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Give your veterinary clients pickles
No, not really. But pickles have helped me understand a facet of customer service that applies perfectly to veterinary clinics.
Photo: Shutterstock.com Pickles. I love pickles. Dill, sour, my aunt's open crock or kosher, sweet gherkins or bread-and-butter. Heck, I've even been known to relish, well, relish! I've canned many a jar of the brine-soaked splendors (which were not bad, if I do say so myself), and my pantry and refrigerator are to pickles what Jerry Seinfeld's cupboard was to breakfast cereal. A ham sandwich without pickles is nothing but a piece of meat on bread.
Applying pickles to business
Pickles are a big part of my life. And the other day, while reading about consumer expectations, satisfaction and loyalty, I came across a story about Bob Ferrell, a motivational speaker with a penchant for pickles. He's best known for saying, “Give 'em the pickle!” (and authoring a book titled the same). The idea is about going the extra mile to make customers happy, or at the very least putting your own personal touch on your customer service that sets you apart from your competition. Ferrell says when you're not sure what to do when something happens with a customer, “give em' the pickle” and do what it takes to make things right.
Just the night before, my wife and I had eaten dinner at Sand Bar, our favorite beach diner. Tourist season had just ended, hurricane season was building up, and almost every restaurant had temporarily closed while restaurant owners and staff took their vacations. That night we went for a pulled pork sandwich. When it was delivered, on the edge of my plate sat something unexpected: a dish of “Bubbie's bread-and-butter chips.” The best pickles I'd ever had!
It was a perfect example of the fact that the little surprises you provide-the new pickles on the plate you serve-do matter. I'd been satisfied with coleslaw in the past. I didn't expect those pickles, although I sure will next season. They were something extra and pleasantly unexpected, and they had me looking forward to my next visit. A salty, delicious example of the fact that small things matter.
To put it in a different perspective, a really good bowl of vanilla ice cream is still a bowl of ice cream. Perhaps tasty, but not very memorable. Imagine what you could add to the bowl to make it better. No, not a pickle, but a homemade cookie, a biscotti, a piece of exotic fruit or a fancy chocolate would make that vanilla ice cream special. With a bit of effort, it becomes a standout dessert.
Customer satisfaction is not enough
A satisfied customer is just a starting point. Most customers and clients expect pretty much the same things: quality, honesty, fair prices, courtesy and results. They expect good advice, good care, current information and efficiency. Provide all of that and you might get a second opportunity. Fail to meet basic expectations and you definitely won't. In this day of instant communication and endless choices, falling short in any way reduces you to just another one of the options. How well you exceed expectations will be the single-most important factor to that customer when “next time” rolls around.
So how do you keep the pickles coming? Excel in meeting customer expectations and then go one step beyond-every interaction, every time. The first sale is the easiest because you're on top of your game; you and your staff are a new experience for a new customer. In other words, you have pockets full of pickles and they're all unexpected. But the unexpected can fast become expected, and you must constantly be raising the bar.
Of course, you don't own a beach diner. So how does this apply to serving your veterinary clients? How can you provide that something extra at your practice? Learn to be a “pickle pusher.” Provide text updates and appointment reminders. Give your clinic space for refreshments. Offer entertainment for non-fur babies. Deliver the service requested. Provide what you promised, but make it the best veterinary experience that client has ever had. Know your pet owners' expectations and go beyond them. Make doing business with you a pleasant, unexpected experience.
Work hard to make every customer not just satisfied but loyal. Strive to be your clients' hero and have a personal relationship with them. Encourage your staff to look for ideas they can use to add value for clients. Constantly ask, “Now that we have provided care and service, what else can we do to make every interaction stand out?”
Most importantly, see to it that every customer gets a pickle.
Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.