Unless youre psychic, youll need to ask what your clients want
Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.
The notion that excellent veterinary care is enough to attract and keep clients and set you apart from other practices is outdated. The new differentiator is client experience, and knowing what your clients want will require research.
If this is your current approach to client experience, please keep reading. (Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock.com)The beginning of a new year doesn't just give us an excuse to celebrate (although I hope you did). It provides us with an opportunity to pause and think about how to improve on the successes and failures of the previous 365 days. While there are many aspects of veterinary practice that are worthy of evaluation, one that is becoming increasingly important is how well a practice knows and meets the needs of its clients.
In the past, businesses only needed to focus on three things: providing a great product, pricing the product fairly and competitively, and marketing the product to an already interested customer base. In veterinary medicine, this formula has led to increasingly sophisticated care across the field, which has no doubt benefited clients and patients. At the same time, it also means there's a good chance you're now searching for a way to differentiate your practice from other high-quality practices that are, for the most part, just like yours.
Become client centric
The best way to determine how to differentiate yourself is to go to your target (i.e., your clients). In other words, flip the formula. Start with learning what your clients want and need instead of hoping you'll find ones that want what you have.
To become client centric, you need to first think about how well you know your clients. I'm not asking how much you think you know about your clients. I'm asking how much you factually know about the people you serve. This requires research. You can't know what your clients want if you don't ask, and there are many ways to ask.
Let's get social for a second…
Another way to become more client centric is to meet them where they already spend hours and hours a day: social media. Even if you currently use social media, odds are you can do better. Consider adding social media questions to your client centric research, and dig around for what you need in dvm360's social media toolkit, which includes articles tips, handouts, videos and tools that are designed to facilitate practice-client engagement online. If you're interested in making videos, here are three easy ideas for getting started on YouTube.
Surveys: Surveys can be delivered to clients by email, snail mail or phone. Much like collecting a medical history, ask open-ended questions. To further emphasize that you are interested in clients' opinions and not just statistics, you could refer to the survey as a “questionnaire” instead. (Editor's note: Bookmark this page on avoiding beginning-level survey mistakes, and get your creative juices flowing with this sample client visit survey.)
Focus groups: Focus groups are time-consuming and expensive, but they can be well worth the trouble if you hire a professional consultant to conduct the group and interpret the results. Consider inviting your “C” clients instead of the best of the best. You'll want to learn why they aren't at least “B” clients. (Editor's note: Want to try a focus group of your own? Here are seven tips for conducting a focus group with actionable feedback.)
Personal interviews: Plan a five-to-seven-minute chat with a client in the exam room or invite them to take part in a telephone interview with you personally. You already have the attention of a client who wants your services, so take advantage of the opportunity to learn about their unmet wants. Rather than asking how great your practice is, find out what would make your client's experience better. (Editor's note: Sprinkle those client service questions in with these great phone call followups from the late great practice management guru Bob Levoy, and make sure you're following up on these three types of visits every time.)
Observe: Pay attention to your clients' habits and behaviors inside your clinic. What is their relationship like with the staff? Do they interact better with certain staff members or veterinarians? How do they respond to various situations? Although these observations are still going through your personal filter, they can be useful in getting to know your patients better. We're often too focused on our job to notice such details. (Editor's note: Could your and your team members' first impressions use a tuneup? Read this.)
In an increasingly crowded market, it's important to home in on what your customers want and need in order to differentiate yourself from the masses. The idea that quality or even excellent patient care and traditional services are sufficient is changing. The only real differentiator is client experience, and it will be crucial for your entire team to adopt a client-centric mindset to truly set yourself apart.
Dr. Michael Paul is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.