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Prospering post-pandemic: adapting to today's veterinary clientele


Making the most of social media to improve practice performance

social media / Monster Ztudio / stock.adobe.com

Monster Ztudio / stock.adobe.com

Content submitted by GeniusVets, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner

We're facing some uncertain economic times. It's critical that veterinary practice owners strengthen their businesses now, so they're ready for the future. To accomplish this, it's vital to understand today's pet owners and how they make decisions.

"Veterinary clients have changed. Today's clients find you through your website, social media, Google searches, and reviews—all from their mobile phone," said Michele Drake, DVM, founder of The Drake Center for Veterinary Care and chief veterinary officer of GeniusVets. "This is how the world works now. If you want your practice to grow, you've got to give your online presence the attention it deserves."

Knowing how your target clientele has changed will help your practice reach them—and continue to thrive regardless of what happens in the overall economy.

From pandemic boom to post-pandemic uncertainty

For the last two years, virtually all practices were overwhelmed with new clients, and many struggled to keep up. However, this is rapidly changing as we head into 2023, and many practices are now reaching out to us because they are flat or declining from last year's crazy numbers.

At the same time, we face an uncertain economic climate with inflation, recession fears, and global instability. An economic downturn can put downward pressure on prices, hurting your profitability and making it harder to recruit great doctors and staff. So, your practice needs effective strategies to retain your loyal client base while maintaining strong margins.

Connecting with your clientele

As top companies have proven for many years, having a strong brand and loyal community will help you keep prices up even when competitors cut them without losing clients.

This starts by truly knowing your clients, and clients today are very different than they were when most practice owners left veterinary school! In the past, a practice's signage, or its waiting room, would often be the first impression that new clients have of the practice. Today, that first impression happens online, through reviews, social media, and your practice website.

Here are 3 key ways your practice can adapt to today's veterinary clientele and prepare for success no matter what the next few years may bring.

Adaptation #1: Give pet owners the information they're seeking

Pet owners in the digital age have unprecedented access to information about their pets' health. With a few clicks of the mouse, pet owners can find some sort of answer about practically any aspect of their pet's care. Sadly, the quality of the information served up by "Doctor Google" is inconsistent at best.

GeniusVets studies have consistently shown that pet owners actually prefer information provided by their local veterinarian over random blogs or eCommerce sites that push products. Google's algorithm has actually been updated to favor content from credentialed experts like you. However, in order for Google to display that information and for your clients to find it, the information needs to be on your website.

Many DVMs feel it's too difficult to put out great information online, but the reality is you already spend most of your day informing and educating your clients right in the exam room. This adaptation is about sharing that same knowledge and passion for veterinary care through your online channels.

What to do:

  • Create high-quality, informative pages about each service you offer in your practice.
  • Include a video of you and your team explaining these services and real photos of your team members caring for pets.
  • Post this information to your website.
  • Link to these pages from your social media profiles and posts.
  • Make sure your website is up-to-date and optimized for mobile devices, as most consumers search for information on their phones first.

It doesn't have to take a huge amount of time. Even if all you can do is shoot one video a week or write one service page a month, if you keep at it consistently, you'll build a really informative and effective website over time. Your site will attract high-quality clients as well as potential recruits.

Adaptation #2: Make online reviews a priority

Today, an amazing 97% of consumers now read reviews before contacting a local service business. This means that if your practice doesn't have a great online reputation, you're missing out on a huge number of potential clients or new employees. A strong review profile builds trust and encourages clients to contact your practice. Concentrating on Google, Yelp, and Facebook, as these are the most important for reaching veterinary clients.

There are 3 main factors that your clients are looking for when it comes to reviews:

  1. Star rating: Most DVMs have fairly good star ratings. The most trusted rating is 4.8 stars, as 5.0 stars are seen as "fake." You're in great shape if you're at 4.5-4.8 stars. If you're below 4 stars, your reviews are seriously hurting your business, and you need to take action immediately, as described below.
  2. Number of reviews: Once they see you have a good rating, clients will decide how much to trust that rating based on the number of reviews. Having 500-1,000 reviews (or even more) will enormously increase trust. If you're below 100 reviews on each major platform, make that your first priority.
  3. Quality of responses for both positive and negative reviews: Everyone knows that some veterinary clients are crazy. So it's okay if you have some negative reviews. What makes the difference is that potential clients see how you respond to those negative reviews, showing compassion and a sincere interest in taking care of that client. But don't go on and on; If you've taken responsibility, and offered to solve the problem, and a crazy client keeps blowing you up, just ignore it because they look crazy to everyone else, too. Also, don't neglect to thank clients for their positive reviews. Say something specific about how you enjoyed serving them and caring for their pets. It’s good manners, and it shows that you value your clients.

What to do:

Consistently encourage your clients to review your practice:

  • Have a small sign at your front desk with a QR code link to "check-in" on Yelp and to review your practice on Google or Facebook.
  • Train your staff to ensure every happy client is kindly asked to provide a review twice during their visit—once after their pet is complete with treatment and again as they leave.
  • Set up your reminder software or practice management system to send review reminders to happy clients after their visit.
  • Respond to all reviews promptly. It's best to check daily. You can get software that will help you monitor reviews from multiple platforms, making it easier to keep up.

In today's digital age, reviews have a huge power to shape people's behavior. Having a strong reputation is especially important for veterinarians because your clients' trust is everything. Effectively managing and controlling negative reviews can help establish a reliable, trustworthy brand, which is invaluable for any veterinarian's business.

Adaptation #3: Be where your clients are—on social media

When selecting a new veterinarian, social networks are quite influential in the decision-making process. In addition, referrals from existing clients are hugely important, and having a strong social media community around your practice is essential in driving those referrals today.

As a veterinarian, you have a unique opportunity to leverage social media's power to meet your local clients' needs in the best possible way. People love animals on social media, so you have a head start over other professions. Show off the quality of care you provide while highlighting any services you offer that set you apart from other practices and any special promotions you offer. Engaging directly with interested users can build relationships and foster loyalty. Connecting with clients on social media is integral to customer service in today's digital economy.

What to do:

  • Ensure you have profiles on the most important social networking sites for DVMs: Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. There are many more sites, of course, but these are the ones we find are delivering the best results for DVMs today.
  • Keep your profiles alive by posting daily if at all possible. Consider using a social scheduling tool to help you plan out posts in advance.
  • Wondering what to post? A few of the most effective things we see today are photo contests, live educational videos, and interactive questions.
  • When you get replies to your posts, make sure you respond quickly! This helps you develop a community around your practice, and all these interactions will cause your content to be seen by not only your fans but their friends and family as well, an amazing way to create digital word of mouth that will draw more people to your practice.

Build a bridge to your future

There will always be peaks and valleys in the economy. Smart business owners know that the best thing to do is to build a bridge from one peak to the next, so they don't ever have to "climb out of the valley."

In terms of today’s practice environment, this means taking advantage of all the growth we've had to invest in communications strategies that will help us continue expanding even if the broader economy struggles.

We've found that many practice owners simply aren't brave enough, or confident enough, to operate this way. We know many will respond with fear and will pull back if they see their numbers slipping. While this is unfortunate for those practices, it will create tremendous opportunities for intelligent and committed practice owners who can continue growing as others contract.

Most of the strategies outlined in this article are relatively simple, and honestly, they're not big secrets. These are standard best practices that high-quality businesses have been doing for many years, but sadly, these practices are significantly under-represented in the veterinary industry. This is a golden opportunity for your practice. Put a little energy into adapting your practice to the behavior of today's clientele, and you'll be rewarded with improved business performance in the months and years to come.

Harley Orion has spent over a decade developing powerful web strategies as a principal at two fast-growing digital agencies. His clients have included national brands, international non-profits, and local businesses. Sites developed by his teams have been featured in industry innovation showcases. He is a frequent speaker on business strategy, marketing, and web development best practices on behalf of Fortune brands and leading associations in the vetmed space.

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