If you had to guess, what do you think would be the most important factor for clients in choosing a veterinary practice? Reasonably priced services? A convenient location? Prompt service? As it turns out, these things are important. But they’re not the most crucial factor.
In 2014, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association (VMA) carried out a study which asked pet owners what the most important factors were in choosing a vet practice. The research was a replication of a 1995 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) study, which asked respondents to select the top three factors that would influence their practice choice.
After surveying 435 respondents across six companion animal hospitals, the results were overwhelmingly clear. Seventy-four percent of respondents indicated that the most important factor in selecting a practice was that their veterinarian was interested in the well-being of their pet.
Second and third in the ratings were the importance of veterinarians possessing excellent medical knowledge and that they explained things thoroughly. And, perhaps surprisingly, the price of services only came in at fourth place and a convenient location in sixth.
It also appears that the ranked importance of these factors was consistent across time, despite the almost twenty-year gap between the two studies. In the 1995 study, the importance of having a veterinarian that was invested in the well-being of their pet was also the top factor, with 54% of respondents ranking it as the most important factor.
What these results reflect is that a successful veterinary practice is about far more than just offering an excellent service. Over and above price and convenience, clients want the reassurance that their practice cares, that their veterinarian’s advice can be trusted and that their pets are in good hands. By recognising this and nurturing genuine relationships with their clients, veterinary practitioners will create and nurture a loyal customer base.
Trusted relationships are key to client retention
When clients say that relationships matter to them in deciding to stick with a practice, this doesn’t appear to be just talk. According to 2013 AAHA research, the practices with the highest rates of growth tended to be those who had strong levels of engagement with their customers. In fact, these ‘client-centric’ practices were twice as likely to grow as practices that didn’t adopt a relationship focus.
Research also indicates the specific importance of a strong client-veterinarian relationship. In a 2011 Bayer study, for example, it was found that a key factor in clients returning for further visits was a good one-on-one relationship with their veterinarian. Clients appreciated coming back to a veterinarian they knew – one they trusted and had built a strong bond with.
Given that many pet owners view their animals as members of their family, it’s unsurprising that they value the relationship they have with their veterinary practice. As AAHA CEO, Dr Michael Cavanaugh notes, pet owners don’t just want to be customers, they want to be seen as “partners in their animal’s care”. Trusted relationships, built on transparency, mutual rapport and respect are the first steps in developing this partnership.
A strong bond increases treatment compliance
As well as bringing customers back through your doors, a strong bond between client and veterinarian is also likely to increase compliance. Just as we listen to the advice of our close friends, if a client feels a bond with their veterinarian, they are more likely to follow their recommendations for care. In this respect, bonding with your clients is not just important from a customer service point of view, it can also impact on the treatment of your patients.
Additionally, bonding can increase compliance; not only through trust but also through a better understanding of animal care. Part of having a good veterinarian-client bond is open communication, where clients feel comfortable asking questions about their animal’s care. If clients understand the reasons behind certain treatment options – and these can be discussed in the context of a good relationship – compliance follows far more naturally.
Indifferent treatment is not forgotten by customers
Just as a strong bond can help a customer remain loyal to a practice, negative interactions with staff can prompt clients to leave. According to research by Crampton Consulting Group, 68% of clients cite indifference or lack of interest by staff as a reason for leaving a practice. This was by far the most important factor measured in the study, with only 14% leaving because of unresolved complaints and 9% because of cheaper services.
This reiterates the simple fact that veterinary clients are looking for more than someone who can just do a great job. It matters to clients how you interact with them, in part because this gives an indication of how you will treat their pets.
While veterinarians do genuinely care about their clients and the patients they treat, it’s crucial that this comes across to pet owners themselves. By putting in the effort to build rapport and bond with clients, veterinary practices can create long-standing relationships that are valued by both practice staff and clients alike.