4 Things to Look for in a Veterinary Answering Service

What are your biggest frustrations day-to-day? What distracts you from practicing, keeps you up at night, and takes time away from patients that really need you? A veterinary answering service won’t solve all the problems that come with high demand, but it can help in key ways.

Whether you represent an emergency room that’s feeling overwhelmed or a general practice burnt out from on-call, your phone lines are probably a major pain point. Maybe you’re just tired of leaving clients out in the cold after hours, and you’d like to offer support, even when you’re not there. The major problem is that veterinary hospitals have really specific needs, and working with a veterinary answering service means finding a team with complementary skills to yours.

So what are the non-negotiable things that you need from a virtual veterinary receptionist? What makes a veterinary call center work for you? Here are the four key things to look for:

  1. The best veterinary answering services specialize in VetMed
  2. The best veterinary answering services follow your protocols
  3. The best veterinary answering services triage cases
  4. The best veterinary answering services provide great customer service
A man picking up a phone for a veterinary answering service.

1) The best veterinary answering services specialize in VetMed

One of the major issues that clinics face with a virtual veterinary receptionist is the lack of specific knowledge. One of our customers recently told us that their previous answering service didn’t know the word “equine.” That’s a major issue when they’re taking calls for you, and it results in frustrated clients.

When a veterinary call center can’t answer basic questions, the call ends up getting kicked to your team. That’s a waste of your client’s time, and it negates any time-saving impact on your end as well.

Here's the tl;dr: look for a veterinary call center that clearly showcases the expertise of its team. One easy test is to see if they know how to navigate your PiMS. If they don’t- run.

2) The best veterinary answering services follow your protocols

How does your team handle a call about a vomiting puppy? Where do you direct toxic ingestion cases? What are your procedures for on-call? Even if they have specific veterinary knowledge, the problem with many veterinary answering services starts here- the inability to handle cases the way that your internal staff would.

Generally, most veterinary answering services have a really limited set of functions that they’re able to perform. The question might be what specific set of roles you need a virtual veterinary receptionist for. At a base level, you’ll want a team that can help with:

  • Scheduling
  • Triage
  • Administrative requests

According to one survey, administrative tasks are the number one frustration for 40% of veterinarians. If you fall into this category, make sure that the veterinary call center you work with is able to actually alleviate that problem.

Here’s an easy place to start: list out the tasks that you’d like to offload to an external team. For example, when they answer a call, they should be able to do x, y, z. The team you end up choosing may or may not be able to handle everything you want, but this process can help you to figure out how they might fit into your workflows.

3) The best veterinary answering services triage cases

This is a particularly specialized skill, but it’s also incredibly important. For general practices, triage is especially important after hours. If you’re on-call and using a virtual veterinary receptionist, the goal is to cut back the number of calls coming through to the DVM. If your partner is unable to meaningfully reduce the number of cases you receive, then the money you’re spending is wasted. Similarly, if you're paying for a phone service for your emergency room and it's unable to divert non-critical cases, you're getting only a fraction of the value that the service should offer.

Phone triage is the most important differentiator between veterinary answering services, because it’s the place where medical knowledge intersects with customer service. Easy test here: do they know what you mean when you bring up veterinary triage? Try going a step further, though: what is their philosophy about triage? 

Just as a quick example: GuardianVets’ philosophy is that the question is never if a patient needs to be seen. We provide triage to help the client decide how soon they need medical attention from a DVM.

4) The best veterinary answering services provide great customer service

This might seem self-explanatory. After all, you’d expect that any business selling itself on customer interactions would at least be good at that. The thing is, customer service is as much a structure as a series of conversations, and long-term relationships are built when you nail both.

Think about it like this: paying for triage in your moment of need is a terrible experience. Even if the service that provides support is gentle and welcoming and offers good advice, your client has just paid $50 to find out if they need to go to the emergency room to pay more money. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and can drive clients to look for a better option. If the best support that a veterinary call service can provide is directing your client to reach out to an external triage provider, then they’ve already failed.

Similarly, if a client is calling to book an appointment or check in about an Rx refill, they should be able to handle those issues then and there, rather than needing to call back the next day. 

So yes, it’s important to know that your calls are being handled by a polite, compassionate team. It’s also vitally important that the support provided is structured to be as helpful and seamless as possible.

A cat and dog cuddling, representing the relationship of a clinic to their veterinary answering service.

GuardianVets is not a veterinary answering service

We’re something better. 

When your hospital partners with GuardianVets, we create a virtual representation of your protocols in our software. That means we can follow your processes to the letter, whether for scheduling, deciding what kinds of cases you do and don’t see, and even dealing with specific medical concerns.

Our team of credentialed veterinary technicians are trained to provide both gold-standard triage and incredible client support. This means that we can actively support your team in day-to-day tasks. We’re a virtual extension of your staff, rather than a hoop for your customers to jump through on their way to receiving care.

With GuardianVets, an anxious pet parent can call your clinic at 2 a.m. and receive triage support from an expert technician without paying any additional fees. Our team will then work within your existing protocols to decide whether to contact the on-call DVM, send the case to the emergency room, or schedule the next-available appointment. It’s a more complete level of support than a virtual receptionist could provide.

Here’s what we’ve seen again and again: clinics partner with a call center, then cancel after a couple of months because the additional support hasn’t meaningfully changed their workload. That’s because a veterinary answering service isn’t really the answer. 

We’d love to learn more about your hospital! If GV can't provide the support you need, we’ll be happy to direct you to the right service. You can schedule a quick consultation here.

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