6 ways to show clients the value of your services


In this wonky economy, you need to shout-not whisper-about the value your clinic provides. Use these tips to pump up the volume.

Confession time: This article was tough to write. I tried on several occasions to put fingers to keyboard and planned to send it well ahead of the deadline. The article was supposed to be about fees and trends based on Well-Managed Practice data, but the words wouldn't come. I finally realized the source of my writer's block. With the poor economy still rearing its ugly head, no one really wants to talk about fees—including me. So instead I decided to focus on a critical part of pricing your services: demonstrating the value of your fees.

All consumers are a little hypersensitive about spending money right now, and your clients are no exception. They have less cash, more information, and less tolerance for poor customer service. They're less loyal and more particular. But surprising studies show that most consumers will increase their purchases by 10 percent or more if they have a positive customer experience. So now more than ever it's time to create an exceptional atmosphere—one that's custom-built for clients and different from what they can get anywhere else. Let's examine six ways your practice can deliver that amazing client experience.

1. Hire the right people

Consumers prefer to do business with people they like. So hire veterinary team members with good attitudes and personalities that fit your practice style. Look for people who are enthusiastic and genuinely enjoy helping others. Pay especially close attention to your front office team. They're critical to your efforts to reflect value. Watch how they handle clients over the phone and in person. Does their warmth, friendliness, and sincerity shine through?

If you identify areas to improve, offer education to help your team members grow. Your entire team will benefit. On a related note, don't put up with employees who hold a customer service philosophy that differs from what you want in your practice. It's your money and reputation on the line, after all.

Dr. Kevin Landorf of Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital in Eau Claire, Wis., says his practice educates the team on customer service issues regularly. Team members attend local, state, and national veterinary conferences, and the practice uses training videos and customer service experiences during staff meetings. For example, Dr. Landorf encourages team members to share their own good and bad customer service experiences while grocery shopping, getting a haircut, or buying electronics. Then the team discusses what they can learn from the experiences and how they can improve.

2. Create an unbeatable client experience

Too many businesses make it difficult for consumers to spend money with them. We've all had experiences where we felt like we had to jump through hoops to buy a service or product. From the automated phone system with 10 options—none of which involve talking to a live person—to the employee with the "I'm doing you a favor" attitude, it's sometimes difficult to actually finalize a transaction. Don't let this happen at your practice. Make it easy to use your services, present an authentic, down-to-earth manner, and show your appreciation. Consider these simple gestures:

> Greet clients when they arrive.

> Check back with clients who have to wait in your lobby.

> Thank clients and tell them you hope to see them again.

> Don't forget to say goodbye.

Dr. Landorf's practice hires independent contractors to survey area veterinary practices and get an idea of the fees other practices charge in his area. They also call Dr. Landorf's practice to assess client service.

"It gives us an idea of how our receptionists are doing," he says. "Are they estimating appropriately? Are they offering to schedule an appointment and send a brochure? It's really eye-opening. Sometimes you think you're doing well, but you find out that even after all of the training you've done, you still have areas in which you can improve."

In terms of offering high-quality customer service, Dr. Landorf says he wants each of his team members to do three things for each client who walks in the door:

> Know the name of the client and the pet who is visiting. "This is the most important thing we can do," he says. "Clients need to feel like we know that they're coming and we know who they are. It sets the tone for the whole visit."

> Listen to the client's concerns. "We need to take a deep breath before we step into the exam room and make sure we're not hurried," Dr. Landorf says.

> At the end of the appointment, ask clients if you've addressed all of their concerns. "It's important for clients to know that they're important to us," he says.

3. Provide analogies to show your value

When clients make comments like, "That sounds really expensive," or, "Wow, that's a lot of money," offer a reference point for comparison. For example, you might say, "Isn't it amazing what things cost today? Last week I went to the grocery and spent $150, and I'll have to go again next week. The good news is, you covered Eddie's core health needs today and won't need to come back for six months, unless he gets sick."

When clients complain about the cost of diagnostic tests, Dr. Landorf says he often responds this way: "I know it sounds like a lot of money, and these tests can be costly, but we believe they're appropriate right now. This way we can treat the problem instead of guessing, which may save you money in the long run and keep the pet more comfortable."

Dr. Landorf may also explain to clients that some of his practice's fees are higher because of his team's expertise—most of his technicians have received a higher level of training than those at other hospitals.

4. Remember you're not selling to clients—you're educating them

You don't want clients to think of you and your team members as pushy salespeople. And clients don't really want to be sold to either. Bottom line: You're in the education business, not sales. Effectively communicating patients' needs is the secret to success.

Just one little word—"because"—makes a big difference in getting clients to yes. Putting the word "because" at the end of your recommendations forces you to give the reasons why the treatment is necessary for the patient's health and longevity. Clients are less interested in lab tests, blood work, or dentistry procedures, and more interested in the result of these services. By saying something like, "We want to run a complete blood count because it's important to make sure Bella is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia," you'll be able to focus more on the benefits and less on selling services.

At Dr. Landorf's practice, the team uses models and handouts to teach clients about their pet's condition. These include sample dental grades, models of the canine and feline mouth, joint models, ear models, and a video scope that allows doctors to show the pet's ear on a monitor. With the canine and feline mouth models, he says he can show the depth of the root and explain that part of the expense is anesthetizing the pet for oral surgery. He also uses before-and-after pictures of patients with dental or ear problems to show improvement. Before-and-after photos are particularly beneficial in ear cases where the client has been asked to clean the pet's ears. The after shots give you a chance to pat the client on the back, Dr. Landorf says—which may improve compliance with future care recommendations.

5. Ask clients what they want—and listen to their answers

Clients want to know that you're interested in their opinions. So ask. You'll get insights about what you need to do to serve them better. Stop talking and listen to what your clients say about your products, services, and you and your team members. Give the client a voice. Mac Anderson, founder of retailer Successories, puts it this way: "We all want to feel important, and one of the simplest ways to make someone feel important is to sincerely listen to what they have to say."

To garner client feedback, Dr. Landorf surveys clients and uses the answers to improve his services. The surveys ask about team members' friendliness and whether they addressed clients' needs. When he receives surveys with complaints or concerns, his team members follow up with the client and see how they can resolve the issue.

6. Remember that sometimes it's not about the price

When clients complain about the cost of their pet's healthcare or ask for a discount, veterinarians assume it's because the clients think the prices are too high or don't have the money. But often, the clients simply didn't get what they expected for the price they paid. Or they're not able to connect the value they received to the cost they paid. It's important to articulate the real value of the care you provide to reassure these clients.

In Dr. Landorf's surveys, clients sometimes say his fees are expensive but fair. "They were told what the fees would be and they see that the level of customer service they received was appropriate," he says. "So while we may charge more than other practices, we've satisfied their needs, so they felt like it was worth it."

These examples represent some of the ways you can demonstrate the value of your practice's services. But don't stop there—solicit additional ideas from your team members. And tap into your own inner client. You know what makes you happy as a consumer. Encourage client loyalty by treating clients the way you want to be treated. Loyal clients will continue to use your services and buy your products, because they see the value in what you do.

Denise Tumblin, CPA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and president and owner of Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates, in Columbus, Ohio.

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