DISNEY has discovered an incredibly simple truth that most practice owners have only just begun to grasp, that the customer experience is everything. So said Alison Lambert, reaction provoker in chief and managing director at OnSwitch.
Uncle Walt and his mega corporation have marketing by the short and furries is the upshot. Practice owners, on the whole, do not. The veterinary clinic is rich with opportunities to share stories, create community and get warm and fuzzy, yet somehow most are missing the mark.
Time is not your friend, said Alison, during her session on marketing at the BSAVA congress. “The marketplace is incredibly crowded,” she warned. “If you are the only vet in your locality then you will not be for much longer.”
Customer experience is the battleground. How do you make clients feel? And does someone else, who may not be as good a vet, make them feel better? asked Alison. “You may be the best vet in town but unless you make me feel good I might go somewhere else.”
Disney is the best at creating a winning feeling, she said, because it puts experience first and financial parameters second. Pro t is a lag indicator. If all you do is measure profit, then you are measuring events that happened months ago. You must measure how you make people feel in real time.
“Your clients still paid their bills but you did not see the fact that they did not like you and are not recommending you any more,” said Alison. “If you start to change their attitudes, you get clients who like you and then your pricing, structure and pro t follows. Disney has this right.”
Part of it is establishing your territory. Try having an appealing website and a Google Local listing, she said. Try marketing locally – use bright visible signage and hand out branded bags, collars or bandanas to pet owners – and use the local media to spread the word.
Ready for lesson two, mouseketeers? Social media marketing is an essential ingredient in the mix. Believe that. People hang out on Facebook and comment on Twitter. Creative updates and cute pictures or videos work: they are shared and can go viral.
Lost pets – “help us find this dog, please retweet” – tap into the local community, the emotional centres in the brain and establish the fact that you care. Social media can also be about finding out where your (predominantly female) clientele picks up their information. Women aged between 25 and 45 dominate the role of primary pet carer visiting practices, so get in touch with them at the local school, nursery, playgroup, hair salon or even the gym, wherever they congregate.
And once they are in the consult room, beware loose talk about “getting the girls from the back” to see to their pet. Veterinary care is a team game and that means showing the requisite level of respect for all your colleagues, said Alison. “This is a profession and nurses or customer care managers are professionals. Pet owners pick it up and they do not like it. This is a female-dominated customer base.
“Respectful behaviour between team mates and colleagues is really important,” she continued. “Go and get somebody from the back – what does that mean? I’ll go and get a colleague from the preparation area or the ward. If we start building our professional vocabulary then people will not complain about cost.”
Heading in the right direction
If your people are in line with a co-ordinated message and set of behaviours, then you are headed in the right direction. “People deliver the brand, the service, the business, the experience on a daily basis,” said Alison. “There must be a section in your marketing plan for who does what and how they do it.
How people behave should be appraised. It should be part of their job description. How you do the clinical work is about behaviour – using the pet’s name, being friendly, wearing the practice uniform. It is critical stuff and if it is not in your marketing plan then it needs to be.” The industry may be driven by emotion, but measure everything.
Measure three things per month in each area of operations, then move on, suggested Alison: everything from gross profit through operational effectiveness, financial targets, consult index scores and in-bound calls.
Consult rooms are the focus right now because they are the embodiment of what the practice values.
“It is at the heart of your marketing delivery,” said Alison. “I don’t mind whether you are a vet or a nurse, but you have to live and breathe the value set of the practice.”
How many get clear guidance on how they consult, receive peer review, learning feedback or coaching on a routine basis? Not many. “It is the last bastion of change. It is like a forbidden city but that is where the vets and nurses go and we have to get in there.
“Put cameras in. They will be normal in five years. We are currently reviewing several practice videos on a monthly basis. The clinicians have started reviewing themselves in one hospital and they have allocated time to do it. They find four of their consults, review them and score them.”
Then, get personal. Not with clinicians, but with clients – that means e-mails and mobile numbers. “It is all about ‘me’,” said Alison. “Know me. You need this information so you can talk to me. Pets At Home has my details because I’m a VIP Club member. There are two million VIP Club members. Clever marketing department and they know more about your clients than you do.”
Finally, do not ignore the influence of key opinion leaders. The groomers, catteries, kennels, trainers, pet sitters and doggy day carers should be on your invite list. Hold “KOL” groups to get them to recommend you. “These guys see your clients 10 times a year more than you do,” said Alison. “They are powerful and your clients give them money.”
That is the Disney magic in effect: the experience is worth paying for. “Don’t tell me pet owners have no money,” she concluded. “They do but they choose to spend it on things that you would never imagine they spend it on.”