Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM
Ill go for, "a brilliance of practice managers," especially when it comes to their answers to my questions about whether it's worth the money to hire companies to manage my practice website, my practice social media, my client reminders and my e-newsletters.
Members of the Orange County Veterinary Managers Group (OCVMG), women and men with management knowledge, experience and octane-packed drive, have assembled to help me understand their interest in third-party, communication companies. Their endorsement for the work these companies do is best summed up by one of the OCVMG founding members: “I don't even think about it anymore. I can't imagine doing what I do without a Vetstreet, DemandForce or Petly. They're indispensible.”
Dee Allen, Sara Botts, Leslie Boudreau, Andrea Crabtree, Karen Kaufman, Ben Spinks, Melissa Tompkins and Grace Ursery are all outspoken, confident practice managers-excellent examples of how our industry's investment in management leadership has paid off. They've agreed to talk to me about how they're using communication companies to reach clients and grow their businesses, to help them email or mail reminders, confirm appointments, “awaken” inactive clients, manage their online reputation and more. This is a group that's ready for the toughest you've got to throw at them, so I start right in.
“You keep telling me that these companies are so wonderful. How do you know?”
Andrea Crabtree“Because I review the online reports,” says Crabtree. “The change in our Google reviews alone … ”
Allen pipes up: “Yes! At our hospital we went from six Google reviews to 20 in four months. That makes a direct impact on search engine ranks and how our practice appears to existing and new clients. I absolutely credit our communication company for doing that. That's not something I would have been able to do on my own. I wouldn't have known where to start.”
“And you wouldn't have had the time,” adds Spinks, a manager who regularly configures communication solutions for veterinary hospitals. “As hospital managers, most of us are struggling to keep our heads above water with our current stack of duties.”
Tompkins picks up the thread. “The reportage that these companies provide these days is mind blowing: data on your clients, when they called, what age they are, what gender they are.
Melissa Tompkins"You can follow the effects of each ad campaign: how many clicks each ad got, how many phone calls the ads generated and even the dollar revenue that each client brought to the practice.”
“And if your reps are anything like mine,” Crabtree adds, “they review that reportage with you, make suggestions on how to improve and even help you create additional superior campaigns.”
Up to this point, Boudreau has been silent. I'm taking her silence as an indicator that her outlook isn't as sunny as the others. I ask her if I'm right.
“On the contrary,” Boudreau says. “I'm very confident about the work my communication company helps me achieve, but I'll add one thing that I haven't yet heard voiced.
Leslie Boudreau“Before I spend any money on bringing clients into my practice, I make sure that my team is prepared to provide an excellent customer service experience.”
“A plan for what happens after the campaign,” Spinks says.
“Precisely,” Boudreau says. “When you send out a reminder card, an email, place an ad, or push to have your practice rank higher in searches, it should be done in the context of a plan of what you want to happen thereafter.”
Spinks clarifies: “Are you trying to get the phone to ring? Do you want new clients? Do you want to sell more Bravecto or Revolution? If so, who will answer the phone? Who will greet the new client at the door? Are these people primed to make a favorable impact? Heaven forbid you spend all this money to grow your practice and then provide the client with a lousy experience. That means you spent money to go in the opposite direction!”
Boudreau nods. “Before I reached out to my communication company for help, I worked with my front office staff o make sure they were ready for the business. We wrote scripts; we practiced; we discussed. We talked about closing or how to turn calls into appointments. Ultimately, that's your goal. Yes, it's great to get the phone to ring, but you have to know what to do with those bells.”
After a pause, Ursery redirects the conversation. It's not just about keeping up with the day-to-day, she explains-it's about staying competitive with what's coming around the corner. For example, let's say you're still managing your reminders or doing your own confirmation calls. That's great, but what about online visibility? What about newsletters and assistance with making your website mobile-responsive?
Grace Ursery Competitive practices realize that client communication responsibilities are ongoing and should be responsive to the habits and needs of clients, Ursery says.
“The ability to wake up inactive clients,” Botts says.
“What's that?” I ask.
“That's great,” Tompkins says. “These companies can look in your software and find clients who've been inactive for 18 months or more, send them an e-blast and encourage them to return to your practice. The email can include an offer or not and typically ‘wakes up' 5 percent or more of your clients. You do nothing. It costs you nothing. And it could mean thousands of dollars of additional revenue for your practice.”
Allen follows Tompkins with her own thoughts on e-blasts:
Dee Allen“That's something that has been particularly effective at our practice. Imagine the ability to target any subset of client or patient … to write ads that speak specifically to them that address the specific needs of their pets.”
“That includes pictures of their pets!” Botts says.
“Yes,” Crabtree says. “Some of these companies can customize each card with the picture of the pet for whom the card is intended.”
“Who throws that card out? Who trashes that email?” Kaufman asks. “You write an ad that's specific to what the client needs or what the pet needs and you slap a picture of the pet itself on the email. That's advertising that gets read!”
It's only been 15 minutes, but this group has me convinced that a partnership with some kind of a communication company is a requirement of doing business.
“So, how do I pick the company that's right for me?” I ask. “There seem to be so many options.”
“Well that's a big question,” says Spinks. “But start out by interviewing them. Come right out and ask, ‘Are you available to help me understand what I need to do to be successful? Will you work with me to improve? Will you help me promote my business? Will you walk me through how to handle bad reviews?'”
“All that?” I ask.
“Sure!” says Spinks. “Why not? That's what you need done if you're going to be successful, and these people need you to be successful. That's how they build their own businesses.”
“Do you folks have a feel for what the future looks like?” I ask.
“SMS text messaging,” Spinks says. “A number of companies have technology that allows clients to text the practice on the existing land line. Team members can grab access to the texts on any phone or device in the practice.
Ben Spinks“The future is where we'll be able to text message with existing and new clients in real time and have that communication upload into the electronic medical record is nearly upon us.”
“More targeted emails,” Boudreau says. “Advertising to clients with specific needs means you spend less on advertising and get better results.”
“The ability to schedule appointments directly from search engine results or review pages. That's my two cents,” Kaufman says.
Tompkins pipes up: “Whatever it is, it'll be a lot and probably more than you can handle by yourself. Go to CVC, walk through the vendor hall and interview what's available to you. Once you pick a communication partner, make sure you're seeing results. Make sure you're watching and understanding what they're doing for you.”
“And how do I know how to do that?” I ask as everyone rises, gathers their belongings and starts to make their way out.
Sara Botts“Why don't you join our group?” says Botts, grabbing a nacho chip out of the bowl for the ride home and smiling. “We'll learn ya'. We're intense.”
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Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, is a partner with Halow Tassava Consulting and a veteran practice manager with more than 15 years of experience.