Nothing is insignificant


The devil is in the details. So what are your clients noticing about your practice and team members?

Peeling paint, exam rooms that are anything but spotless, and funky hospital smells send a strong signal to discerning clients: management either doesn't notice or doesn't care. In the bigger picture, these problems can lead clients to believe that other aspects of the practice are also neglected. Why? Because people judge the unknown by the known.

Bob Levoy

I've seen this reasoning used by many clients over the years, so I was pleased to discover Michael Levine's new book, Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards (Warner Business, 2006). The "broken windows" to which he refers can be taken literally or as a metaphor for the "little things" that clients invariably notice but practice owners often overlook. The most visible and potentially damaging "broken window" is an employee who's not in tune with the culture of your practice, especially one who has direct contact with clients.

"In business, perception is critical," Levine says. "Make one mistake, have one rude employee let the customer walk away with a negative experience one time, and you are inviting disaster." Levine goes on to say that to fix broken windows, you need an intense interest in all aspects of your business and a singular focus on the smallest detail. Your commitment should go far beyond what most businesspeople believe to be adequate, to a level that some might even consider excessive. And you must communicate that fervor to every single employee. Everyone who works in the practice must be equally single-minded.

This commitment means never discharging a hospitalized pet that hasn't been properly bathed. It means never allowing someone to stay on hold for more than a minute before contact with a real person. It means refusing to keep an employee who doesn't say "please" and "thank you" to every client, no matter what.

Levine's premise is that constant attention to such matters not only demonstrates an organization's competence, it also shows that management cares about the people and pets it serves. "A policy of being considerate and polite to customers is essential, but it's not enough," Levine says. "Those employees who go out of their way to help customers with a problem, who notice the 'regulars' and remember their preferences, but are just as accommodating and helpful to newcomers, are the ones who are going above and beyond. It should be clear that you expect all your employees to go above and beyond, that this is a company policy, not an individual initiative. Set standards and ask employees for suggestions on how to exceed them."

In most cases, there's very little or no cost involved in doing things the right way. "How much does it cost for each employee to smile?" asks Levine. "How much does it cost for an employee to take a sense of responsibility for each problem he or she is presented? If an employee can't smile, even for minimum wage, you have the wrong employee, period."

Become obsessed with your hiring practices. Know ahead of time what kind of person you need, and then take steps to hire someone with the proper knowledge and attitude for the job. Nothing is more important. "An employee who can't do the job properly should be fired," says Levine. "Not warned, not shifted to another position, not admonished. Fired. Fast. Before another customer is spoiled."

Hard-learned lesson: "Nothing is insignificant," says Levine. "There's no such thing in business. If it's wrong, and it can be right, it must be made right."

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is a seminar speaker based in Roslyn, N.Y., who focuses on profitability and practice growth. His newest book is 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2006).

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