Focus on the future: Comfort for clients
Long-time dvm360 magazine and Firstline contributor Kyle Palmer, CVT, is hospital manager for VCA Salem in Salem, Oregon, as well as a practice management consultant for a number of other hospitals.
Do you feel it? The age of client service is hereand it's here to stay. Here are the six steps this veterinary practice took that lead to a record-breaking year.
For many veterinary practices, the economic recovery is well on its way, though one consequence of that dark period may well be here to stay. The practices that successfully weathered the downturn learned quickly that they needed to be client focused immediately-and recognized this need just might be permanent (it is).
The next chapter of the “good old days” is officially over. Clients will no longer bond to your practice just because they know you, or because you have their records, or just because you've always been their veterinarian.
Getty ImagesWhen times were tough and money was tight, they discovered the choice of how and where to spend their pet care dollars gave them a fair amount of power in the marketplace. They looked for better fees, the ability to schedule sooner and the flexibility to be seen when their schedule allowed, not when yours did. They're not going back.
The good news (and there is some)
I'm fortunate to work at a practice where we had some ideas in the pipeline that not only satisfied our goals of constantly improving our level of service, they also focused on the client experience. By embracing a number of changes at our practice, we experienced a recordbreaking year in 2015 and expect that 2016 will continue that trend. What changes did we make?
1. We added a veterinarian
Last year, in response to steady growth and our desire to further dilute the rotation of our after-hours schedule, we added a fifth veterinarian to the team. When we did this, we realized that another exam room would be necessary, though our facility had few options for expansion in that area.
Getty Images2. And then we created a cat-only space
We ended up framing in a slightly smaller than normal room behind our reception area and quickly decided to designate it as a cat-only space. We installed solid core doors and packed the walls with insulation to create an area immune to the common sound of dogs in the building.
We put in cat-specific artwork, bought some cat toys that could be used in the room and kept catnip at the ready.
No dog has entered the room. Ever.
We've experienced an overwhelming response from clients. They often think their cats aren't as important to dogs in the veterinary field, and the idea that we'd invest specifically in cats has paid dividends for us.
Kyle Palmer, CVT3. We transformed our 'last resort' exam room into a comfort room
Since we built our facility 16 years ago, we've always had one exam room that our team members seemed to only use as a last resort because:
… It was further away from the central part of our building and, because of a remodel several years ago, required our team members to either access it from the waiting area just like clients, or to walk through our back kennel area to get there.
And … it was our largest exam room, so it often doubled as a quick place to meet with pharmaceutical reps or the “home base” of our annual summer camp for children.
So … although the idea wasn't new among our team, our associate veterinarians finally convinced the practice owner to let us turn it into a comfort room. (Check out the steps to transform this room here.)
Getty Images4. We opened the door to alternative euthanasia spaces
With increasing frequency, we perform euthanasia during a home visit. Of those who come to the clinic, many ask to have the service performed in their car. Many clients are resistant to the idea of their pet's final moments occurring in a place that was probably never high on their visit list.
This summer, we will debut an outside exam/euthanasia space that combines great on-site care with a nicely landscaped, private outdoor setting. It will be located adjacent to our building in an area that's easily accessible with a vehicle to allow the client to leave after the visit without drawing attention from the parking lot or those inside.
We are taking a previously dull-looking area of landscape and adding a gazebo-style roof, 4-foot-high walls and as much attractive landscape screening as possible.
The inside will include two benches, many flowers and a small area of grass or hearty ground covering. There will be a 360-degree open space from the top of the walls to the beginning of the roof that will be at least 6 feet, allowing the sun to keep the plants healthy and allowing the outside atmosphere to still play a role.
Logistically, it's a way for us to add another exam room despite the fact that our inside facility just doesn't allow it. Creatively, it's a way for us to solve one problem while adding to our growing list of ways that we cater to the clients who want something unique and special.
Getty Images5. We've evolved our client communication
In addition to the physical improvements, we launched a client communication tool almost a year ago that's been very popular. We now contract with a company that manages email and text communication with our clients who opt in.
Every client with an email address on file receives a welcome letter and is asked to take a moment to register their preferences for communication with our clinic: email, text, mail reminders and phone calls. The program syncs with our veterinary management software throughout the day and sends reminders to our clients for their patient's upcoming needs, and reminders of appointments already scheduled.
It's cut down our number of “no shows” dramatically.
People are on the go. They want quick, short and convenient communication. I understand their needs because I share them. On the surface, this program is another client focus too: making something they were already doing more convenient. Fortunately, the benefits don't end there.
After every visit, clients receive a “thank you” email, and in that email (as well as in every other communication with the client), there is a button to select the option to leave a review. The reviews are sent to us and become visible to anyone accessing the system, which is available through our Facebook page, through our website or through our Google+ page.
Not only are the reviews overwhelmingly positive and a great motivator for new clients trying to make their choice for pet care, they are also a nice staff tool, helping our team see on a daily basis how they're serving clients.
Finally, if a client does choose to leave a review, they receive a follow-up email thanking them for the review and asking if they'd like to take a moment to leave a Google review using a one-click process.
To date, we have amassed many online reviews, which helps rank our clinic much higher in terms of online searches. It's been an incredible program that we also credit partially with our upswing in business.
Getty Images6. We've focused on wellness
After months of discussion, we recently launched our preventive care plans. Designed to provide a high level of annual care including vaccines, deworming, fecal exams, blood work and more, the plans are also a great budgeting tool for clients.
We hear from clients in their 20s that having a pet in the family is important, but not always affordable. With our plans, we can offer all of the best care in a reasonable monthly payment plan. While our clients are happy, our veterinarians are happy with this change too. They now have one more tool to reach clients and patients with the care they deserve.
In short, simply opening the door wherever you hang your shingle is no longer good enough. Clients need-and now feel empowered to demand-something more from the team members who provide their veterinary care. They want to feel important, they want their pet's needs to be important, and they want their services delivered conveniently. It's time to see what you can do to make this an opportunity instead of an obstacle.
Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon.