There is a saying that to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. This month I haven’t been walking in his shoes, but following in an old friend’s wheel tracks. My old kayaking mate Paul – or specifically “Frontline Paul” (kids, this was back in the days when only one flea treatment worked and you could only get it from the vet) – was a drug rep for Merial (remember them?). He would often have a private moan about driving halfway across the country to have a meeting, only to arrive at a veterinary practice to be told that the vets were too busy to see him. He remembered the old days fondly, when he would take the partners to a decent lunch and do all the wheeling and dealing over “something that stuck to the ribs for the rest of the day”. This may have stopped around the time when I remember a different rep saying their car was fitted with a tracker to see where they were and when. I found this a gross mistrust of a colleague by a corporate, and offered to lend him my car so he could go for a pub lunch and leave his car in our car park! This chap was a huge jolly fellow whose entire career seemed to be based on selling various products with an antibacterial acid in, thus he made his living off one molecule which I always found interesting.
I always like to nosey around other practices – first impressions of them can make you consider what first impressions a new client will have of your own place
I had a talk booked to deliver a couple of hours away and thought just to torment myself I would cold-call on half a dozen practices down the road to “sell my wares” for our referral service. So, I set off armed with a bundle of our leaflets and Google Maps to guide me. I thought one day as a rep would be interesting… The first issue was that not all practices are where they should be! Either that or Google is not perfect, which I find hard to believe. If you must move your practice three streets to the left of where it should be, please let Google know! Despite probing what turned out to be the same house from three different directions there was no veterinary practice where there should be one. A quick phone call to a human at the practice and the top tip “We are opposite Lidl” was passed on, and I was sorted!
I always like to nosey around other practices – first impressions of them can make you consider what first impressions a new client will have of your own place. Location, parking and reception staff carry the heavy lifting in this respect. A well-maintained bit of garden or even just a window box by the entrance, a smiling face at the desk – they all work wonders. The heavy duty plastic screens from COVID do not create a welcoming atmosphere and make communication quite difficult. We took ours down this spring (just in time for the summer COVID wave, hey ho…), but I appreciate everyone has their own thoughts on this. The screens remind me of a particularly rough off-licence a group of us vet students lived above in Liverpool. You would go in and point, and hand cash through a slot. Some vet practices seemed to be aiming to recreate this unsavoury retail experience.
It warmed the heart to see such diligence by front of house. It was highly amusing to be on the other side of the desk to usual as well
One thing that was consistent in all the practices I visited was the protection of the vets by reception. “Are there any vets free?” I would ask. “I will just check” was the standard response from the receptionist, who would then play the game and go out of view for a few seconds before returning with the sad tidings that “the vets are all busy”. This performance was standard even in one place where there was a vet in an empty consult room, door open, looking at me; we maintained eye contact for most of the time until he heard from stage left that all the vets were “busy” and started busily typing. It warmed the heart to see such diligence by front of house. It was highly amusing to be on the other side of the desk to usual as well.
So walk a mile in someone else’s veterinary shoes. Put your vets on reception for a day (go on, I dare you…). Travel round as a rep for day. It all helps us to gain insight into our own practice and practices. My take-home tip, though, is that if you aren’t busy, make sure no one can see you!