How the internet can help you grow new business and increase customer loyalty - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

How the internet can help you grow new business and increase customer loyalty

DAVID ROSS urges practices to use the internet more to develop their businesses

A SUCCESSFUL veterinary practice, much like any other business, needs to focus on two main goals. The first has always been to survive: to do a good job and secure enough business to continue trading, while the second is to make a profit by attracting new business and keeping existing clients.

The internet has opened up many new ways we can achieve both these goals but how can they be utilised by any UK veterinary practice?

Making sure you have more money coming in than is going out is a constant battle that every business has to face, and for a veterinary practice a large part of this is customer loyalty. Bonding clients to your practice by reducing the chance of them going to a competitor ensures they will continue to bring their trade through your door.

Having a website with staff profiles can help your clients feel that little bit closer to the people in your practice. Adding a small profile picture to any articles on your website can help your clients identify reading an article with actually talking to you personally.

Offering services online like the ability to pay their vet bills or book appointments are all services that your competitors may not be offering, giving each client one more reason to stay with you.

Websites also offer you the ability to talk to all of your clients at once. In many cases a number of your clients will be coming to you for the same thing. While you know that many of them would feel much happier if you could spend that extra five minutes explaining things further, when you only have a matter of minutes to see each client in the first place you often just don’t have the time. With a well-appointed website, however, you can give your clients that extra information, guidance and support without having to halve the amount of clients you see each day, as you only have to say it once. High quality, clear and concise information on your website will help to portray an image of professionalism and ability.

Lowering the bar

The internet can also help lower that financial bar we all have to reach in order to survive. E-mail reminders are not only much cheaper than those sent through the post, but can also help reduce missed appointments and encourage more regular visits.

Many of the phone calls practice staff have to deal with are routine enquiries. By putting the information up on your website you can reduce the amount of time your staff have to spend answering routine questions. The more things your clients can do themselves online, the less pressure is placed on your staff, saving both time and money.

Making profit

Websites are an online reflection of your practice, much the same as a shop window is to a retailer. It is likely to be the first contact a potential new client has with your practice and must be strong enough to draw people inside your practice door. The graphic design must be strong and distinctive, setting you apart from the competition and making you stand out.

Recommendations are a vital part of growing any new business and this is more important now than ever before. The biggest difference is the speed and effort required to make a recommendation these days.

Sending someone a link to a website via e-mail takes seconds and is just as effective as if they had handed over a small booklet of information about your practice. You don’t even need to know a company’s name to recommend them anymore, a rough guess at what they are called or even just their location can be enough to look up a vet’s practice online.

There are also general recommendations people can make online. Recommendations in forums or via social networking websites like Facebook or Twitter are becoming increasingly important.

Websites also open the door for e-commerce which can add another avenue of income to your practice as well as improving the performance of any promotions you wish to run.

Another unique feature of a website is that you can track how people use it. There are tools available that allow you to monitor how people found your website, how long they stayed and what pages they look at.

This information can give you a great insight into what your clients are interested in, which you can then incorporate into other advertising and promotional activities.

Attracting new customers

Search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask are becoming the first stop for people looking for anything from information about particle physics to the opening times of the local supermarket. More people are using search engines to find local services like your practice, meaning if you are not appearing in their listings you could actually be missing out on potential new clients.

Not many people realise that search engines don’t list your website until you let them know it is there. Even if you are listed there is no guarantee where you will appear.

When a search engine gets asked to find “vets in London” for example, it will look at all the web pages it knows about before sorting the corresponding websites into priority order. If a search engine thinks that your competitor’s website is better than yours, it will list it higher up, providing that practice with more visitors and more potential new clients.

What should you do?

With the growth in internet availability and usage showing no sign of slowing, the benefits the internet can bring to practices are only going to get bigger and better. A good internet consultant will be able to guide you through the process of developing or refreshing your website. There are also veterinary website specialists who will be able to help you relate the internet to your specific practice.

The question is now: “When should we start using the internet more?”, rather than “if ”.

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