Unless you are the owner of a specialty practice or the practice manager, it is usually hard to get others in the practice excited about marketing. They much prefer to get excited about cases, not marketing to get cases. Which begs the question: How do you build a customer-centric culture in a specialty hospital and make marketing everybody's job?
Isn't Marketing Everyone's Job?
When it comes to marketing, we usually think of internal marketing and client contacts that happen in the hospital or on the telephone. The reality is that the most effective marketing is internal marketing or "client service" and it is played out in one-on-one interactions with clients and referring veterinarians (rDVMs). These human connections are powerful! They create deep, enduring impressions about the practice that no amount of advertising can match. This is what makes doctors and support staff members your number one marketing asset. Doesn't it make sense to invest time and attention to ensure that they have the training and tools they need to be effective marketing ambassadors for you?
Good marketing starts with the job description: How can you hire the right people or hold them accountable for marketing and client service if it isn't even mentioned in the job description?
Have you ever asked the people in your practice whose job client service is? If you do, you will inevitable hear the pat reply, "Client service is everybody's job." Why is it then, that client service responsibilities usually only show up on the receptionists' job descriptions? If client service is everybody's job, why isn't it on everybody's job description?
Here's a quick self-assessment to test your awareness of client service opportunities for the veterinary team and to get your thinking started about what client service responsibilities could be included in different job descriptions. (A few sample client service responsibilities are shown in the Assessment below.)
Can you add one more client service or marketing responsibility to each of these positions?
Specialist--timely communication on cases with rDVMs and clients; unfailing shows respect to rDVMs in person and in front of others; is attentive to the concerns and needs of clients and rDVMs, and ___________.
Technician--follows-through and follows up with clients and rDVMs to enhance case communications; makes sure that clients go home with everything they need to care for their pets; makes follow-up telephone calls to clients to see how the pets are doing at home, and ___________.
Veterinary Assistant--always shows gentleness in handling patients, always asks the clients' permission before taking their pets from them, and ___________.
Practice Manager--sets up customer service training programs for all hospital team members; includes client service responsibilities on all job descriptions; includes client service as part of all employees' performance review criteria and ____________.
Receptionist--answers the telephone by third ring; makes appointments; lets clients know they are checking for them when their waits run longer than 15 minutes; answers routine client questions, and ______________.
Scoring: If you struggled to fill in the blanks, or cannot think of an answer for one of the above, you would probably benefit from client service training. If you found it easy to complete the blanks, you have an eye for good client service and you probably work well with most rDVMs and clients.
It's Not What You Do, It Is How You Do It
According to a study done by a team of marketing experts at the Mayo Clinic, the one thing that had the major influence on patients' satisfaction with practice was their interactions with the people at the Mayo Clinic. In fact, patients and their accompanying families judged doctors and all other staff members on specific, non-medical criteria. This is what they said shaped their judgment about the care they received.
They said they wanted:
To be treated humanely, with care and compassion
To be seen as person and not as a "case"
To be respected, listened to, not talked at
Their doctors to be confident, not arrogant
Clear explanations and instructions they could understand
To feel like they were partners in their own care
Veterinary specialty practices have many of the same challenges as the Mayo Clinic and it is most likely that veterinary specialty practices could borrow ideas from the Mayo marketing study and apply them to their own hospitals. Certainly the physical environment counts and the Mayo Clinic paid a lot of attention to design elements as part of their overall marketing plan. For instance, one of the things that the study showed was that patients don't come to the Mayo Clinic unless they have a serious problem. Their anxiety level in this unfamiliar place is always high. It is the same when clients bring their pets to you.
The Mayo Clinic decided to address client anxiety by using soft colors, beautiful artwork and indoor greenery in open reception areas that include intimate seating clusters. They know that patients rarely come alone to the Mayo Clinic and their seating is designed to provide comfort by making it easy for patients and their families to sit together.
Mayo staff members are always dressed in fresh clean, uniform scrubs in coordinated colors because the appearance of staff members builds patients' confidence in them and in the hospital. Above all, there is someone at the front desk to offer a warm reassuring smile and welcome patients and others to the practice. How could you use this information to create a calming, soothing environment at your practice and help offset client anxieties?
The Mayo marketing study shows that patients came to them because they want a cure. Surprisingly, even when this was not possible, people still said good things about the Mayo Clinic if they felt they were treated well and that the people really cared about them and tried their best. Patients and their family felt that way when they had positive interactions with the doctors and staff at the hospital. Mayo developed training programs around the criteria that clients said mattered (see list above) and spent time and effort training their doctors and staff members on sensitivity and communication skills so that they could build satisfying relationships with their patients. How could you use this information to improve training for your doctors and staff members on client communication?
Build a Better Plan--Do Something Different!
My hope is that you will carefully select from the ideas you've heard today those that will most help you accomplish your marketing goals; that you feel you have a solid basis for assessing your marketing plan, and can make smarter choices for your practice, but don't stop there! To get ahead, challenge yourself and your team to build a culture of customer service that will create outside buzz and inside team pride!
If you simply do what everyone else does, you appear ordinary and just like everyone else. You need to do something different: the idea is to zig when everyone else zags. For instance, if other specialty practices are providing large scale programs for rDVMs, focus on doing small, informal programs that encourage interaction and build relationships and referrals. If other specialty hospitals are providing CE programs only for rDVMs, why not provide CE for technicians? Use your own technicians to teach part of the course so that they, too, will have an opportunity to build relationships with referring hospitals.
To stay in touch with your customers, why not create an rDVM Advisory Board to help you understand their wants and needs? Why not create a nurse-liaison position to improve service and trouble shoot and smooth rDVM and client problem areas? Why not create a public event that celebrates patients, clients, rDVMs and specialists to raise community awareness about veterinary specialty care? Anything is possible when marketing is everyone's job!
To make marketing everyone's job, include marketing and client service responsibilities in all job descriptions, make marketing and client service a priority in your practice, support your team with training, and try new ideas to stay ahead.