How broad are your shoulders? - Veterinary Practice
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How broad are your shoulders?

AMY ROOK a Pfizer business consultant, reports on the findings of a recent client satisfaction survey and discusses what practices can do to drive client loyalty

THE latest findings from Pfizer’s Pulse Report indicate that vets are under the impression that they alone must shoulder the burden of maintaining a loyal client base.

Looking at the results of a recent independent online Vet Support+ client satisfaction survey (commissioned by Pfizer) of 2,035 pet owners who have visited a vet in the last 12 months, maybe those shoulders don’t need to be as broad as they might think.

Comparing the perspectives of vets and pet owners helps to demonstrate that, while clinical excellence delivered by the vet will always remain central to the business, the majority of clients don’t need a “super-vet”.

Pet owners are pragmatic: only a fifth (20%) felt it was very important or essential to see their usual vet with the majority (35%) believing this to be a “nice to have”1. More than twice as many vets (42.2%), however, thought seeing the usual vet was key.

In fact, vets felt that the relationship they had with their clients was the most important factor in keeping them at the practice. Pet owners, though, rated this (40%) less important than the quality of medical treatment and care (75%), convenience of the location (48%) and the quality of the advice given and ongoing care (51%).

Stand out

So what does this mean commercially? It demonstrates to me that the committed practice can really stand out on quality of service. To some extent, the best standards of medical treatment or care are surely a given? Your clients are unlikely to bring their pet to the practice if they don’t already believe excellent medical treatment is the order of the day.

Practices must be careful not to confuse a satisfied client with a loyal one. A practice that isn’t meeting a range of client expectations – providing the right level of ongoing advice, addressing client concerns, including them in decisions about their pet, offering value for money and quality of service – might have a satisfied client base, happy with the medical treatment on offer. But a satisfied client does not necessarily mean a loyal one and therefore the practice is at risk of losing such a client should other factors come into play.

Price and convenience are often cited by practices as ongoing challenges when it comes to keeping clients. The reality of a cheaper new practice starting up down the road is less likely to be a threat if you can continue to demonstrate good value for money with a high quality of service.

Unfortunately, there is a big disconnect between clients and practice owners over the perception of value for money, with 85% of vets believing their offer is very good or excellent while only 48% of pet owners agreed.

This alarming difference of opinion is in part an ongoing misconception for the industry as a whole but it does perhaps demonstrate how far the profession still needs to develop to meet the needs of loyal

So, to alleviate the need for endless hours at the gym to broaden those shoulders, what are the options for a practice’s management team to drive client loyalty?

  • Assess how you are currently defining loyalty. Use your practice management system to review your current client base. Could you honestly define any as loyal and, if so, what is it about those relationships and the service they receive from the practice that engenders loyalty? Use this to create your own practice definition of loyalty.

Web-based survey

  • Measure current loyalty levels. Don’t assume you know what your clients think just because they come to you in an emergency. Make use of an in-practice or a web-based survey such as Improvet to understand the client experience from beginning to end. This will enable you to identify areas of weakness and agree strategies to address these problems.
  • Assess current loyalty strategies and determine gaps. An obvious area of review is the front office experience. Clients may spend more time here than in the consult room so it must reflect the same standards and values as those demonstrated during clinical care. Think about the presentation and layout to the welcome and advice offered by the team. It’s essential your team appreciates the role it plays in building client loyalty, simply through interaction with clients. Consider added value services such as offering pet healthcare plans but make sure that clinical excellence is promoted as the key component of the bundle, not the number of flea or worming treatments in a year!
  • Decide most appropriate strategies. Review client comments from your in-practice survey and agree with the entire team what defines a loyal client at your practice and therefore what strategy you should explore. Encourage the team to be part of the planning process and remember that no one size fits all so tailor the strategy specifically for your practice and client needs. At this stage it may be useful to call upon outside expertise to enable you to identify the core areas of focus and agree key performance indicators to achieve your goals.

Allocate a champion

  • Implement ideas. Some of the best strategies can fall at the final, yet most important, hurdle: implementation! Allocate a champion, and set clear objectives to be reached according to an agreed timeline. So much of the loyalty strategy will rely on the engagement of the team, so ensure everybody takes ownership and believes in the plan at the outset. Once agreed, ensure all members receive appropriate and ongoing training. Regular communication from the loyalty front line about how the practice is getting on is essential for team engagement.
  • Measure results and re-evaluate strategies. Within your timeline, factor in regular measurement, not just at the culmination of the project. By maintaining a constant ongoing review and evaluation, you can refine plans should the need arise.

Report back

Again, make sure all successes and failures are reported back to the team. Once the target has been reached, don’t rest on your laurels – explore the next loyalty strategy and build targets.

So, while there’s no doubt in the current economic climate that client loyalty is essential, remember this doesn’t live or die on the relationship with the vet. Instead it can be secured with input and commitment from the entire practice team. That’s surely one weight off a vet’s shoulders?

  1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,035 pet owners who have visited a vet in the last 12 months. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th and 14th March 2011. The survey was carried out online.
  2. Pfizer Pulse report, Spring 2011.

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