Dr. Werber has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 30 years, serves on the advisory board of Veterinary Economics, and often represents the veterinary profession in the media. He owns and operates Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles, CA, an award winning AAHA accredited practice.
Many of you have mastered certain techniques aimed at attracting clients into your offices. However, due to current economic trends and an extremely competitive marketplace, new clients are unfortunately not tearing our doors down. During lean times clients seem to be even more demanding. Therefore, we must develop strategies geared at nurturing all of our new and existing client base. What is the point of spending time, effort, and energy trying to attract new clients if you haven't developed methods to keep them there? We need to realize that though our professors and mentors would like us to think otherwise, veterinary medicine is not a "one size fits all" profession.
What makes us "good" is utilizing information from our histories and physical examinations, deciding on a sound diagnostics plan, and selecting an appropriate treatment plan to successfully help our patients. What makes us "great" is the ability to select those plans even when we don't have the luxury of performing all of the appropriate diagnostics our profession dictates. I've often said that I am not impressed by the doctor who can run every test in the book and give me the right answer - I am, however, impressed by the doctor who can't run every test, but still gives me the right answer! With economic hardships and client financial constraints seemingly the rule, and not the exception, an individual approach to case management is the key to our success. We need to customize our approach to our cases to meet our clients' financial limitations.
We feel that the 3 most important components to attracting and maintaining a client base is "service, service, and service." And, giving your clients the opportunity to provide the best possible care for their precious pets is the ultimate! Certainly we don't mean to underplay the import of quality medical care, but the truth is that most clients don't really know how to measure or recognize quality care as long as they see results, but service and fairness is something they can definitely measure and seem to respond to.
Here are some of the sure-fired, successful methods to keep clients loyal and happy, and many of these have little or nothing to do with the actual veterinary care you provide!
1. Ask your clients what they want! It's often difficult to provide clients with a service if you're not sure exactly what service they'd like to be offered. They may want: early drop-offs, late pick-ups, a system for hassle free prescription refills, a particular product, etc. You may never find this out if you don't ask. Provide questionnaires for comments, suggestions, criticisms and recommendations. Often a client will make a passing comment to one of your staff members, so make sure your staff members report back to you!
Oh yes, one more thing - it doesn't help to collect these comments if you don't act upon them. Clients want to know that their voices are being heard.
2. Show your clients that you care. Don't be afraid to display affection to your patients. It really shouldn't be that difficult for an animal lover to pick up a small dog or cat and hold it or give it a hug, or to kneel down and play or rough-house with a large dog. Clients love to see their veterinarian hug, kiss, or play with their pets. News of this type of behavior definitely travels quickly through your client's circle of friends.
3. Call backs: There is little more appreciated by a client to show that you truly care than a phone call from you or a staff member checking up on their pet. If your client is not home, leave a message, or better yet, leave it for their pet. Our clients really appreciate these phone calls. Try it - you'll be amazed at the feedback you get.
4. Correspondence: Effective communication is of utmost importance! Communicating with your clients means educating them. Once educated, your clients will be more apt to respond to the special programs you may design in the future. Correspondence may be in the form of a personal letter or e-mail, monthly online newsletters, postcard mailers, over the counter fliers, or giveaways. Whichever you choose, the goal is to keep your clients informed about trends in veterinary medicine, and changes or additions to your practice and staff.
5. Be available. If you offer emergency services, great, but if you don't, at least be available to your clients in their time of need. Make arrangements with a local emergency facility that will work with you. Availability also means promptly returning your clients' phone calls. Any delays may send the wrong signal that you are either too busy for them or that their pet is not a high priority. This will send your clients the message that you are on the ball and that you truly are concerned about them and their pets.
6. The recent economic recession has definitely taken its toll on veterinary care. Even the most affluent client seems to be more discerning with regards to their pet's care. More clients are now reviewing estimates with extreme precision, and many are electing to split up procedures rather than taking care of everything "today!" We need to be very careful about how we "sell" our services, and what we promote as essential care. Let's not send mixed messages to our clients! We shouldn't promote a test or procedure as essential, if we are too quick to skip it once we find out a client has financial limitations. We need to understand that we all don't drive Bentleys or Porsches because we can't afford them. But, we do drive - we've actually found our "Chevrolets," cars that we can afford, and will get us to work and around town. Our clients are no different! They all can't afford the "Rolls Royce" or the "Bentley's" of veterinary care that we would love to offer. Our jobs and responsibilities, if we are really good and want our clients to love us and stay loyal, is to find out what the best care possible we can provide that can still fit our client's budgets. Not all of our clients can afford the "best," but should never leave your offices in tears, because they couldn't afford to take care of their pets. Our jobs are simply to "make it work!" Doing so will bring tremendous satisfaction to your clients and create amazing loyalty. Word will get around.
7. Custom-tailored target marketing: As we mentioned earlier, try to stay aware of your clients' demands for various services. This information will prove invaluable when creating a strong detailed internal marketing plan. Based on your clients' feedback, programs such as dental, grooming and bathing, or deworming specials can be implemented. For example, in September we created the B, B, & B, or Bath, Brush, and Back to School special. We offered a free bath with every dental prophy and polish. The response to our special was overwhelming, as we averaged 7 prophy and polish procedures per day during the month of September. The results of our special left us with a remarkable revenue increase through pre-anesthetic lab tests, dental prophies, extractions, and other ancillary procedures such as ear cleanings, growth removals, vaccinations, etc. Everybody "won" with this promotion - our patients, our clients, and our hospital. Try to tie-in some sort of special or promotion to celebrated events and holidays. Some examples might be a grooming special on Valentine's Day to keep your patients "Lovingly Cute", or a boarding special over the Christmas Holiday.
Lastly, everyone loves receiving birthday cards! Not only should you be sending your patients birthday cards, but you can impress the heck out of your clients by sending them a card on their birthday - from their pet(s)!
We are sure that for some of you these case management, marketing and client/patient care strategies may sound great, but are rather overwhelming. These marketing and possible necessary adjustments in care may not be cheap, but will be very effective. Actual marketing projects need not be very elaborate, expensive, or time consuming, but they should always remain focused and look professional. You may want to enlist the help of a marketing specialist to help you develop and implement you marketing plan. These professionals are usually available to consult on a per project basis, and need not be hired full-time. You might have some extremely talented and creative people under your employ who can write well, draw well, develop catchy slogans, and come up with phenomenal marketing and promotional ideas. With regards to fees, service/treatment plans, and payments, be flexible. Turning potential business away may not be to your best interest. There are a number of solutions available to keep your clients, and your practice managers and accountants, satisfied. Remain thoughtful and caring, and be creative if needed!