Take extra steps to leave clients saying, "Wow!"
Shocked. That's how our client's friend felt. She just couldn't believe how awake her dog was after a dental cleaning. Or that we performed the preanesthetic lab work the morning of the procedure. Or that we could e-mail a video on toothbrushing from a device in the exam room right to the client's inbox. That friend of a client, of course, became a client.
Puppy love: Dr. Fred Metzger encourages clients to call him "Dr. Fred," and greets them warmly as soon as he enters the exam room. Clients in the exam rooms also enjoy the touchscreen devices (above left) that e-mail information to them about pet health topics. Photo by Vista Pro Studios.
Those are the clients I want. They like the high-quality medicine my team and I practice, and I can charge them appropriately. That way I can afford to buy advanced technology, invest in the staff, and donate to the community.
To charge what my services are worth, my team and I knock my clients' socks off with high levels of service and medical care. If you want to wow your clients, try making these changes in front-office manners, technology, doctors' attitudes, diagnostic explanations, and client communication.
If prospective clients aren't thrilled early, they won't make a second appointment, especially if your practice is the higher-quality, higher-priced one in the area. You need to set your hospital apart to earn the loyalty of these all-important new clients. They're your future. Failure to attract and retain clients will damage your income, morale, and practice value.
The encounters with clients before they ever set foot in your clinic begin with word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients or from advertising outlets such as your signage, Web site, or phone book ad. After hearing warm words from current clients or eyeing your ad or sign, potential clients call or e-mail your practice. That's when the work really begins.
Think about this: Do your receptionists smile when they talk on the phone? Or do they sound rushed and irritated? People can tell, you know. My practice, like everyone else's, experiences chaotic, stressful days when smiling on the phone is tough. Well, too bad! If clients aren't treated graciously on the phone and made to feel like a priority, they'll go somewhere else. Rude receptionists will cost your practice more clients than rude doctors—and, what's worse, you'll never even know it. At least clients frustrated with a doctor tend to call and complain, which is an opportunity to smooth things over.
Receptionists deliver new clients to your practice by being friendly and knowledgeable, and making appointments a snap. Your front office team is your most important tool for marketing and exceptional client service.
At Metzger Animal Hospital we use an interactive video device to welcome clients in the exam room. Clients enter information about their pets using a touchscreen, then view customized videos featuring illustrations of their pet's anatomy, parasite life cycles, and other subjects. Clients can even e-mail instructional videos to themselves on how to trim their pets' nails, give pills, and more. After clients spend a few minutes watching these videos, one of our technicians enters the exam room to greet the client and obtain the pet's history. The technician also assesses the pet's vaccination risk and reviews flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. To save money, you could place your monitor or device in the waiting area.
Our practice went paperless in April 2008, so our exam rooms have computers, which clients think is cool. Technicians and doctors enter patient information into electronic records and display digital radiographs and other images such as cytologic and dental exam findings. Few clients see such modern technology in their own physicians' and dentists' offices.
To showcase your credentials and compassion before you enter the exam room, hang your diplomas, specialty certificates, and personal touches such as family photos. Be sure your Web site and brochures include your photo, tell your story, and list your interests. Clients gain insight into who you are from these small touches. For example, I'm a drummer, and many clients find it interesting and think it's cool that their veterinarian is in a local band.
Bedside manner starts with the first meeting. When you walk into the exam room, be sure to say hi to the client, then immediately greet your patient. Use everybody's names. I'm comfortable telling clients, "I'm Dr. Metzger, but call me Fred." This lets them know I'm accessible.
I also take time to talk to clients about their pets and their lives. That's why many of them ask so many good questions and make so many good observations—they feel like Dr. Fred is their new friend. And I am! I find clients fascinating. They make my workday more interesting and help my practice grow. You see, I want to be impressed, too.
I have a special interest in clinical pathology because I know testing saves lives. Our practice mandates preanesthetic testing for all patients and drug monitoring for pets receiving long-term medications. We run a successful senior testing program. And my passion for doing these diagnostics in-clinic continues to grow. When clients' four-legged family members are ill, they need help now. The power of now is wow.
There are so many important diagnostic tools available for veterinary practitioners today: in-clinic hematology, biochemical profiling, electrolytes, urinalysis, coagulation testing, blood gases, cytologic examination, and tests that screen for endocrine diseases are just a few. My clients love that they get their pets' results fast, and the quick turnaround leads to better client communication.
Performing lab work during the same office visit helps you remember the client's name and the patient's history. And timely results allow you to immediately ask more case-specific historical questions or get more details from a quick follow-up physical exam. In my practice, in-clinic testing lets me provide answers and communicate value during appointments. It's no wonder I have so many clients who feel like we're friends. In my book you can't have too many clients—or too many friends.
For me, in-clinic test results are analogous to the broken car part. Here's what I mean: When I pick up my car from the mechanic, I want to see the broken part. Even though I know nothing about cars, I want to see where my money went. A patient's test results are the broken car part of your hospital—something you can hand clients to show them what they're paying for and educate them about their pet's condition. Always copy results for clients and write notes on the printout so they can share it with other family members at home. By the way, an important nonmedical advantage of in-clinic testing is that results are available before clients pay the bill, not the next day.
Like test results, patient report cards also communicate the value of the visit and reinforce your recommendations. First, they remind the doctor to check all organ systems in a systematic manner. Second, they show the pet owner what you've checked and provide educational opportunities as you discuss your findings. And finally, they are a tangible written description you can send home—the broken car part again.
Our software generates a report card for each patient. These cards look professional and increase compliance because owners can easily read and understand them. You can use handwritten report cards, but I think they lack the pizzazz of computer-generated reports with clearly legible type and patient photos.
Show clients the value of their dollars with in-clinic testing. I try to end every visit with computer-generated report cards and tailored at-home instructions, summaries, and recommendations. Be sure to get to know clients and their pets—remember their names. Don't let your clients go home without a wow.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Fred Metzger, DABVP, owns Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.