When people go to their dentist, they have an expectation of the facilities provided – the state of the building, basic hygiene, etc. Your clients have similar expectations when they bring their pets to you at “their” veterinary practice. However, many clinical and front-of-house staff focus on the efficacy and functionality of their facilities, so their view of the practice may be governed more by positive clinical outcomes and how efficiently they are achieved.
Although clients may expect your practice to have state-of-the-art equipment with well-trained and professional staff using it, having the necessary technology does not necessarily imply first-class facilities from the clients’ perspective. The client may be aware of how well equipped the practice is, but they may not appreciate just how important all this can be to their pet’s health.
Because today’s veterinary client is also a fully experienced and confident consumer in other aspects of life, they will initially judge your practice in two key parameters:
- The fundamental criteria of convenience – ease of access, the appearance and smell of the waiting room and reception areas, adequate and accessible parking, etc
- Friendly, approachable and compassionate staff who know the name of their pet
Indeed, clients may well have made a value judgement before even setting foot in your practice! If they first made contact by phone or online, they may judge your services based on how welcome the pre-appointment experience made them feel.
While their pet’s well-being is of key importance, if a client feels uncomfortable bringing their dog to your practice, all the expertise and high-tech equipment in the world will not compensate for this.
The mystery shopper experience
If you haven’t already done this, try the mystery shopper experience! This is a simple and easy way to find the weak spots in your veterinary practice’s service – just take a personal tour around your clinic or ask a friend or family member to act as a mystery shopper. While you make the rounds, focus on three key areas and how they appear to your customers: the main entrance, the reception area and the customer journey.
The reflection of the main entrance
The customer experience begins from the moment they arrive outside your practice so start outside the main entrance of your practice, walking from the car park. This is crucial as many practices have a side door for staff use which means you probably do not use the entrance your clients are expected to use.
Many dogs will immediately home in on any shrubbery or grassland near the surgery entrance, making a clearly marked bin (along with poo bags) outside the entrance for owners to use should the dog defecate on the premises essential. It is all too easy to be focused on the inside of the building, but you must keep the area around the public entrance clean and odour free. A well-presented waste facility for pets outside your practice makes a big statement about your commitment to health and welfare.
A well-presented waste facility for pets outside your practice makes a big statement about your commitment to health and welfare
While you walk up, consider if what you see is clean and tidy or a little unkempt, with rampant weeds, uneven paving or pieces of litter. Is the wider area inside and outside the main entrance neatly presented, with clean paint, glass and flooring? Clients will immediately notice whether the posters on display are up to date or if your practice looks neglected with irrelevant or torn posters.
You should also consider how your practice smells when you walk in from the fresh air. None of us wants to smell a damp or musty room or walk into a clinic to the smell of urine, whether fresh or masked by the aroma of disinfectant.
We often tell others that first impressions really matter, so ask your mystery shopper whether this experience sends a positive message to clients as they enter.
The power of the reception area
Take a walk through your practice: what do you see as you walk into the reception area through the main entrance? Is it bright and airy? Does it look clean and tidy, with the floors swept? Is there interesting and relevant information on display? Is the seating arranged sensibly to help clients keep their pets separated as much as possible while they wait? Is the waiting room arranged to accommodate a separate area for feline clients?
The journey from the main entrance to the reception area is the first encounter your client has with the interior of the building, and clients expect it to be a positive experience – one that provides the reassurance that they’ve made the right choice by coming to your veterinary practice. During this unconscious assessment, your client will take in the visual appeal and the smell. They will notice any pools of urine or clumps of dog hair, and the smell of pine disinfectant or air fresheners may suggest to clients that you have something to hide. When a client walks into the practice, the snapshot of what they see, hear and smell at that moment is what they will remember – and what they will tell other people.
When a client walks into the practice, the snapshot of what they see, hear and smell at that moment is what they will remember – and what they will tell other people
In today’s world, clients expect to be able to purchase pet-related products in your reception area and receive informed advice on how they should use them as well. Therefore, as a simple rule of thumb, don’t stock anything that you wouldn’t recommend. If you stock gentle leader head collars and harnesses, etc, ensure all your employees know how to use them and how to fit them for the clients to make sure they purchase the correct one for their pet.
The art of good customer experience
The client journey begins on the telephone or online and progresses through the building to the point of payment and the customer’s subsequent exit. A mystery shopper can advise you as to whether this flows properly or whether the reception area has a bottleneck of clients checking in while others are on their way out and waiting to collect their prescriptions and settle up. Although this bottleneck is a minor inconvenience for clients, it can be a major problem for dogs because they are forced into close contact with each other.
Waiting to pay can be irritating, especially when the client is worried or emotional about their animal’s health. Additionally, long waiting times provide an opportunity for some clients to avoid payment altogether. You can alleviate some aspects of this problem by ensuring there are enough staff on reception during busy times. Fostering a practice culture in which employees are empowered to use their initiative to help each other, perhaps by operating a scheme that recognises and rewards staff for customer care, can also help with this enormously.
Your people, with their skills and compassion, are the ones who bond your clients to the practice, not the efficacy and functionality of the facility
Clients whose pets have been euthanised will be grateful for the opportunity to exit the practice quickly without negotiating their way back through the waiting room without the pet they were seen coming in with. When it comes to this, having a system that allows payment to be made at a later date will be beneficial, and clients will be hugely appreciative of the compassion shown by practice staff.
These considerations are just small examples of the ways today’s veterinary practices can build lasting client loyalty, and they reflect the inescapable fact that your people, with their skills and compassion, are the ones who bond your clients to the practice, not the efficacy and functionality of the facility. Surprisingly, this isn’t usually the area where most financial investment is focused, but, as in many things, a little extra care can go a long way.