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How do you wow 'em?
Treat your clients better than their own doctor does. And keep in mind, it's small investments in service that make the difference.
Just like a maturing romance, the relationship between you and your clients needs to be maintained over time; it takes a bit of effort. And your investment in service matters, whether you're working with old clients or wooing new ones. So consider these strategies to keep your regular clients coming back—and recommending you to their friends.
Connect with the client
Whether you choose e-mail, telephone, or face-to-face communication, give clients the timely, easy-to-understand information they need so they feel comfortable with you, your staff, and any treatment you provide. Newsletters are a great way to communicate to your clients about new hires, happenings, or events at your haul-in practice, or practical information about dentals and radiographs. Post newsletters on your Web site or e-mail the newsletter to your clients to save postage costs.
If you don't want the hassle of creating a regular newsletter, consider posting pertinent information on your Web site and refer clients to it regularly—but be sure to keep the information updated and new. "Most practitioners haven't used the Web to their advantage," says Dr. Keith Wagner owner of Equine Health Solutions in Raymore, Mo. "I think they create a site just to have a Web presence, but they're not using it to cater to clients."
You can also use e-mail to deliver health and news updates to clients. Dr. Emily Williamson, owner of Sixth Day Veterinary Practice in Bargersville, Ind., has her clients' e-mail addresses organized by species, with separate lists for horse, goat, cat, dog owners, and so on. When she reads an online article relating to that species, she'll attach a link in an e-mail to that group list. "I find this more effective than posting articles on the Web," she says. "Clients may miss out on up-to-date information unless I put it directly in their inbox."
However, despite the popularity of the Internet and e-mail, the telephone is not dead. And it's important to recognize some clients might not be as adept with the latest technology. These clients, in particular, appreciate the personal level of communication the telephone provides. Dr. Williamson says a follow-up phone call after surgery to answer any questions puts clients at ease.
Get to know them
Try developing a personal relationship with your clients to really win them over. "The first thing clients want is good medicine," Dr. Wagner says. "But if you offer good medicine and a superficial relationship, they won't want to continue to work with you or the practice."
Get the client to open up and talk—ask them about their pets, children, or hobbies. And make mental notes so at a follow-up appointment you can ask them about how their latest gardening project turned out. "It really impresses clients when you remember personal details about them and their animals," says Patty Ferguson, barn manager at Equine Medical Services in Columbia, Mo.
Handwritten notes are also an effective way to strengthen the bond between you and your clients. For example, you can send clients a card to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries. And send a sympathy card if you've euthanized their horse.
"After I euthanize an animal, I write a note or memory about the animal in a sympathy card and drop it in the mail the next day," Dr. Williamson says. "If I've known the client a long time, I'll even send flowers." Gestures like this let the client know you care.
Work to impress
To deliver a consistent message about your practice and services, also consider these ideas:
• On farm calls, be sure your truck is clean and neat. This lets clients know you're organized and prepared for your appointment with them.
• Make an effort to be at least 10 minutes early, or at the very least, give clients a call if you're going to be late. "It's important to provide quality, on-time service," Dr. Williamson says. "Remember, you can't provide that if you're seeing 50 clients a day."
• Consider uniforms for you and your staff. They can be as simple as t-shirts that have your practice's name and logo on them.
• At a haul-in practice, be sure there's a comfortable place for clients to sit. You could offer complimentary coffee and water. Also make sure the practice is tidy—the grounds well-landscaped, the lawn mowed, and the work space is spotless.
• Honor loyal clients with a special gift around the holidays. "Right after Thanksgiving we surprise our longtime clients by shipping them a wreath," Ferguson says. "We receive many thank-you phone calls in return."
You've heard that it's critical to make a good first impression—but what about each impression you make after that? Going the extra mile will bring you satisfaction, keep your loyal clients loyal, and bring in new clients, too.
The bottom line
If you go the extra mile, you'll develop a loyal client base and see strong practice growth. For example you could:
• Make an effort to arrive 10 minutes early to appointments.
• Follow up after surgeries with a phone call.
• Send a sympathy card after you've euthanized a horse.