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#Daretobedifferent in your veterinary practice
Is what separates you from competitors succinct enough to be a hashtag?
In this column, we have often addressed the fact that the key to building a successful practice or business of any kind relies on being unique. Recently, I have asked a number of veterinarians what makes their practice stand out from all other practices in their community. More often than not, the response was a blank stare followed by statements about quality of care and service.
While these are admirable goals, in this day of consumerism, Internet communications and social media, quality is an expectation, not a differentiation. Unfortunately, clients pay attentiont to service and care only when they're not provided, and dissatisfied customers can turn their disappointment into a detrimental social media hashtag with the speed of a mouse click.
So, how can you effectively differentiate your practice?
First, could you sum up your clinic in an effective hashtag? What differentiator would you want to convey? I'm guessing for many veterinary owners, this might be a difficult exercise. #Qualitycare? Not a differentiator. #Courteousandknowledgeablestaff? A basic expectation. #Welovedogs? Please. We can do better.
Here's some help: Strengths and differentiators should be relevant to the consumer experience-not your ego. We all like to believe it is quality of care and service that keeps clients in our corner, but that merely forms the baseline. Instead, turn your attention to what frustrates them about you or your practice or other practices. Hashtags such as “#welisten” or “#yourtimeisvaluable” might resonate more with clients.
A few short years ago, many veterinarians believed specialization was the answer in becoming "unique." But now, specialists and multispecialty practices are less unique. As strange as it seems, specialization is no longer so special-at least to clients. Advanced training and extra letters don't mean much unless people are aware of what they mean. Primary care veterinarians are still the triage gatekeeper who refers to specialists and provides the majority of day-in, day-out veterinary services.
Real differentiation lies in being special to your clients and relevant to their needs. To the public, we all look pretty much the same. To find out what sets your practice apart or what your clients are seeking, try asking them. No one can better articulate your strengths than they can. Ask:
> Why did you choose our practice?
> Why do you continue to come to our practice?
> How would you describe what's special about our clinic to others?
> Is there anything that frustrates you about our practice?
> What would improve your experience at our practice?
Not surprisingly, most consumer disappointments and frustrations stem from communication issues. Ours is a business that depends on communication and yet we rarely train our staff or ourselves in the most effective techniques. Improving client communication is one of the most visible and least costly things we can do to differentiate our practice. Here are a few more:
> Know the competition. How can you be different from “them” if you don't know who “they” are? Take advantage of their weaknesses.
> Know that size matters. Are you large well-equipped hospital or personalized boutique clinic?
> Physical cleanliness. After all these years this should go without saying, but I have recently been in practices where client areas resemble a garage sale.
> Be unique. Offer services not found at every other clinic such as physical therapy, behavioral training, informed and educated nutrition and parasite counseling, bonded house sitting and pet sitting.
> Boast a niche clientele. Small businesses can focus more narrowly than large companies, appealing to and attracting a particular type of client. Who do you want to attract and why do you do to attract them? For example, are your hours attractive to commuters or could you provide delivery and facilitate transportation? Do you provide “feline friendly” offerings?
> Ring for concierge. Distinguish your self with personalized service and limited in home care.
> Offer flexible financing. Facilitate payment options for clients including insurance, wellness programs and third-party payment plans.
When you focus on what you do better than the competition-and point it out-you differentiate yourself and your business to gain the upper hand and a #pathtosuccess.