Practices take opportunity to learn from each other - Veterinary Practice
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Practices take opportunity to learn from each other

sat in on wide-ranging discussions on how practices promote themselves and manage their clients

BRING a group of veterinary
surgeons and practice managers
together for a day and ask them to
talk about how they go about
increasing client numbers and
promoting their
practices and you are
bound to get a wide
variety of opinions
on what works and
what doesn’t.

There was certainly
no shortage of comments and
suggestions when
Merial Animal Health
last month invited
seven representatives from mainly small
animal and equine practices to engender
ideas and initiatives for “customer
relationship management” and practice

Hosted in Cheshunt by Emma
Batson and Claire Edmunds from
Merial, the seven were (in alphabetical
order): Stephen Bardwell, manager of
Edgewood Vets in Essex; David Dixon,
who manages the RVC’s large animal
and equine practice at Hawkshead; Jane
Jackson from the House & Jackson
equine practice in Essex; Aubrey Kumm
of Companion Care in Harlow; Ben
Portus, a partner in Paton & Lee Equine
Veterinary Surgery in Witham, Essex;
Gail Robertson of Companion Care in
Chelmsford; and Jason Tyrrell from
Tyrrell’s Equine Clinic in Royston.

Similar challenges

One aim was to see what equine and
small animal practices could learn from
each other but it soon became clear that
all faced similar problems and
challenges and everyone could learn
from everyone else.

One of the first subjects raised was
the use of social networking sites: the
main point of agreement on this was
that someone in the practice has to take
close control of what appears on these

“You can get into an electronic
war,” said one, who felt that face-to-face
talk was preferable whenever possible.
Another believed that provided an
individual in the practice monitored it
closely and controlled what appeared, it
could be a useful tool.

“Short, general discussion points
with nothing controversial – such as
opening hours – and questions such as
‘Have you vaccinated your cat?’ were
fine,” said another, who also stressed
the need for close monitoring and added, “It’s free and another avenue for
communicating with clients.”

One of the small animal
practitioners said the USA was years
ahead of the UK in terms of marketing, especially with Twitter
and Facebook, and he
considered it foolish
not to get involved.

“We can definitely
use these new ways of
communication,” he
said, and he urged
practices to “go with
the flow” – and educate

Several commented
that the most effective way of getting new clients was by word-of-mouth.
Spending on Yellow Pages, Yell or Google
had proved a waste of time, said one –
to general agreement – with “word-of-
mouth” coming top in bringing in new
clients, followed by websites.

But a note of warning was sounded
by one participant: “If we take our eye
off the ball, it doesn’t matter how good
our website or our Twitter and
Facebook pages are; we must take
proper time over patient care; for
example, call the client who needs a

There was general agreement that
websites were needed. “You can put
special offers and promotions there and
encourage clients to come in,” said one
small animal practitioner. Several
referred to the problem of keeping a
website up to date; one described this as
a nightmare while another said it was
very expensive.

“You can bombard people with
information and make a website
completely boring,” said another, who
added that people still liked the personal
touch – especially in the equine world.

One participant then urged practices
to become more community-based and
said his practice was involved with local
schools and churches, took part in the
local carnival and sponsored local dog

Text and e-mail

Several practices said they kept in
touch with clients by text messages or
e-mail – one directly from the
practice management system for such
things as vaccine reminders, though
some drawbacks were pointed out,
e.g. people frequently changing
mobile numbers and e-mail addresses
and the fact that some clients,
especially small animal owners, have no desire to be marketed to.
One promotional idea that caught everyone’s attention was the use of
key rings. “It’s the best thing we have
ever done,” said Stephen Bardwell. He
originally bought a small number on
eBay and prepared a paper insert with
practice details.

The rings are left in containers on
reception desks and thousands have
now been given away. They cost 10p
each and really work, with people
giving them away to friends, he said.
It means that people always have the practice
details to hand.

“But do you know
what your clients think of
you?” was the next
question. Most used
some form of
questionnaire, either of
their own design or
provided by a
pharmaceutical or
specialist marketing firm,
and one had been thinking
about calling new clients the day after
their first appointment to ascertain
their views.

The most important question on a
questionnaire, said one small animal
practitioner, is, “Would you
recommend us?” – which caused
several to reiterate the view that word-
of-mouth is still the most effective
means of gaining new clients.

Of course, there are some new
clients that practices would rather not
have. The problem of young people,
in particular, having pets but no
money led to a discussion on credit control and several said their practices
now carried out credit checks on all
new clients.

The subject switched to how
practices communicate internally.
Claire Edmunds posed the question:
“How do you ensure that everyone sings from the same
hymn sheet?”

The practices all
tackled this differently.
One closed for an hour
every Wednesday for
training, even switching
off all the phones and
leaving the emergency
contact number on the

Another had a
breakfast meeting every
so often “to communicate things that everyone in the practice
needs to know”.

A third had a full staff meeting
every three months with attendance of
close to 90%; while others arranged
separate group meetings of partners,
the veterinary nurses and receptionists.

There is clearly a great deal that
practices can learn from each other in
order to improve practice footfall and
communications and it is likely that
this meeting will prove to be the first
of many where people from different
practice backgrounds can share their

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