Most of us think we provide excellent service to our clients. Sometimes we even get new clients—disgruntled pet owners who are unhappy with other nearby clinics. We start to feel pretty sure of ourselves.
But our confidence is shaken in these financial times. For the past couple of years, many of us have seen fewer of our active clients. When we have seen them, they’ve spent less than they used to. Plus client turnover rates have risen. If we used to lose 20 percent of clients each year, we’ve now started losing up to 35 percent. Revenue has fallen. If we haven’t made plans to react to these changes, our fall from grace has been dramatic.
If this describes your practice, take heart. You can help your practice maintain its current business level, or better yet increase it. How? By making sure clients are happy. Because happy clients spread the good word about your practice and generate the best (and cheapest) marketing you can get. Here are a few of my favorite client service tips to make your practice shine—even above the others in your area.
Low-cost, big-impact service
Celebrate each pet. Send home a treat for the pet—for new clients and existing ones. A toy, a snack, or a bandana puts a smile on the pet parent, and a happy pet parent is a happy client.
Provide a comfort station. Provide treats for clients while they wait. A comfort station with coffee, water, and snacks makes a nice impression and ensures a client’s wait time is more enjoyable.
Treat the kids. Clients often bring children with them in addition to their pets. Take notice of the kids and make them feel special, allowing them to listen to their pet’s heart, for example. Provide toys and some type of treat for them. They may be your next generation of clients.
Conduct follow-up calls. After any appointment—including surgery and dental procedures—call the client to find out how it went and whether he or she has any questions. Make sure to give new clients a hearty welcome. For ongoing medical cases, the doctor should set the interval for the follow-up call to match expected changes in the pet’s condition.
Monitor clients’ wait time
You can keep clients happy with a reasonable wait time. When dealing with emergencies, walk-ins, and extended visits, a veterinary practice can easily get off schedule. Front-desk team members need to stay on top of how long clients have been sitting. This helps veterinarians and technicians prioritize in order to attend to them faster. When someone’s in the waiting area for 30 minutes or more, receptionists must let those in the back know they need to pick up the pace, if possible. Without knowing about the backed-up schedule, veterinarians and technicians may not move as quickly through appointments.
To measure wait time, receptionists should keep a chart of appointment times, actual arrivals, and checkout times. By tracking the numbers, you may discover a chronic time problem that’s driving clients away. If you’re consistently falling behind, you may be understaffed or need longer appointment times.
Regardless of your efforts, your practice may get behind because of the nature of our business. Clients realize this, but you must acknowledge when they wait and keep them informed with updates. In my clinics, if we keep a wellness-care client beyond 45 minutes, we give a “waiting patiently” discount of $5. That’s not a huge chunk of money, but it’s enough to make a huge difference in the client’s attitude because it shows that we respect the client’s time.
Another way to decrease client wait times is to post a sign that reads, “If we have not attended to you in the last 15 minutes, please check with the front desk.” This helps in two ways. First, the client feels more comfortable about approaching us about the time. Second, clients take the initiative during really busy times so we don’t neglect them.
Attract and impress new clients
With great service and medical care, pleased clients will refer neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family, and your number of new clients will go up. These new clients are essential for practice growth and success. Ideally, you’ll see about 25 new clients per doctor every month.
Make sure you show these new clients your commitment to their pets so they’ll become return clients. Try these tips:
Hand out new patient folders. Give a folder to all new clients with information about your clinic and your practice philosophy. Include a few key handouts, but don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Let them know they can use the folder to keep their medical records organized and in one place. Read how one practice uses binders for this at dvm360.com/wellnessbinders. Give a welcome call or send a welcome letter. Bond your new clients by making sure they know they’re special. New clients especially appreciate a call from the manager. This sets the tone that you’re interested in providing good care.
Put up a puppy and kitten bulletin board. Take pictures of all new puppies and kittens and post them on your board in the reception area. Give the photos to your clients on their last puppy or kitten visits.
Track the source of new clients. Once you understand where they’re coming from, your practice can better target its marketing. On every new-client information form, ask how the clients found your office. Typical responses include referral, front sign, yellow pages, and Internet. Use a monthly spreadsheet to plot out the responses. We’ve learned that word-of-mouth and signage are big for us; we get less value from the phone book, mailer coupons, and marketing to new residents. Your results will vary.
Dr. Jeff. Rothstein, MBA, is president of Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals in Michigan.