Retrain yourself to think veterinary client retention

Article

Acquiring new clients is a necessity when growing your veterinary practice, but don't overlook the importance of keeping the clients you already have.

So you've attracted a new client. Good for you! Clearly you're doing something right, because in this age of consumerism, competition for clients and a near glut of service providers makes attracting new customers to any business a challenge. Once you have that new client comes the real challenge—retaining the new customer and converting him or her to a loyal client.

Volumes have been written and countless presentations delivered on this subject. Clearly without new customers, no business can prosper. But sometimes in our pursuit of new clients we forget that client retention is even more crucial.

The costs of losing, replacing and bringing an employee or associate up to speed are well understood. But the real cost impact of losing a client is often unappreciated. The cost of developing a new client to the same level of profitability as a lost client is very high. It can be 10 times more costly to get a new client than it would be to retain an existing one. Increasing customer retention by a mere 5 percent increases profits by at least 25 percent. A 2 percent increase in customer retention can equate to decreasing costs by 10 percent.

Why customers leave

To understand how we can better retain clients, it's important to understand why any customer leaves. While it would seem obvious that providing quality medical care should be enough to attract and retain clients, to borrow from Porgy and Bess, "It ain't necessarily so."

In earlier conversations, we discussed the fact that most clients cannot evaluate medical care. After all, they're not trained in veterinary medicine and they assume a certain level of parity among veterinarians. However, they can easily judge their experience—how they were communicated with, how they were treated and how they felt about the overall experience. Provide good patient care and they will likely return to do business with you—until you disappoint them just once. Then people will tell them what a great experience they had at their vet, and they may well go elsewhere. Provide poor service and a poor client experience, and I can assure you the best medical care you can offer won't convert them to loyal clients. But provide an excellent customer experience and the assumed quality care, and they will certainly be back and refer other customers to you.

In a recent blog by David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of Search Rank, titled "When customers stick: Customer retention by the numbers," it was reported that 82 percent of consumers stopped doing business with a company because of a perception of poor service. The primary poor service experience reported was a rude staff member, followed by an unknowledgeable or poorly trained staff member. More than 75 percent of customers canceled a transaction because of a poor service experience, and 66 percent of customers left a business because they did not like the way they were treated. Remember: Clients leave for a reason and dissatisfied clients are far more likely to share their experience than satisfied ones.

Why customers stay

So that's why they leave. Now why do they stay? The first reason is a knowledgeable, friendly customer service staff person. Clients also want a personalized interaction—for example, they want someone who introduces herself and addresses clients and pets by name. They want readily available information they can rely on, and they want products they can trust. They want to be respected and to be involved in medical care decisions.

It's true that not every client experience will go well—a letter or telephone complaint or a social media posting about a bad experience is bound to come across your desk once in a while. And every complaint deserves a response. But hopefully your clients will tell you about a problem before they leave the practice. In fact, more than 90 percent of customers would return and give a business a second chance if they simply received an apology for a bad experience.

It pays to keep clients

There are so many things working against us as a profession: increased competition, diverse service providers vying for client dollars, a difficult economy and the unresolved concern about declining interaction opportunities with clients. Most of those things are beyond our control and are likely part of tomorrow's reality. The costs of care are rising rapidly and we're all in competition for client spending.

As options for clients grow seemingly exponentially, retaining existing clients becomes necessary for any healthy business—even more so than attracting new customers. Wallace says 85 percent of retained clients are willing to pay more for great service and value—it's important to them. In fact, 27 percent of them are willing to pay 10 percent more. Plus, repeat customers spend 65 percent more a year than new clients and have a larger average transaction.

So provide the quality care you can take pride in, but don't forget to provide a superior client experience to every client—at every chance you get. Keep them coming back.

For a more detailed discussion of the data described in this article head over to customersthatstick.com.

Dr. Michael Paul, @mikepauldvm on Twitter, is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.

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