Internal marketing: the key to keeping clients where they belong-in your practice! (Proceedings)


We're sure by now many of you have mastered certain techniques aimed at attracting new clients into your offices.

We're sure by now many of you have mastered certain techniques aimed at attracting new clients into your offices. However, due to our current economic trends and an extremely competitive marketplace, these new clients are unfortunately not tearing our doors down. Furthermore, during lean times clients seem to be even more demanding, possibly because they know they may have the upper hand. Because of this, it has become painfully evident to us that we must develop strategies geared at nurturing all of our new and existing client base. After all, what is the point of spending time, effort, and energy trying to attract new clients to your practice if you haven't developed methods to keep them there? We feel that this "Internal Marketing" is the key to staying afloat in the future!

When looking to start a business, realtors and consultants will tell you that the 3 most important considerations are "location, location, and location!" We feel that the 3 most important components to attracting and maintaining a client base is "service, service, and service." Killing 'em with kindness is certainly okay but killing 'em with service is even better. Certainly we don't mean to underplay the import of quality medical care, but we hope it is a given that this is something all of you are already providing. The truth is that most clients don't really know how to measure or recognize quality care as long as they see results, but service is something they can definitely measure and seem to respond to.

Here are some of the sure-fired methods which have proven so successful for us in keeping our clients loyal and happy.

1) Ask your clients what they want!

It's often difficult to provide clients with a service if you're not sure exactly what service they'd like to be offered. There may be certain services you are currently not providing to your clients that they may want, such as early drop-offs, late pick-ups, a system for hassle free prescription refills, a particular product, etc. You may never find this out if you don't ask. Provide questionnaires to your clients for comments, suggestions, criticisms and recommendations. Also have meetings with your staff and make sure they understand that you need their help in gathering client feedback. Often a client will make a passing comment to one of your staff members, so make sure your staff members report back to you!

Oh yes, one more thing–it doesn't help to collect these comments if you don't act upon them. Clients want to know that their voices are being heard.

2) Show your clients that you care

Don't be afraid to display affection to your patients. This seems to be very difficult for many veterinarians and quite frankly we don't understand why. It really shouldn't be that difficult for an animal lover to pick up a small dog or cat and hold it or give it a hug, or to kneel down and play or rough-house with a large dog. One thing for sure is that clients love to see their veterinarian hug, kiss, or play with their pets. News of this type of behavior definitely travels quickly through your client's circle of friends.

3) Call backs

If you, your associates or your staff members are currently not making these, you are missing the boat. There is little more appreciated by a client to show that you truly care than a phone call from you or a staff member checking up on their pet. We try to call back every surgical, major medical and dermatological case, and all new clients within 1 week after being seen or released. If your client is not home, leave a message for them, or better yet, leave it for their pet. Our clients really appreciate these phone calls. Try it–you'll be amazed at the feedback you get.

4) Correspondence

Internal marketing is everything!Communicating with your clients means educating your clients. You want them to become information dependant! Once educated, your clients will be more apt to respond to the special programs you may design in the future. Correspondence may be in the form of a personal letter, monthly newsletters, postcard mailers, over the counter fliers, or give-aways. Whichever marketing plan you choose, the goal is to keep your clients informed about up to date trends in veterinary medicine, and changes or additions to your practice and staff, such as any new diagnostic equipment you may have purchased or new personnel you may have hired. Did you know that most clients have no idea that veterinarians use the same dental equipment as their own dentists? When communicating with your clients, always try to maintain a "one big happy family" atmosphere. You'd like to be treated like a member of their extended family. Remember, clients look to their veterinarian just like parents look to their pediatrician!

5) We can't all have a house-call practice, so it's therefore very important to always "be available."

If you offer emergency service, great, but if you don't, at least be available to your clients in their time of need. Make arrangements with a local emergency facility that will work with you and will make sure you get your case back in the morning. Have the emergency report immediately faxed to your office so that you can promptly attend to your client's pet upon its arrival. Even if the pet doesn't need any further medical attention, still have the emergency report faxed to your office so that you can call your client ASAP to discuss the condition of their pet. Remember, clients appreciate the attention you give to their "children." Availability also means promptly returning your clients' phone calls. Any delays may send the wrong signal that you are either too busy for them or that their pet is not a high priority. Create a daily phone log so that if your day is hectic you can have your receptionist or technician call your clients to inform them that you will personally call them later in the day. This will send your clients the message that you are on the ball and that you truly are concerned about them and their pets.

6) Custom-tailored target marketing

As we mentioned earlier, try to stay aware of your clients' demands for various services. This information will prove invaluable when creating a strong detailed internal marketing plan. Based on your clients' feedback, programs such as dental, grooming and bathing, or deworming specials can be implemented. For example, in September we created the B,B, & B, or Bath, Brush and Back to School special. In September, as most schools are getting back in session, and the weather is cooling down, we seem to experience a quiet time, so we created our B,B, & B special to combat this quiet period. With a creative postcard mailing which we began about a month earlier, we targeted patients ranging from 5 to 10 years of age. We offered a free bath with every dental prophy and polish. The response to our special was overwhelming, as we averaged 7 prophy and polish procedures per day during the month of September. Actually, we were forced to extend the special into the second week of October. The results of our special left us with a remarkable revenue increase through pre-anesthetic lab tests, dental prophies, extractions, and other ancillary procedures such as ear cleanings, growth removals, vaccinations, etc. Everybody "won" with this promotion–our patients, our clients, and our hospital. Also, keep an eye out for what might be happening in your town as far as holidays and monthly events. Try to tie-in some sort of special or promotion to these celebrated events. Some examples might be a grooming special on Valentine's Day to keep your patients "Lovingly Cute", or a boarding special over the Christmas Holiday.

Lastly, everyone loves receiving birthday cards! Not only should you be sending your patients a birthday card and sometimes even a gift, but you can impress the heck out of your clients by sending them a card on their birthday–from their pet(s)!

We are sure that for some of you just getting started in this area, all of this may sound great, but is rather overwhelming. This type of intensive marketing doesn't come easy, or cheap. It is however, very efficient and effective. If you are the creative type, you need to sit down and devote some time to gather some client feedback, come up with some ideas, then plan your marketing strategy. Though your first project need not be very elaborate, expensive, or time consuming, it should always remain focussed and look professional. A simple postcard mailer offering some special or educational message, possibly tied in to a calendar event or something going on in your community might be the ticket. Other than the computer time, postage, and some staff time bundling and mailing the postcards, this effort shouldn't set you back very much either. If you are like one of us (JIW) and only partially creative, or like many others who don't have a creative bone in their bodies, then you may need to enlist the help of a marketing specialist to help you develop and implement you marketing plan. These professionals are usually available to consult on a per project basis, and need not be hired full-time. Fortunately, the other one of us (SLM) has such a background and actually consults with other veterinarians on this subject, which has made it relatively easy for us. Don't sell your staff short though! You might have some extremely talented and creative people under your employ who can write well, draw well, develop catchy slogans, and come up with phenomenal marketing and promotional ideas, while others who might be able to stuff a mean envelope or be very quick at sealing and stamping four-thousand mailers (especially for a nice incentive!) Except for some large scale printing, rarely have we had to look beyond our office for help to get the job done.

Hopefully, you now understand a little bit more about this fascinating form of marketing. Next time you sit down to plan your budgets, ease up a little bit on your Yellow Page ads, your print ads, or your direct mail campaigns, and plan to spend a little more on the marketing which will bring you an even greater return on your dollar—Internal Marketing!

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