 clinics they may have called before yours. For example, "Our neuter procedure includes blood work before surgery to check out the organs that work the hardest with anesthesia, an i.v. catheter during their surgery to keep you dog hydrated and blood pressure up, and pain medications during the surgery and to go home with your dog for the next few days to make sure he is comfortable and heals quickly. Your cost is $..." Role playing these conversations with other staff members, family or yourself in the mirror will also build confidence. You can't be prepared for every questions that might be asked over the phone but this is a great start.