Build a better veterinary client survey


Tips and tricks for getting the most out of your practice's survey.






Tell me if this sounds familiar. Business is flat and appointments are down, so somebody at the practice decides to do a client satisfaction survey. Here are survey questions you usually ask: Did the person who answered the phone sound friendly? Was your wait time too long? Did someone review your pet's medication with you and answer all your questions?

The responses come in and the news is good. More than 90 percent of clients surveyed “strongly agreed” in the positive. You guys rock!

Or do you? What about the other 8 percent? The survey responses indicate that one of the respondents was “extremely dissatisfied.” You share the stats with the team at a meeting and someone in the group knows the “crackpot” who gave you the bad marks. This client has been coming to the practice for years and every time she walks in the door, it's with a new complaint. She would gripe if her ice cream were cold. As a group, you agree she's a grump and her responses don't count. Another of the respondents was “dissatisfied” with his wait time and his discharge instructions. Sally at the desk knows exactly who this is. He came last Tuesday when the practice was slammed! He doesn't count either. You're able to explain away each of the remaining bad reviews: Sometimes stuff happens … what are you going to do?

The following weeks' results are similar; most times clients are happy and a few times they're not. The positive comments lend credibility to the notion that you are the best. The negative ones underscore the paradoxes of general practice: If we're here to help our clients whenever they need us, then sometimes our client service will be uneven. You start to sense that the responses from the survey tell you what you already knew-that, for the most part, you're pretty good. However, you still don't know why business is down and you haven't figured out how to take your client care to the next level.

Surveys can be excellent tools, but only if they‘re crafted, administered and evaluated well. Here are some tips I've picked up over the years that help determine whether my surveys are working.

Know exactly what you want to know

Unless you own or work for an extremely large veterinary company, you don't need a survey to tell you that your appointments run overtime, that your team members put clients on hold too often or that sometimes clients are given short shrift. Everybody at your practice knows the solution to these problems. So asking questions like, “Did the client care representative tell you his name?” are neither helpful in qualifying client care nor improving it. In almost all cases, veterinary practices are served best by understanding whether doctors and team members are living up to the hospital's mission goals. Ask yourself what your hospital would look like if 100 percent of your team members bought into your practice's mission. Would clients feel cared for? Would patients feel you loved them like a parent? Would employees cooperate with one another, feel respected and enjoy their work? Client responses to questions like these should be positive irrespective of emergencies, staff shortages or other day-to-day practice problems.

Guess the answers-and your responses to them

A successful survey is part of a plan to understand and improve. This means that you don't just have to understand what you want to measure-you have to know what you want to do with the results. Before you launch the survey, contemplate the kind of responses you might receive and ask yourself what specific actions you would take as leaders to improve the status quo. If answers aren't readily forthcoming, it's necessary to go back to the drawing board and redraft your survey or scrap the idea entirely. And it's not just the management who is important in implementation, to read how team members play a vital part in the process click here

Avoid sloppy errors

No one drafts a perfect set of survey questions the first time. Here are some of the typical problems you may encounter:

> Addressing multiple topics in a single question. Example: “Was the service fast, friendly and helpful?”

> Spelling or grammar errors that interfere with the clarity of the question. Example: “How did you chose this practice?” Oops!

> Asking lengthy and confusing questions. Example: “Everyone at ABC Veterinary understands the importance of both client service and patient care. That's why we became an AAHA-accredited hospital. Do you feel we lived up to your expectations for what an AAHA hospital should be like?”

Additionally, if you use a tool like SurveyMonkey or a widget to run the survey through your website, there are bound to be technical glitches. Before launch, distribute the survey to a sampling of the proposed audience. Get their feedback to make sure that the technical aspects of your survey are operating correctly.

Put the survey on your website

As the saying goes, there's an app for that … or in this case, a widget. Get your web designer to install the survey online so that you can poll your clients through your website. You'll reach a broad group of clients who can then check out more of your online resources, which will, in turn, boost your search engine optimization.

Include followup questions

Too frequently you will receive responses that describe your service as average or lackluster, but you'll have no idea why. Be sure to build space into your survey for clients to explain any less-than-stellar responses so that you have more information to go on to make positive changes.

Act on the results

A million times more important than the survey is the plan for what to do with the answers. Using negative survey answers to underscore your assertions to the team that they provide lousy service is not only the wrong use of a survey, it's a surefire way to incite mutiny. Something constructive must be done with the results, whether it's a review of the answers by the management team, a committee within the practice or the whole team. If no system exists for reviewing the status quo and implementing change, a survey is not the right tool for your practice at this time.

Now, click here for a do-it-yourself survey goal and question builder. Favorable responses to questions designed this way will thoroughly energize your team and provide a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Unfavorable responses, on the other hand, will allow you to take a sobering step toward addressing problems that are mostly likely at the core of your client service woes.

Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Halow Tassava Consulting.

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