What do clients really want? (Proceedings)


People have a hundred decisions to make every day: from what time to get up, the route to take to work, and what they'll focus on for the day to how and where they'll spend their hard-earned money. Many veterinary practice owners assume that clients' buying decisions for veterinary services are fairly logical.

People have a hundred decisions to make every day: from what time to get up, the route to take to work, and what they'll focus on for the day to how and where they'll spend their hard-earned money. Many veterinary practice owners assume that clients' buying decisions for veterinary services are fairly logical. The client adds up the cost and benefits of one practice, compares it to another, and chooses the practice with the better score. However, people don't always make wise and rational decisions based on an analysis of costs and benefits. If clients don't choose a veterinary practice based on objective criteria, how do they choose?

Many veterinary practices think clients are buying expertise, but most clients can't truly evaluate your knowledge or skills. What clients can tell is if the relationship is good and phone calls are returned. In fact, clients are experts at knowing whether or not they feel valued. Owners in Well-Managed PracticesSM tell us that clients most appreciate their quality of care, personalized touch, compassion and friendliness, and convenience. According to this year's study, Well-Managed Practice SM owners, associates, and staff members all agree – better communication strengthens the effectiveness of their teamwork and their ability to enhance the client's perception of value.

Tap into every opportunity to validate clients' decision to spend money in your practice. Be sure they choose you because you've exceeded their expectations every single time. Well-Managed PracticesSM work hard to provide value where clients expect to find it, but especially where they don't expect it. Take a look at Figure 1 for suggestions to enhance your clients' experiences. The following items are just a small sampling of what clients really want from you. Work on these and then graduate to the areas that come up in your conversations with clients.

Figure 1 – Enhance the client experience

Friendliness – Smile! An old proverb says, "Don't open a shop unless you know how to smile." Everyone in your practice can apply this advice. The fastest, cheapest, and best way to market your services is through your employees. Teach your staff members that the practice's success depends on their actions every day in every client and coworker interaction. See Figure 2 for ways to wow clients with your effective team. And keep in mind that you need to walk the talk. Model the behavior you're seeking from your staff, or your words to them will have no impact whatsoever.

Figure 2 – How to improve team effectiveness

A relationship – Become a wholehearted listener. Truly hear what people tell you, both in words and with body language. It's a talent many people don't take the time to develop, but those who do invariably find success, whether in business or relationships. People who learn to listen create rapport that can last a lifetime. The most precious gift you can give to each patient and client is your engaged presence. It simply can't be said enough: You're selling a relationship, not your expertise.

To see a visible purpose – Believe it or not, your clients care about your business. They care about the purpose that drives you to come to work every day. They want to know that you and your staff do what you do because you care about their pets' health. In It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For (Penguin Group, 2009) co-authors Roy M. Spensce, Jr. and Haley Rushing explain that "passion (for work) tends to emerge naturally as a result of giving people something they can believe in." What is it you believe in? Define your purpose, discuss your purpose with your staff, and come up with ways every position can act on that purpose. When your clients see your devotion to their pets, they'll be devoted to your practice.

A good impression – Focus on the little things: curb appeal, the reception area's décor, the appearance, friendliness, and helpfulness of the employees, the presence of odors, and the ease of utilizing your practice. Be sure your practice's appearance is pleasing to the eye and up-to-date, both inside and out. Enhance your curb appeal with a well-maintained, professionally landscaped exterior. Keep the décor current and fresh and use color to communicate a sense of calm, peace, and tranquility. Manage the noise level. When patients and clients visit, let that first impression be one of warmth, love, and compassion.

Simplicity and clarity – Studies show that if you recite a list of four or five items, most people will remember the first and last items only. But you're taught to give clients lots of options. You think that if they have enough choices they're bound to find at least one thing they like. But offering clients a smorgasbord of options actually causes them to spend less. The easiest thing for people to do when they're confused is nothing, so after you say something important, such as your top recommendation for a pet's treatment, repeat it again and again. Clients don't want more to think about, they want less. In our busy, over-communicating, ever-more-complex world, nothing is more powerful than simplicity.

A presence online – You'll rarely hear this from your clients, and you'll never hear this from your potential clients, but absence from the online community will severely impede the cultivation of a relationship with existing and new clients. The phone book is on its way out and Google, Bing, and Yahoo (and the rest of the online search engines) are the preferred methods of research now. Have a website at the very least, and Facebook and Twitter accounts if you're feeling more social. Your existing clients will have one more reason to love your practice, and you'll show potential clients why they should too.

A reason to visit – The more two practices are alike, the more important the differences between them are. Clients often have difficulty identifying significant distinctions between veterinary practices, so give them a reason to come to you. Make every conversation with your clients – and your staff members, for that matter – whether oral or written, in person or over the phone, on your website or Facebook page, about what you can do for them. Clients are often willing to pay more than you would expect if they can justify doing so. They perceive they're getting more – and you must deliver. So find out who your clients are, what they want and need, and what their expectations are. Make it easy for them to use your services.

To have a say – Even your best clients won't tell you what you're doing wrong. But they will talk behind your back. So hire a third party to conduct surveys, or conduct anonymous surveys yourself, to help you learn how to serve your clients better. Client surveys give credibility to your claims about service quality, keep you in contact with your clients, let you learn from your mistakes, help you identify potential problem areas, and tell you what your clients are really buying.

What do your clients really want? Sometimes they're not even sure, but ask them anyway. Listen to your staff members, too. They may have insight into ways to keep your clients bonded to your practice. Define your purpose and then provide excellent service when your clients don't expect it, and you'll have clients for life.

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