As I celebrate my 42nd birthday this week, I am forced to acknowledge that my first years out in practice were nearly two decades ago, and new team members at my practice are telling me they were born in the 90’s—I suddenly felt OLD.
But, after allowing myself a five–minute pity party, I had to remind myself that “old” can mean “experienced” and “with perspective”—which is a great thing! However, all of the other “seasoned” colleagues reading this have to remember something else of equal importance: we have to stay relevant in medicine, but we also have to adapt and flex with the new generation of clients coming through our door.
Client expectations and services are very different for the millennial client and, if your practice does not meet and/or exceed these in the desired format, you will drive clients away instead of building loyalty.
Let’s look at a few specific areas of client communication that can improve client service in your practice:
Client Expectations Surround the Client “Experience”
It’s common knowledge in the veterinary industry that millennials have surpassed baby boomers as pet parents. This is very significant to how veterinary practices approach the needs of this client. This is a generation of ease and efficiency; they want knowledge at their fingertips and immediately available. This translates into the essential need of having an accurate, up–to–date and very accessible (especially mobile) version of the hospital website, along with credible sources of continuing education and client handouts.
Many of our millennial clients are searching our website or the most recent diagnosis for information on their smartphones in the lobby as they wait to be checked out. Rather than carrying a negative tone about searching Google or other sites, we must embrace the web and steer our clients in the direction we find most helpful. This includes the hospital’s own social media presence, its content and reinforcing engagement by being interactive and responsive to client feedback.
In addition, millennials are seeking out an experience when interacting in areas of service. This means certain desired services are incredibly helpful to promote or add into veterinary hospitals, including but not limited to individualized vaccine counseling, delivery services, price matching for prescriptions or written prescriptions.
The Trap of “Over Promising & Under Delivering”
Client loyalty is influenced by many variables, but this tried and true tenet encompasses many of the failures I see in this area of service. Nothing will upset a client of any generation more than telling them to expect a call with lab work that night and failing to call, being given the wrong prescription or food, or miscommunication between veterinarians or the veterinary team.
While we want to always strive for excellence in both medicine and client communication every day, we also have to set reasonable expectations for team members on what is absolutely expected in client and patient interactions where we commonly fall short. There are small ways that we can exceed or “over deliver” on service to build trust and loyalty.
Customer service representatives (CSR’s) have the incredibly challenging job of dealing with client demands and/or complaints, and these typically stem from not being able to easily and efficiently resolve their issue without escalation. We should empower our team to become solution seekers for clients and try to resolve their typically small issue in the moment, rather than transferring the client to a manager and having to re-explain the situation again with increasing frustration.
In these scenarios, it also helps to train team members on how to use positive customer-support phrases that are genuine and open-ended to encourage client feedback and validation. We work in an emotional profession and recognition of the emotional state of the client should help direct the phrasing used to either calm or encourage rational and respectful communication headed towards resolution.
The Changing Role of Pets in the Family
I don’t think this final point is breaking news to anyone in the industry. But the reason I mention it again with such emphasis is because, while we all have seen the significant increase in dogs traveling with owners, becoming emotional service animals and serving the role of “children” of the pet parent, our messaging to clients has not changed. Discussions in exam rooms regarding workups, treatment plans and, most importantly, pet parent goals for the future of that patient HAVE to include the role of that pet in the pet parent’s life.
Do not forget about the more recent advances in veterinary behavioral medicine, appetite stimulation, pain control, physical therapy and earlier diagnostics for many chronic diseases. Clients WANT to know about these options, and the veterinary hospital should be the FIRST source for this information. The trust between a veterinarian and a client can be weakened when new advances are not discussed in the appointment, but instead found online, from a friend or even another animal hospital.
Keeping these points in the forefront of all team members’ minds and implementing appropriate training in communication to address the changing demographics will help your practice stay current and growing while exceeding expectations! +