Learning from the Best—Lessons from Other Businesses to Transform Your Clinic
Market forces combine to create innovation, which in turn can occasionally lead to a business making such a profound transformation that their business sector is irreversibly changed. Many such examples exist, and in this session I look at some of those that have a particular relevance to the veterinary profession and identify the practical lessons that we can draw from the success of these 21st century market leaders to help us to transform our own veterinary clinics.
What Virgin did well was to make the customer experience whilst using their primary service as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. They identified by speaking to long haul flyers what is was that frustrated them most about flying, and set about designing a service that addressed their needs. They introduced a whole range of service innovations that we take for granted when travelling today, such as limousine service from home to airport, kerbside check in, airport lounges, and on-board entertainment. They have also continued to innovate.
So, it we ask our own clients today, what issues do they have in our clinics today? Clients will tell us that they are often kept waiting on uncomfortable chairs, or that their pet was stressed by the close presence of other species, that they were anxious that their children didn’t touch things, that their phone calls were unanswered, that lab results were not phoned through, etc. What would your clients say, and what could you change in your clinic that would address their concerns.
What Easyjet did well was to improve the utilisation of their key equipment and resources to reduce costs. Veterinary clinics increasingly have to invest in ever more expensive technology in order to provide high quality clinical care, yet much of it sits unused for long periods. When deciding how much to charge for a service we look at the cost of providing that service and this includes amortisation of the capital or leasing costs across each service, such that the more we use an asset the less it costs each time we use it. Underused assets increase the charge we have to make to clients, or if we cannot pass on that cost, they reduce future profits.
So, can we either reorganise the way we use our key assets to get more out of them, such as grouping services into a time slot; or can we market our services in a way that will increase the use of key assets, reducing the cost, such as offering discounts.
What McDonalds did well was to systemise their process to achieve consistency of service at the lowest cost. They did this by breaking the service delivery down into steps and introducing controls such that these steps could be performed by less highly trained staff (chefs) reducing labour costs and training times. In our clinics our most valuable staff members are our veterinary surgeons, yet much of their time is spent on tasks that don’t require their specialist skills. How can we organise ourselves so that vets only do the things that only vets can do! Developing appropriate best practice protocols and procedures will let us identify tasks that can be performed by less qualified staff, and provide the process control to ensure that they are delivered correctly.
What Disney did well was to motivate their “Cast members” to deliver exceptional service to their “Guests” at all times. In fact they went beyond that, they taught their staff how to anticipate their guest’s needs and to provide this, often even before the guest realises their need for themselves. The result is an organisation that delivers service that often delights and surprises guests, and which creates the “Disney Experience”.
How often do our staff fail to anticipate our client’s needs, or worse, are so focused on the needs of the patient that they forget the client altogether? Too often I find reception teams who see their principal role as protecting the vets from the clients, or who provide highly inconsistent service depending on whether or not the client is known to them. All too often this comes about because staff have been poorly trained, and failures are quickly excused and forgotten. Your values should drive your client’s experience and performance should be regularly reviewed and changes made as appropriate.
What GE did well was to recognise the value of people to a knowledge based business. As a result they developed their people management processes to be at the heart of what they do. The first item on any review of the business is the staff. How well do they meet the needs of the business today, how equipped are they to meet the challenges of tomorrow?
They recognise the value of their top people, and also the contribution of the majority, who just do a good job. They also have processes to deal with those who do not come up to standard, or make the changes necessary to adapt as the business develops.
Without even basis staff development tools many practices find that as they evolve they can outgrow long serving staff members, who have not adapted to change. In the majority of cases this is often because the development and support that they needed was not available, but they are now seen as intransigent. Our people development systems don’t need to be sophisticated, but they do need to exist.