Not only do you have to continue to keep a close eye on competitor clinics in the next suburb or across town, but you also have to contend with clients who are increasingly turning to ‘Dr. Google’ and online resources for pet health advice and products.
Practice owners are also watching closely for new ways to counter the growing competition for share of pet owner spending. Increasingly, the online threat is being driven by the ‘experience economy,’ underpinned by technological transformation, and spearheaded by millennials who have grown up in a digital-first world.
These consumers seek – and often expect – additional value from the businesses they patronise, including the convenience of modern, mobile technologies. They no longer merely want goods or services, but an experience that brings meaning and adds value to their lives and those of their ‘fur babies’.
Good customer experience is low-cost, high impact
Low barriers to entry and industry globalisation also mean operators from around the world are seeing good opportunities in the local pet and pet care industry. These companies are leveraging the benefits that online technology offers and are setting up shop in competition to regional veterinarians and specialist suppliers.
Contending with these sustained pressures can be extremely stressful. How does a busy veterinary practice owner or manager find time to juggle all of their day-to-day tasks, as well as retain clients and increase appointment numbers?
One time-proven way to protect your business against these threats and others is to ensure you and your team are offering an exceptional customer experience that sets your practice apart. In fact, research shows that two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge is based on the experience they deliver to their customers. And according to business author Shellica Brooks-Johnson, the average business loses up to 20% of customers annually by failing to take care of customer relationships.
On the plus side, a great experience will positively impact your customers’ perceptions of how your practice treats them. It will strengthen loyalty and drive repeat business. And a great customer experience also increases the likelihood pet owners will recommend your clinic to others.
So, while the care, products and service veterinarians deliver are critically important, the customer experience is now vital for practice success. With this in mind here are 10 simple, low- to no-cost steps you can take right now to create an exceptional customer experience in your practice.
Make first impressions count
First impressions last, so make your client’s first visit to the clinic count. Introduce them to the team and, if possible, offer a tour to highlight what sets you apart from your competition. Consider creating a welcome package that includes details about your clinic, services provided, profiles of staff and emergency contact information.
And, if you have an online portal where clients can communicate with you, book appointments, or find additional information about pet care, make sure to sign them up on that first visit.
Create an inviting waiting space
As important as the first impression on the first day is the first impression on every visit. The waiting area of your vet clinic should be an inviting and calming space where clients and patients can relax before their consultation. This could include providing separate spaces for cats and dogs or maybe providing water, tea or coffee station for clients who stay in the waiting room while their pet is being treated.
Welcome the little people in their lives
We live in a busy world and clients often come with kids in tow. This can be stressful for the client and the pet if the child is clamouring for attention.
Give your clients a chance to focus on the visit by providing a distraction for their child. This could include having animal-themed books or toys available in the waiting area. Or invite them into the exam room so they can see what you’re doing with their pet and how what you’re doing will help the animal feel better.
Not only will you make the life of your parent client a little easier by giving them one less thing to worry about, but you may also inspire the next generation of animal health care professionals!
Keep the communication channels open
Keeping your clients informed during the visit is critical. By increasing their knowledge of their pet’s health and care options you’re demonstrating the value of your services, and placing yourself as the expert in their pet’s care.
Ongoing communication is just as important. A good way to maintain this is through appointment reminders and follow-up calls to see how their pet is doing. Plus, incorporating practices like forward booking into your process will reinforce the importance of professional pet care and reduce the likelihood of missed appointments.
And, it doesn’t all have to be transactional. Make a note of their pet’s birthday and send them a postcard on the day.
Get personal with your relationships
We all have a favourite café where the barista knows us by name and has our order ready without us having to ask. There’s no reason why you can’t offer that same level of service in your veterinary practice.
Start by keeping a note of client preferences against the patient record. You could include their preferred name, if they need assistance getting in and out of the clinic, or whether they have a favourite member of your team or just someone they seem to click with.
Our veterinary practice management software makes keeping track easy by storing all relevant patient information in one place, making it quickly accessible by staff. This way your team can make sure a patient gets any needed special attention, which goes a long way to show your client you value their pet just as much as they do.
Keep your customer love alive through consistency
People base their expectations on their most recent experience with your clinic. In fact, a survey by professional services firm PwC revealed that 32% of customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience. So, you want to be sure to deliver a consistently positive customer experience.
The easiest way to create consistency is through documented practices and processes. Make sure all staff are aware of the expected level of service and experience you want to provide to clients. And also that they know the measures you’ve put in place to ensure consistency –such as checking a patient record to see if they need assistance, or whether they need a little bit of extra reassurance.
Try something new
It’s important to not be completely tied down to processes and protocols, so you can experiment a little and try new things. For example, have your clients asked for a specific service you don’t currently provide? Investigate whether you could offer this on a trial basis. You might find it’s worth the effort for the client loyalty and lifetime value it brings.
You can also look at expanding the services you provide, like a wellness program or puppy pre-school. This helps set up expectations for pet care and builds a positive relationship with your client that goes beyond just being there when their pet gets sick or injured.
Ask customers how they’re doing
While your statistics on repeat customers, revenue and customer referrals will let you know if you’re doing things right, getting feedback from your customers about what they like – or dislike – also provides invaluable insight into how your practice is perceived.
Many online tools let you create simple surveys and send these to your customers either after every visit, or periodically. Rapport is one that allows you to easily send follow-up emails and surveys to clients and encourages them to leave online reviews. These help you gauge your customers’ perceptions and can also enhance your online reputation.
Share your success
Nobody loves a success story more than a pet owner, especially if it showcases how you helped sick or injured pets just like theirs. Whether you share these success stories on social media, via a newsletter or as posters on your clinic wall, they are worth investing time in.
Not only are they a testament to the skills of your staff, but they also show off the range of services and expertise offered by your clinic, and even help with referrals. If one of your clients knows a pet with an ailment you’ve treated before, they’re more likely to refer your clinic if they know you’ve had success treating it.
Build a community
Customer experience is no longer just about what happens at the clinic. Community engagement, whether online or in your local neighbourhood, has become an important part of creating an overall positive customer experience and helps lift your business profile for current and potential clients.
Also, by sharing informative pet health information online and engaging with your clients, your clinic will establish itself as a source of valuable information and advice on pet care, and keep you front of mind when a visit to the vet is needed.
There are many tools and technologies to support your efforts in this area. Some offer social media management, a website platform, and a pet portal, so you can communicate with your clients in a way and at a time that suits them best.
Customer experience protects your business
Creating experiences that keep your clients coming back is one of the most important ways you can increase customer retention and help your practice grow. Especially when you consider it can cost up to five times more to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. A consistent, high level of service can help your practice build strong client relationships, referrals and repeat business to help you keep your competitive edge and weather the highs and lows of change that come with running any business.
Looking for more customer experience tips and best practices? Download our 10 tips infographic now or get in touch and find out how Covetrus™ software services can help.