Dog and Vet shaking hands

Welcome again to our Top Tips.

Being brilliant at the basics - gets your team 80% of the way to perfection!

In this article we'll go through some of the fundamentals of providing a great service to your customers; we work hard to apply these in our own work and they can be easily applied to your practice also.

Chunk Training does a lot of preaching – so we love it when we get recognition of our efforts. Over the last 6 months we’ve received three important validations of the work we do, both in our ‘home’ practice, where the concept of modular in-house training was born, developed and refined, and by outside agencies:

  • AWARDED 3rd place in the UK in the Compliance awards 2014, to recognise the work we do helping clients to give their pets the best care possible.
  • AWARDED 1st place as best small shell stand at BSAVA Congress, where the judges commented on the way we engaged with the delegates.
  • ACHIEVED 30% growth in our well-established small animal practice – this sort of growth rate is most commonly seen in the first few years of establishment, or after a management change. For us, much of the growth is down to implementing policies and education, fostering client delight, and therefore creating client loyalty.

There is no rocket science involved.
Clients come to us with needs. They leave us with solutions. They judge us on the way we lead them from the needs to the solutions.
We simply have to do this with a basic competency and add a bit of ‘wow’ factor.
Having taught the basics of client care, communication and protocols, the challenge in most practices is in making sure everyone applies it.   
Here’s some of the steps we take to ensure staff compliance:

Employ attitude, teach skills.  We all get that sinking feeling when the ‘glass half empty’ staff member is working with us. And we all get a lift in mood when working with one of those people who always make you smile. I also have dog and cat patients who always make me smile, but that’s a different subject altogether. So we interview potential new staff members with a view to choosing the candidate with the most open, cheerful and communicative attitude. We try to avoid the ‘mouse’ or the over-assertive candidates, while any touch of arrogance is a definite NO! They need the basic qualifications for the job required, but achieving a high academic standard is only very loosely correlated with being a better employee.

Repetition, repetition. All our staff go through our training modules during their first few weeks with us, but certain parts of the training are re-iterated at our one-to-one discussions, which take place every 8 weeks, at branch meetings (also every 8 weeks) and at full practice meetings (3 times a year). For example:

  • We remind receptionists that their prime purpose is to fill the appointment slots. Every interaction should involve the offering of an appointment unless it is inappropriate.
  • Everyone should always be on the lookout for WOW factors, all the time. It eventually becomes normal practice to go the extra mile.
  • Staff are encouraged to put themselves in the place of the client and see things from their point of view.

Share stories. A powerful way of improving service. When our staff members go to other vets, for specialist procedures or large animal services, they come back with criticisms or good ideas. Here’s a recent example:

Our head nurse’s dog, Jess, was taken to a referral centre for orthopaedic surgery. She was hospitalised for several days, and the practice checked in with the nurse twice daily with status reports. So far, so good. The day of surgery came, and at 9.30, the practice rang to say Jess was next on the list. At 2pm, our nurse had heard nothing, and rang them, and was told she would be going in to surgery soon. At 5pm, she rang again and was told surgery should start within the next half an hour. By the time the post-surgery phone call was made by the vet, it was 9.45pm. Full marks to the practice for staying late, and getting the surgery completed, but by now the nurse was quite upset about the undue delay (she’d been expecting to take Jess home that night), and had discussed the problem with those around her. Outcome: the referral practice’s reputation was suffering. She felt the practice had not been transparent with her – how could a procedure planned for 10am not take place until early evening? Or more accurately, how could this happen with no good explanation being offered?
It was only at the post-op check-up that the truth emerged. The first case of the morning had appeared a routine case, but had taken 6 hours of care before the animal was well enough for the surgeon to be able to see his next case.
There are two issues here which careful training could have avoided:

  • There was a lack of transparency. There is a tendency to hide or avoid the truth when things are not going according to plan. But this backfires on a regular basis, as it did here.
  • Promising but failing to deliver is a big deal for the client.How does it make you feel if you are told you will wait 20 minutes for an appointment, and you are seen after 15 minutes? Compare this with your feelings if you are told the wait time is 10 minutes and you are waiting for 15. Under promising and over delivering should be the norm.
How would you have handled this situation in your practice? For an informal chat on how we can help communication skills in your practice, contact us - our details are below.

Happy Training!


Best wishes,


Hi and welcome again to our Top Tips blog!

Once upon a time, there was a veterinary receptionist who wasn't trained in complaint management... Dealing with customer complaints

Every day, the receptionist was doing her job well, making appointments, taking payments, and generally keeping clients very happy. One day, she slipped up, and typed '£1000' instead of £100 when taking a card payment, but neither she nor the client noticed this at the time. 
Because of that, the client returned a few hours later, furious at the way she had been 'ripped off' (in her own words). The receptionist felt embarrassed and flustered, and was very upset by the accusation of dishonesty. So she interrupted the client's diatribe with her protestations of innocence, which resulted in the client having the impression she was not being listened to.

Because of that, the client walked out of the practice, and all parties were left feeling uncomfortable.
Until finally, another staff member, with experience of dealing with complaints, phoned the client, and followed a straightforward protocol of complaint management. Within a few minutes, all was right with the world again.

Are all your staff who have any contact with the public trained in complaint management? This is a simple skill: it is very easy to teach and immensely rewarding to put into practice.

Training should focus on the essential process of complaint management:

1. Listen - with your full attention and no interruptions, and preferably in a private area. If the client is angry, they will find it hard to maintain anger in the face of a calm and interested listener.

2. Empathise - show that you have understood by repeating back the main points and sympathizing with the emotion. Avoid saying "I know how you feel". It invites the answer "No, you don't".

3. Thank and apologise - complaints should be welcomed (but never encouraged!). Every complaint is an opportunity to improve. We can apologise for hurt caused without admitting any blame.

4. Respond - Now is the chance to explain and to clear any misunderstandings or communication failures.

5. Negotiate - Work toward a solution that both parties find acceptable.

6. Agree Action - and carry out any agreed action promptly and conscientiously.

If your team are following these steps consistently and naturally, complaints are much less likely to escalate into significant customer dissatisfaction and your practice is well on the way to customer service excellence!  

Chunk Training modular courses are uniquely placed to ensure all your staff understand the importance of different modes of communication, including welcoming new clients, dealing with complaints, painlessly and effectively asking for money, and tactfully working with those who are grieving. 

Happy Training!


Best wishes,


Hi again, here is another in our series of regular Top Tips.  

A client asks: 'My dog is 6 months old and I would like him to be neutered. At what age do I get this done?' Veterinary online training

OK, we are a communications training team, not clinical tutors. (But see below for an interesting reference on neutering decisions). If a client asks this question at reception and is told 'any time from 6 months old', and then goes into the consulting room, where the vet advises 'We like to leave neutering until a year old', what happens?

In the client's eyes, this is a simple question with a single correct answer. Either the right answer is '6 months' or it is 'a year'. So either the receptionist or the vet is wrong. Continuing this line of logic, the client concludes that either the vet or the receptionist cannot be trusted to give correct information.

If you are interested, there is a great review of the literature on neutering here. This link is available with permission from the author.

We work in an industry where trust is absolutely paramount. It is easily lost and very, very hard to win back.

Does your practice have protocols in place for all this routine activity - neutering, vaccination, microchipping, worming and flea treatment? At a guess, almost all readers will be thinking that this is obvious, basic policy, and most of you will have it well documented. 

But policies don't have to just exist: all staff must buy in to them, and willingly implement them - and here lies the challenge!

Can your practice comply with all these points:
1. Was each protocol originally agreed by all senior vets?
2. Do all vets and other senior staff understand the reasons for the protocols?
3. Do all staff know where to check the protocols and is this easy to find, for example during a phone call to a client?
4. If any staff member disagrees with the protocols, is there a process in place to detect and discuss their reservations?
5. Do all staff understand the importance of alignment of advice, and the consequences of deviating from it?

The first four points are best dealt with during the induction process. Managers beware: the fact that you have taught and explained an item doesn't mean everyone retains and implements the facts. Try assessing this at your next practice meeting: circulate a quick test with a few questions on protocols at the start of the meeting (but make it anonymous - the purpose is to assess the level of understanding, not to embarrass individuals). You may be surprised!

These were some of the challenges that contributed to the birth of Chunk Training at the author's practice. Initial attempts at alignment via a practice manual progressed to PowerPoint presentations, and finally on to more sophisticated and interactive training modules, spelling out both the protocols, the reasons for them, and the importance attached to ensuring all staff sing from the same hymn sheet.
This is now used in tandem with the availability of every protocol on every computer desktop.

Just having staff training in place is not enough: a means of refreshing that knowledge, and an understanding of the reasons for rigorous implementation is vital, too! 

If we raised any issues here that strike a chord, do contact us - and we can discuss your needs, and see if we can help. Chunk Training modular courses are uniquely placed to ensure all your staff are not only trained in facts, but also understand the importance of alignment, the power of the words 'I/we recommend', and the importance of displaying a united front to clients. We take all the effort of training away from you managers - we distribute, monitor, assess and give feedback on each module. You can click through to our website and access your free trial module here.  

Happy Training!
Best wishes,

Hi, today's topic isn't strictly a training tip, but we found it interesting, and think that you will too!

E is for........?
Try this simple task:
Use your right forefinger (or left if you are left handed) to touch your forehead, and then write the letter 'E' there. Do it now, before reading on, otherwise you will miss the fun of this challenge!

Now imagine that someone is watching you. Did you write the letter so that it is the right way around to the person watching, in which case the arms of the E point to your left, or so that it is correct to you as you read, i.e. the arms point to your right? There is no right or wrong answer, it just tells us a bit about our own nature.

E is for Empathy.

People who empathise easily and naturally will usually write the E with the arms to their left. They write it so that others can read it. Those who find it more difficult to see the world from other people's point of view will write it the other way round, so that they can read it themselves. Interestingly, the more power a person has, the more difficult it becomes to see things from the perspective of others.

This has logic: those of us who are constantly mapping other's thoughts will be highly influenced by them and therefore less likely to make the unpopular decisions necessary to be in power. And all this empathising requires concentration and mental effort. Power is typically associated with increased demands on one's attention, leaving less time to consider the persepective of everyone else. Therefore powerful individuals often show a reduced ability to comprehend how others see, think and feel.

We all feel, on occasion, that our thoughts and needs have not been taken properly into account when management decisions are made. Conversely, those of us who are managers often find we haven't examined a new initiative from the point of view of every individual affected. Maybe it will help both parties to know that this is inevitable, and is rarely done intentionally or with malice! One could argue that the strongest leaders will find empathy the most difficult skill.

For more information, follow this link to a research article which studies this in more depth

Happy Training!


Hi and welcome to another of my top tips blogs!


Everyone is told that first impressions are vitally important. Why should the first few seconds you spend with a new acquaintance or in a new place have such an influence? The answer is simple: it has survival value.

Before we were 'civilised' it was vital to make a snap decision on any new experience. If this experience turned out to be an enemy or a dangerous situation, fast assessment and reaction was an essential survival skill. Conversely, of course, a new potential friend must be identified as such. In one study* exposure to facial appearance for just 1/10 of a second resulted in a similar assessment of that person’s traits to that given by those who were allowed much longer exposure. It seems counter intuitive that we are capable of forming impressions so fast; 0.1 seconds is an incredibly short length of time!

This first impression anchors one's mind at a set point on the scale between strong liking and strong disliking of the image. Further experiences will modify this opinion, but our starting point has been fixed - and usually not in a neutral position. Our subconscious likes to prove itself right; once we have decided on our opinion, we look for reasons to reinforce it. If our first impression was positive, we notice all the good things, and if negative, we notice the faults. 

So take a fresh look at your reception area (not 'waiting room' - this implies you keep people waiting!) and go through this checklist:

Veterinary Practice Receptionist The premises:
  • Is all the decor spotless and fresh?
  • Does it smell good (or at least neutral)?
  • Are all surfaces clean and tidy?
  • Are all posters pristine and neatly fixed?
  • Are posters relevant? i.e. will they either educate, entertain or create atmosphere?

The people:
  • Do staff present themselves well?
  • Is their hair brushed and tidy?
  • Are their clothes neat, not crumpled, no dog/cat/horse hair (or worse) attached! 
  • Do they have a cheerful approachable demeanour?
  • Is their priority to engage with clients, not each other?
  • Are they attentive to clients needs?

Or if your first contact is on a visit to the client:
  • Is the car clean, well organised, and looking as if it belongs to an efficient professional?
  • Do you introduce yourself by name and greet the client by name?
  • Do you have a cheerful approachable demeanour?
  • Are you attentive to clients needs?

Attention to such simple items creates a great first impression. If this is achieved, then provided nothing happens to disappoint them, new clients are well on the way to becoming loyal clients. 
Most business boosters are not complex: great businesses pay attention to being Brilliant at the Basics, and they make sure that this happens by design, not by accident

* (Willis and Todorov, First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face, Psychological Science July 2006 vol. 17 no. 7 592-598) 

Happy Training!

Best wishes,