Many of us have seen MasterCard’s TV commercial where various scenarios show a cost—until you get to the emotional heartstring tug that is “priceless.” In the veterinary industry, we like to describe the bond we humans share with pets as “priceless” (and MasterCard must agree with us since they show an elephant and monkey taking care of the zookeeper).
We also know that “priceless” does have a price. A problem arises when we feel that the care we provide pets is priceless, yet we must charge a price for services and pay the price for quality team members. So, how can we get past this conundrum of watching the price rise for something we consider priceless?
Think about your clients. We have all heard how much it costs us to replace a client, but how much does it cost you to keep a client? Are you trying to keep your clients? Are you doing the right things to keep your clients? Are you wasting money on client retention efforts that you don’t need?
We cannot achieve “priceless” without knowing the real cost of our actions, and the only way to know the real cost is to be active participants in the financial management of the veterinary practice. It is vitally important to include your team in any discussions about client relationships and how “pricey” those relationships can be for a practice.
Attached to every pet is a human; some humans are a pleasure to encounter, while others are, well…a learning experience. Regardless of the human, all pet owners are looking for exceptional service. They want their pet cared for in a professional, timely, cost-effective manner—and we aim to please!
But just how pricey can delivering exceptional client service get? Moreover, at what price point do we reach the nirvana of client satisfaction and compliance?
Watching some key numbers in your practice can help your team follow the effects of your delivery of different client services. Friendships may be priceless, but client relationships are not. There is a price for attracting and retaining clients, and a price for losing them. And then there are those “priceless” clients we would pay to lose.
So, do you know the price you pay for clients in your neighborhood practice?
Getting to know your neighborhood
As the Muppet song goes: “Who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you meet each day.”
Do you know the people in your neighborhood practice? Do you really know your clients?
It may surprise you to find out information about your clients. I’m not talking about skeletons in their closet, but rather why they come to your practice, what they need and how they feel when they come to your practice. The following is a list of ways for you to find out. None of these techniques are covert or invade their privacy, but all are very helpful in telling you about the clients in your neighborhood:
- Net Promoter Score
- Quick Question
- Customer Effort Score
- Survey Questions
- Client Advisory Board
- SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis
Running some of these studies is easy—simply establish your “Neighborhood Watch Team.” Assign a few of your trusted team members to head up this project, budget their time and funds, let them perform their analysis, and report the numbers back to you and the practice team. You may benefit from having a representative from each area of your practice participate (i.e., receptionist, tech, doctor), but certainly designate a team leader to coordinate any efforts of the Neighborhood Watch Team.
The team must work closely with the owners of the practice in determining the focus of the team’s efforts. For instance, you may be curious to learn just how hard it is to do business with you. Do you know? Do you care? You should care, because this may be a silent killer of your client base. Let your Neighborhood Watch Team survey your clients about the difficulties they experience and find out your Customer Effort Score.
Your new team may decide to ask a Quick Question at the time of client check-out. Simply put: “How easy was it for you to make your appointment with us today?” The client will have 3-5 choices covering the range from very easy to more difficult than expected. Your team could run this assessment for one week, tally the results and report to you.
You may discover that bureaucratic creep has infiltrated your standard operating procedures and is killing your client’s ability to make an appointment, get a medication refill or schedule a progress exam. How does the Customer Effort Score affect your practice? Are clients exiting due to difficulties in doing business with you?
It costs five times more to replace these clients who leave your business. It costs even more to overcome any bad word-of-mouth statements about your practice and how hard it is to deal with you. It may be costing you new clients because they are finding they have too many hoops to jump through just to become a client in your neighborhood.
Conducting a SWOT analysis of your customer service is another way to know what is going on in your area and what your clients are experiencing when they have their pets treated by you.
Keeping Up With The Joneses
As anyone in town knows, daily life is not just about knowing what is going on in the neighborhood, it is also about keeping up with the Joneses. The jobs, the cars, the vacations—believe it or not, it is the same in your veterinary practice. Are you keeping up with the Joneses (the competition)?
In addition to performing a SWOT of your client services and knowing what clients want, you need to monitor some Key Practice Indicators (KPIs) and watch if you are making progress, falling behind or getting ahead of the Joneses. KPIs will help you track your progress and measure yourself against other practices of similar stature1.
The following are some KPIs to consider when monitoring your clients and their satisfaction with you:
- New Clients (Average is 259 new clients per FTE Veterinarian per year.)
- Client Retention (Strive for 85% unless the business is in a military or college town.)
- Reminder Response (80% and track which way—mail, email, text—gets better results in your neighborhood.)
Based on your SWOT, you may create some new client service metrics to monitor as you work at correcting some weaknesses you discovered during your assessment, such as the Client Effort Score or your Net Promoter Score. Regardless of which metrics you choose, they should be relevant to your practice and play a part in your strategic plan for improvement which you and your team developed for the future success of the practice.
Meet The Jetsons
And what about the future? The Jetsons are your “clients of the future.” Facebook, Twitter, QR Codes, remote patient monitoring and telehealth…the Jetsons are up and coming! Sometimes your clients know sooner than you do about a food recall or emerging disease problem because of their social media connectivity. Are you able to service this group of clients?
Returning to the SWOT and client responses, get your team together and have a brainstorming session about how your team interacts with local businesses (both personally and as a member of your business), and what your team hears from clients. Are there any pearls of wisdom from these discussions? Any strange ideas? Sometimes the craziest idea or request may take you into a new world of client service and differentiate you from other veterinary practices.
Since animals cannot drive themselves to us, we must continue to keep our fingers on the pulse of our clients—old, new and future. Client relationships may seem “priceless,” but any business knows that if you ignore your client relationships, you will suffer monetary losses, so you do not want to neglect what your clients have to say. We must do this for the sake of the pets and the priceless bond that ties us all together. Know your costs and returns on investments in marketing, new technology and client experience. Devise a business strategy to examine your client relationships and formulate a game plan for monitoring, evaluating and improving that relationship. +
- 1. AAHA’s 10th Edition Financial and Productivity Pulsepoints