They may smile and nod while visiting your practice, but what really goes on in your clients' minds? Find out with client questionnaires, Internet ratings, and mystery shoppers.
Your practice is doing great. Income has increased in the last year, you've seen a spike in new clients, and average revenue per client is up. With careful planning, you've managed to thrive during tough times. But while these factors are indicators of your practice's financial success, there's an important question you should be asking yourself: How do your clients feel?
Successful businesses understand that surveying clients is an important step to find out how your practice is doing and how you could improve your services. Here are a few methods for successfully soliciting client feedback—and tips on what to do with it.
If you want to know how your clients think you're doing, the best thing to do is ask them. Send a client questionnaire to all new clients, either through the mail or electronically. Your questionnaire should be one page max and be set up in a "check the box" or "fill in the blank" format. Most likely, a large enough percentage of clients will return the questionnaires that you won't need to provide an incentive such as a credit to their account or a free product or service. Here are a few tips for different types of client questionnaires:
Hard copy questionnaires. If you send a survey to clients through the mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. You'll likely see a 40 percent to 60 percent response rate. Make the questionnaire anonymous but give clients the option to provide their name. Some practices print the client number on the form so they know who it's coming from.
You can also color-code the sheets to a specific person in the practice whom clients have worked with—for example, send blue sheets to clients who worked with a certain receptionist and green sheets to clients who worked with a certain technician.
Electronic questionnaires. Several companies can e-mail out client questionnaires by mining the information in your veterinary software—sending a survey to each new client, for example. Additionally, you could survey every client you see during a specific day or week, or all clients who interact with a specific receptionist, technician, or doctor. Because these surveys are sent by e-mail, they're economical and easy to manage.
Online review sites like CitySearch and Yelp give clients—and sometimes employees—the opportunity to rate your practice. These ratings aren't verified for accuracy and can be detrimental to your practice. Make it a habit to search the Internet routinely for any negative reviews, and seek to get them removed. (See "Don't let bad Internet reviews bite" at dvm360.com or in the April 2008 issue of Veterinary Economics for more.)
But you can also use the Web to your advantage. Ask satisfied clients to review your practice if they've had a positive experience. Provide them with a card listing the top Web sites. You could even set up a computer in your reception area for clients to post reviews immediately.
A mystery shopper is someone you've asked or hired to come into your practice for an outpatient office visit just like a normal client would. The difference is that this person evaluates every aspect of the visit and reports back to the practice owner or the practice manager. You could recruit a team member from a nearby veterinary hospital to perform a mystery shop, then allow one of your team members to do the same for that practice. Professional agencies can provide mystery shoppers, or you could ask a friend or family member (someone who's not well known by your employees) to come in for a visit.
Mystery shopping can also be conducted over the telephone. Have a friend or family member call the practice and inquire about a particular service. My consultant team does this regularly—we have phone scripts we use to call practices before consulting visits. The results are amazing—and varied. Some practices do a great job—others not so good. We were once put on hold for 14 minutes, then for an additional six minutes! Other times a team member has tried to "telephone diagnose" or failed to suggest an appointment with a doctor.
Evaluate your telephone communication on an ongoing basis by placing a voice-activated recorder on the phone lines for an hour a day or by hiring an outside agency to do this for you. Either way, team members and clients should always be informed that you might be recording their conversation.
So you've sent client questionnaires, searched for online ratings about your practice, and conducted a mystery shop. Now what? This is where the fun begins. Let's say you get back a client questionnaire that raves about your practice and your receptionist Susan. Share the results at your next team meeting. You could even give Susan a prize, such as a gift certificate. Once you start praising team members like this, you'll find that they work even harder to provide excellent customer service and to be acknowledged.
If you receive a negative client response, investigate. Don't automatically assume the information is accurate. Talk to the employee involved and anyone else who might be privy to the situation. If you find the complaint is valid, take corrective measures. You'll find that in many cases, the problem has resulted from poor training or ineffective communication. It's much better to find out sooner rather than later and fix the problem.
You can act like an ostrich and stick your head in the sand while negative client feedback continues to bury your practice. But every successful business keeps an ear to the ground and continually evaluates its customer service. How is your practice doing? A better question: How do your clients really feel about your practice? It's time to find out. ?
Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman, CVPM, owns VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Opperman will speak on a host of topics ranging from inventory control to financial management at CVC Kansas City Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. For more information, visit TheCVC.com.