Two things your staff say that will damage your practice... - Veterinary Practice
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Two things your staff say that will damage your practice…

PAUL GREEN of Vets Practice Growth believes nearly every practice has things it could improve on and discusses some of the comments staff might make that should sound alarm bells

ONE of the best things about my work is that I get to visit lots of different practices all around the UK. And as I’m sat waiting to meet with the practice owner, I get an insight into what it must be like to be a client of the practice.

Almost every practice has things they could improve to make it a better experience. You name it, I’ve seen it. Dirty floor, broken chairs, fading yellow signs Sellotaped to windows. Receptions that are too cold, too hot, too quiet or too noisy. And often this is before they’re filled with animals.

Just a few weeks ago I visited a surgery that on the outside had seen better days. The sign was cheap 1970’s green plastic (now faded), the car park had a lot of weeds, and the building exterior desperately needed painting and probably new windows.

Inside wasn’t so bad – old but wellmaintained – but of course the damage had been done before you got inside. That practice’s biggest problems were winning new clients and retaining existing ones.

Despite my best efforts, the owner could not see the direct link between tatty facilities and clients perceiving the care to be of the same quality. And when it comes to marketing, it is more about perception than it is reality.

While not at all excusable, you can understand how these things happen. In a busy understaffed practice, little problems can remain ignored long enough to become big problems. Good cleaning and maintenance systems should keep physical appearances to a high enough standard.

What I can’t understand is how bad staff are allowed to continue to damage practices day in, day out. You see, for every tatty practice I’ve seen badly in need of a lick of paint, I’ve seen 10 where the staff are the single most damaging thing there.

The staff are used to the owners being in the consulting room most of the day, and have used the lack of direct supervision and accountability to form some terrible habits. Over time, they’ve completely forgotten what they are there to do (win and retain clients and ethically maximise client spend).

I’ve heard receptionists slagging off clients despite a busy waiting room. I’ve seen clients talk to nurses about how busy they are with work and family, which is why they always forget wormers … and the nurse completely misses the golden opportunity to push the health plan (if someone has a problem and you solve it, that’s not selling: that’s being a great adviser).

When I’m working with my clients, I take a very strong line on staff. If they’re not helping you grow your business, they’re helping to destroy it. And bad staff must be fixed or fired, as it’s impossible to enter advanced growth with the wrong staff.

In this country we’re too scared to sack someone. Yes, the law is biased towards the employee, but fear of “no win no fee” legal action is no reason to allow someone else to destroy your most valuable asset. A good HR adviser will help you go through a robust performance management process that makes staff shape up or ship out.

So how do you know whether or not you have a problem? There are two things your staff could say that should sound the alarm bell.

Dreaded phrase 1: “But we’ve always done it that way”

The veterinary sector has changed dramatically over the past five years. What clients want today is different – they have more choice than ever before. Staff can get stuck in a rut, doing things the way they are used to and not wanting to do them differently.

Some people see that different = change = more work. They don’t realise the risk of standing still, and the impact it can have, when the competition is growing faster and changing faster than ever.

Dreaded phrase 2: “But the clients won’t like that”

This might be uttered by staff when you ask them to do something new such as getting e-mail addresses from every single client.

For the majority of the practices we work with, most of their clients don’t actually mind the changes that have been introduced. They don’t mind if they are asked for their e-mail address; they’re OK with more reminder communications; and they don’t complain if they are offered a health plan.

So when you hear that phrase from staff, what they are really saying is that they can’t be bothered to do whatever you have asked them to do. It’s another big warning sign that things aren’t working out with them.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that all staff are bad. Far from it. But it only takes one bad person to poison what could otherwise be a highly effective and profitable team.

That starts with hiring the right people. After making several recruitment blunders over the years, I realised that the process for hiring and retaining a great team is actually quite simple.

Hire for attitude and never for ability or skill-set alone

  • Have a common goal and reward for the entire business, but have individual targets for each member.
  • Coach 1-2-1 at least monthly – praise privately and in public.
  • Spot them doing something right more than you spot them doing something wrong.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly.

It’s when you start to stray away from these guidelines and forget that your staff are there to help you – not really the other way around – that you start to run into long-term problems.

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