Modern pet owners are fickle and do not give loyalty to vet clinics easily. Loyalty must be earned at critical moments of each and every visit.
These are the moments of truth.
The way we face these moments will decide whether owners return as clients to give you another chance, or just complain about you to their friends and family.
So what are your moments of truth and how will you be judged?
Walking in the door
Just as a cafe worker can’t smell the coffee, clinic workers too can become immune to the smell of their own clinics. Whether it is the heavy smell of disinfectant, the smelly old dog from the previous consult, or the overwhelming smell of fresh faeces from the kennels, this first assault of smell will hit your clients like a brick at the front door.
Hopefully, after avoiding a nasal cavity searing, the client will step into to a clean, uncluttered and welcoming reception area.
It’s great that your reception staff are busy. But they do need to acknowledge newcomers with an instant smile and eye contact, even if they are on the phone or busy with another client.
A simple acknowledement is not rocket science, yet all too often clients are left shuffling awkwardly waiting to be noticed.
The phone greeting
Start with a smile before you answer. Plaster that “Yes I do care” face on BEFORE you pick up the phone. It’s true that a smile carries through to your telephone tone, so sound like you actually want to talk to the person at the other end.
Throw in a little empathy and some simple questions. Make sure your staff is trained in asking the right questions, knowing wen to politely cut off the waffle, and how to convert the call to a visit. But most of all, make sure whoever is answering the phone is providing front line value to your practice.
Waiting for the consult
It can not be stressed enough how important this time is. Front end staff need to get out from behind that reception desk. Consider even losing the hulking great reception desk in your next remodel and replacing it instead with a simple workstation or pod. Check out your local library for ideas on how this works!
But the point here is to actually walk out and engage with the owner, and of course the pet. So many insights and opportunities exist in those moments. Most importantly, this is when relationships are formed and trust begins to build.
Ask any pet owner and they will know the name of their favourite vet nurse. This nurse would have truly communicated with the client both as a person and a fellow pet lover.
Don’t go hard on sales at this point. Lots of open ended questions and easy conversation can be used later to feed additional knowledge to the vet, or to create a value add sale later, but for now it is about building the relationship.
In the consult room
I am not a vet. I will not tell a vet how to do their job. But as a practice manager I would always remind them about customer service. And I would ask them to think about who that customer service should be directed towards.
Vets need to fight instincts of focussing solely on the medical issue and actually address the owner. But part of that deal is also showing the pet some human affection. The human/animal bond is real, to the point where animals are often considered to be family members. So pet owners expect that vets will see the special side of their beloved companion too. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to look beyond the aggressive or pathetic creature on the table and treat it instead the way our clients expect them to be treated. Just as with the nurses, relationships are formed with vets not for their knowledge, experience or skill, but for the way they treat both the pet and the owner in the consult room.
Explain things simply. Don’t use technical jargon. Explain the whys. Assume that ninety percent of what you say will be forgotten, so make sure the important messages stick.
And understand that emotion can get in the way of rational decisions. Give the client simple clear truths and a chance to process. But most of all, always make sure they are given choices.
The final moments of the visit are in the reception. Training is critical here to ensure staff are able to explain value for money, provide value add sales where appropriate and ensure the lasting impression isn’t just related to the dent in the bank balance.
Most clinics perform follow up phone calls, but often this is considered merely a routine chore, performed in many cases by the wrong member of staff.
It is recommended to establish a clear boundary of follow up roles and responsibilities. Nurses might only do follow ups for routine, low risk surgeries and minor visits whilst vets do those for non-routine surgery and complex consultations.
Once again, staff must be trained in asking the right questions, perhaps even going as far as having standard scripts.
And everyone needs to understand that the purpose is not only to make sure the pet is ok post-visit, but to guage client satisfaction. Feedback must be recorded and a process in place for reporting and acting on that feedback.
Problems & complaints
How you deal with negative feedback is a sign of how willing your practice is to improve. All complaints should be seen as opportunities for improvements, whether the issue it is process related or simply a matter of developing more effective communication.
Dealing with complaints is a whole other area for discussion outside of this article, but remember that only a small proportion of people will complain to you. A much larger proportion will sneak away silently, but later spread your faults to the rest of the community. In this day of social media, such negativity can quickly escalate to cause significant damage to the reputation of a practice.
So make sure there is a clear process for resolving complaints, and that the person dealing with this feedback is trained and competent in this area.
Good – Better – How
So whatever your practice, no matter how you operate, it is worth taking some time to look objectively at your own moments of truth.
A great way to tackle this is using the Good-Better-How team approach. For each moment of truth, discuss;
- What is being done well or good.
- What could be done better.
- How this could be done better.
And of course follow through to make sure these actions are put into effect.
Only when we really look at our customer service moments of truth, will we truly know if we are keeping our clients happy, and encouraging long term loyalty.
Why not take some time to look at the moments of truth in your practice?