How to Prepare Your Team for Clients Returning to the Practice

In our new post-COVID reality, most businesses are relaunching indoor service, and our veterinary clinics are coming under pressure to do the same, particularly as clients had been putting off wellness services until we opened our doors.

Not everyone is ready, though, and if your team is anything like mine, it will reflect a diverse range of views about when and how reopening should occur. These are some of the ways we've worked with our teams to address concerns and ensure everyone is comfortable.

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Understanding Team Concerns

Before you can address your teams' concerns, you need to find out how they feel. If you cut back on team meetings—like we did in our practice, to keep everyone safe—then you lost an important forum for feedback. What's more, questions around the pandemic can be politically charged, and it can be difficult to get clear feedback. We tried a few things to keep the conversations flowing:

  • Explain what you are planning: Be clear on the changes that you intend to make. Don't let incorrect assumptions about your proposal create negative feelings.
  • Poll small groups or single team members: We wanted our people to speak candidly and gave them space so they wouldn't feel singled out for expressing their opinions. If you can keep the feedback confidential, then some of your team will be able to express themselves even more freely.
  • Don't judge: Just like everyone else, we have our opinions, but it's important to listen to what your team members have to say. If you actively object or shut them down, you will likely miss out on the reasons they hold the view they do, making it much harder to bridge any gaps.
  • Ask clear questions: Explain why you are meeting with your team members and what you want to find out from them. It may help to put these questions down in writing so that it's clear for all parties.
  • Stay on topic: The politicization surrounding COVID-19 means that a range of unrelated topics can get drawn into the conversation. Actively steer the conversation back to what you need by focusing your questions on their specific reopening concerns.

Listening to Feedback

During conversations with my team members, it became clear that they were split into two camps: those who were generally ready to reopen and those who would rather wait. As we talked further, it became apparent that their positions were not that far apart. The people who didn't want to open were still concerned about the consequences of prohibiting indoor service, and vice versa, leading to the same questions and solutions:

  • Is it safe to be in small rooms with pet owners? This is a fair question, and unfortunately, we don't know the answer. There are, however, steps that team members can take to keep themselves safe. These include wearing a mask in the room and getting fully vaccinated. We continue to provide masks for team members who prefer not to get the vaccination and allow time off to those who do.
  • What about clients who don't want to come in yet? Several of our team members received feedback from pet owners that they were not ready to come into the rooms yet. Despite this being a little more challenging, we were able to adopt a hybrid model where we continue to offer curbside to those who want it.
  • How will we keep socially distanced? A number of our team members were concerned about keeping clients away from one another. As a result, we are asking pet owners to wait in their cars when possible, rather than in the waiting rooms, then bringing them in when an exam room opens up. We are also doing in-room checkouts to limit the number of people standing at the front desk.

We also heard some significant arguments to get the clinic open as usual:

  • Summer temperatures are a challenge: For practices like ours, located in Texas, summer temperatures can be unpleasant, and there isn't much we can do about it for team members going out to provide curbside service. This was a strong argument to reopen and keep everyone safe and comfortable.
  • Clients are frustrated: Many clients were upset at not being allowed inside, and that made them harder to deal with. The team was ready to stop having those difficult discussions.
  • Good interactions are easier face to face: Especially for wellness appointments, we get a lot more value by being able to talk directly with the client and explain the value of preventive care.

In our practice, we've found that whenever we need to make a big change, it's important to engage our team early in the process. Including them in the decision and taking their concerns seriously not only make them more comfortable but also help you to create better policies. If your team members feel they are part of the decisions you make, they will be happier and communicate more effectively with your clients.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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