Experiences That Lead to Lifelong Care

February 14, 2018
Carolyn C. Shadle, PhD

John L. Meyer, PhD

Creating lifelong relationships with clients goes beyond providing good medical care. Your veterinary practice must deliver an experience that exceeds expectations.

The goal of a veterinary practice is to retain clients for the life of their pets. While many practices can provide good medical care, the challenge is to attract repeat clients by giving them an experience that is beyond the ordinary.

Offering Comfort

Some of the most memorable client experiences occur during times of stress. One example is the “comfort room” created by the Metzger Animal Hospital. Located in a secluded part of the hospital, the room offers relaxing music, soft lighting, a coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave, snacks, reading material, a leather couch and a TV. It also happens to have an outside door, allowing clients to make a quick exit if they become too emotional. It’s particularly ideal for clients who have traveled to visit the hospital or who have a long wait during surgery or CT scans, as well as for those experiencing grief related to euthanasia.

Going Above and Beyond

Other memorable experiences involve veterinarians going beyond the call of duty. For example, Wendy Hauser, DVM recalled when a first-time client brought in her sick dog. The owner thought her dog had eaten something bad, but Dr. Hauser found that the dog had a bleeding tumor and recommended euthanasia. “It was a horrible first meeting,” Dr. Hauser recalled. Knowing how distraught the woman was, Dr. Hauser offered to drive her home. On the way, they talked and Dr. Hauser showed compassion. That conversation continued when the woman brought in her new dog, beginning a new long-term relationship that has been going strong ever since.

Lenore Ringler of San Diego, California loves to tell her friends about the time she left her cat with a pet boarder while she left for a safari trip to South Africa. The cat became sick during Ringler’s absence and was handed over to a veterinarian, who watched the cat’s health deteriorate despite receiving good care. The veterinarian tracked down Ringler’s travel itinerary and made two phone calls to South Africa with medical reports. To this day, Ringler will only take her cats that very caring veterinarian.


  • Mastering the Art of Customer Service
  • Are You Doing Enough to Retain Current Clients?

Correcting Mistakes

Some memorable experiences for clients occur when someone at the practice has made a mistake and then corrects it. A great inspiration for that kind of thinking is “Setting the Table by restaurateur and hospitality guru Danny Meyer. Meyer points out that mistakes and accidents happen in any business, but you want to leave your client with the memory of a repair — a good experience (which they can share with others) rather than a negative one.

Some veterinary practices have followed that line of thinking. For example, a staff member at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital discovered during an end of the day assessment that the wrong drug dose had been given to a client’s cat, based on a mistaken entry into the computer. When the mistake was discovered, the veterinarian drove to the client’s home, examined the cat and delivered the proper medications. Relieved, the veterinarian and pet owner are now great friends and the story of such conscientious care has been repeated often.

Being Human

A Wall Street Journal Online and Harris Interactive health-care poll found that 85 percent of respondents regard a doctor who listens, treats clients with dignity and respect, and takes concerns seriously as extremely important. Only 58 percent regarded the doctor’s medical knowledge as most important. Although the poll was asking about human health care, the attitudes of patients can be extrapolated to veterinary clients. Clients often take your medical expertise for granted. You win them as lifelong customers by providing an experience that shows concern for their needs.

To create experiences that lead to lifelong care, gather your team and work together to:

  • Create memorable experiences.
  • Let your clients know that if you make mistakes, you will go the extra mile to undo errors.
  • Show clients that you care.

Dr. Shadle earned her PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo in interpersonal and organizational communication. Dr. Meyer earned his PhD from the University of Minnesota in communication studies and speech arts. They write and train through Interpersonal Communication Services, Inc. They have trained veterinary professionals at numerous national and international conferences.