Market Watch: What do you want from me?


Try these 11 tips to ensure your practice is exceptional.

Ask a group of veterinarians if they provide above-average care, and invariably they will all respond with an emphatic "Yes." Some years ago, though, I read an article that pointed out the obvious: By definition, half of all professionals are below average in their fields—that means even veterinarians. Recently, I have argued this point with well-educated, business-savvy friends who cannot seem to grasp the concept. Everybody wants to think they're above average just as they want to think that the professionals they choose to do business with are also above average. But how do you really know?

Michael Paul, DVM

Our expertise as practitioners is medical, so we are generally pretty good at evaluating other medical professionals from a medical viewpoint. However, when you move outside of your professional sphere, how do you evaluate other service providers such as accountants or attorneys or even your auto mechanic?

Sure, positive results are part of the equation. But far greater than 50 percent of our patients get better in spite of us. So that isn't necessarily how people evaluate one veterinarian compared with another one. What they can and do evaluate is their own personal experience based on the sense of caring, service and interpersonal relations present in your clinic.

Genuine compassion, friendliness, warmth—all of these are key factors that clients can judge. Have you ever had a great meal served by a bad waiter? Ever had a car properly repaired only to find muddy footprints on your floor mats? A single such experience may not drive you away, but let it happen two or three times, and you'll be looking for a new place to spend your money.

So, let's assume that you provide high-quality medical care. What can you do to tip the scales and take your service from above average to exceptional? Here are 11 ideas that could help.

1 Take pride in your hospital. Is the facility clean, contemporary and well-staffed? Is the support staff well-informed and well-groomed? Walk in your own front door now and then, and see what your clients see.

2 Remember first impressions. Proper telephone etiquette has been preached by client service experts for years. Yet I still hear phones answered as "Veterinary office ... hold, please." Call a few hospitals including your own, and see what a new client hears.

3 Be approachable. Greet clients with a smile. Say "Good morning, Mrs. Smith. I'm Sally, Dr. Jones' assistant," or "Hi, Mrs. Smith. I'm Dr. Jones." If you're like me, you can use your first name: "I'm Mike Paul." Call yourself whatever you want, but introduce yourself.

4 Reach out. I learned years ago to touch people—a welcoming handshake, a supportive hand on a shoulder and, on occasion, even a hug. Find your own personal comfort level so it's natural, and then practice.

5 Make and reconnect with eye contact. As my old friend Don Dooley used to say, "Veterinary medicine is an interaction that occurs at a distance of about 18 inches." You're asking people to trust you and to spend money with you. For heaven's sake, look at them.

6 Interact with the pet. Don't just perform a thorough physical exam. Greet the pet by name. Talk to the pet. It puts the pet and client at ease and demonstrates your connection in a way the client can see. Have you ever been to a physician who just sat across the room and asked questions? I have—once and only once.

7 Know your clients. Make a point to know whose kids are leaving for college, whose spouse has been ill. Ask clients about their travels, and tell them about yours. Put reminders in the chart. Create a connection.

8 Stay up-to-date. Be current in your medical offerings and honest and frank about a pet's health and care. Remember, the chances are pretty good that your clients know how to Google and probably already have.

9 Respect clients' decisions and their right to say no. Increasingly, clients are obtaining drugs and products from nonhospital sources. We all shop online and visit big-box stores.

10 Think value-added. A free nail trim or ear cleaning adds more value than you can charge for it. Have you ever eaten at a great restaurant—not a good restaurant, but a GRAND restaurant? How much do you think those tiny precursors to the meal or those tiny cookies as you sip coffee cost them? Then think what they added to your experience.

11 Always end each office call with a question: "Is there anything else you want to discuss?"

These small steps can go a long way toward helping clients bond to you and your practice, and provide them with the one thing they can and will evaluate—their personal experience that day at your hospital.

Dr. Paul is a veterinary consultant as well as a founding member and former executive director/CEO of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. He has served as president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He now lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.

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