Why should a client choose your practice? - Veterinary Practice
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Why should a client choose your practice?

MALCOLM WRIGHT looks at the various ways in which clients choose a practice and how to ensure they not only come to you but join the ranks of the bonded clients who are vital to your success

OUR CLIENTS ARE THE SAME people who attend retail shops or obtain other services and their approach to the cost or standard of service still evolves in the same way.

Many authors, experts and surveys state that price is never a reason why clients go to a particular practice. Thirty years of running practices in a large variety of areas in the UK has taught me something different: price does matter in relation to the client’s perception of value for money.

That value may be compassion shown, individual care given, high-tech facilities available or ease of use. In spite of all the marketing, the vast majority of pet owners do not have insurance.

Understanding client decision making

Our clients are consumers and they base their decisions on whether to use a particular business, product or service on certain factors that are common to all. Veterinary practices are no different and whether a client decides to use a particular surgery depends upon the following sequences occurring:

  • Need. The pet owner requires a need – a new puppy needs vaccination, a bitch needs spaying, a pet is unwell or some problem has arisen that requires advice.
  • Appraisal. The pet owner appraises what is available – visually sees a practice, has a practice recommended, has used the practice before, is influenced by some marketing, social media or web presence.
  • Enquiry. The pet owner will make contact with the practice to ask questions; the answers and the way they are given can allow the owner to make a decision – this may be done via the practice’s website or directly by phone: e.g. can they get an appointment that suits; can they get advice; how much does something cost?
  • Decision. Once comfortable with the responses, the pet owner will go ahead and make an appointment. So all of that will allow them to get through the door, deal with the reception and then see the veterinary surgeon – from then on it is a question of keeping that pet owner as a client.
  • Recommendation. If satisfied that the service matches their needs, they may then recommend the practice.

For this to develop into a successful outcome in the vast majority of cases for the practice, it requires identifying the client’s needs.

1. The client when making a decision will be looking for what are called “use points” – these are factors that they require.

2. The practice must offer the same factors in the form of “supply points”.

As a practice owner you might decide your main supply points are:

  • “We offer a personal service”
  • “We give a full 24-hour service”
  • “We have surgical specialists working within the practice”
  • “We have RCVS hospital status”
  • “We offer 15-minute appointments”
  • “We offer competitive pricing”

Your potential client pet owner may have different use points such as:

  • “I need easy parking”
  • “I require weekend appointments”
  • “I want to see the same vet”
  • “I would like a home visit”

So it is essential to match what your potential client needs and what you offer: you can find this out using surveys and questionnaires.

This can help you work out why clients might choose to use/stay with you rather than go to another practice. The following is a simple survey carried out in a supermarket (with permission of the company!).

The following gives a sample of the answers/results from the questions asked to people who currently owned a pet.

  • When did you last visit a veterinary practice?

– within the last 12 months 90.20%

– in the last 3 years 9.80%

  • How many times have you visited your vet in the last 12 months?

– once 19.6%

– twice 17.4%

– three times 15.2%

– more than three times 47.8%

  • What were the reasons for visiting last time?

– illness 29.5%

– vaccinations 47.7%

– accident 5.7%

– dental care 3.2%

– routine operation 12.2%

– other 1.7%

  • How do you travel to the surgery?

– by foot 13.92%

– by car 85.23%

– by public transport 0.42%

– by taxi 0.42%

  • Have you used a different vet in the past 10 years?

– yes 42.7%

– no 57.3%

  • Of the 42.7% who had changed, we asked their reasons for changing:

– dissatisfied with the service 30.0%

– dissatisfied with the staff 10.0%

– price 2.0%

– moved house 58.0%

  • Why did you select a particular practice?

– location 60.0%

– reputation 26.8%

– friend recommendation 9.3%

– online website or social media 3.0%

– Yellow Pages 0.9%

  • How would you rate your practice on a scale of 1 to 3? [1 = poor, 3 = very good] Average score of the individual practice clients:

Practice A B C D E

Cleanliness and appearance 2.4 1.5 2.0 2.2 2.8

Attitude of veterinary staff 1.8 1.8 1.6 2.0 2.6

Facilities to treat your pet 1.9 2.0 2.8 2.4 2.6

Ease of parking 2.0 2.0 3.0 1.5 1.0

  • Last question: “Which practice do you attend?”

Percentage of total questioned

Jo Bloggs Vets A 19.7%

The Vet Hospital B 18.2%

Friendly Vet Group C 33.3%

Allvets Centre D 21.2%

Fred Smith & Partners E 7.6%

From this you can draw conclusions of the client base in the area and their rationale for using a particular style of practice.

There are certain obvious supply points that all potential clients will look at:

a. Location

b. Appearance

c. Ease of use

d. Quality of service

e. Consistency of service

f. Price

g. Value for money

If you supply these, you are more likely to succeed in attracting new clients.

Once someone has come into the surgery and undertaken treatment, they are technically a client – but what type of client are they?

Getting a new client gives you the opportunity to show exactly what a great practice you have, one that satisfies both the client’s trust in your judgment on how to look after their pet and the satisfaction that it gives to know what you are doing is appreciated.

So how do you do this? You have to first understand the needs of your client types.

Understanding the client types: casual, regular and bonded

Every service business has them: the 80:20 rule that 20% of your clients provide you with 80% of your income. Obviously this does not fit in exactly: with all practices there is quite a range – my last practice group ran at 65:25.

You will see the same faces on a regular basis: they are attracted because of the bond they have with the practice – these are your bonded clients and the number of these you have will determine both the profitability and future value of the practice.

Figures from my last major practice in 2006 were:

Average annual transactions for top 20 clients 61.4

Average annual spend for top 20 clients £3,232.31

Average annual transactions for middle 20 clients 8.1

Average annual spend for middle 20 clients £203.47

Average annual transactions for bottom 20 clients 3.8

Average annual spend for bottom 20 clients £7.14

  • Casual. They will go to the vet when the need is urgent – pet going into kennels and needs a vaccine, pet has been unwell for a couple of days, often go to the nearest, most convenient; are usually conscious of price. Checking your records will show a range of these clients’ spending. In the example above, the spending of three groups are shown from a small animal practice.
  • Regular. They will come to the practice whenever there is a need, usually will keep up with boosters, and bring their pet in quickly if it needs attention. They are usually quite loyal to the practice, but if they don’t feel they get the service they need they will leave.
  • Bonded. They are the key clients for any practice: will attend regularly, be involved in preventive care, are willing to spend on their pets, are usually insured. They tend to be very loyal, but that loyalty will be lost if they feel they have been taken advantage of.

So although you need a spread of income, your key clients are the top often 20- 30% of your customers. These are the ones you need to both attract and keep as clients. These returning clients are your financial base.

How do we produce a bond?

1. The client has to view their pet as an integral member of their family.

2. The fees must remain affordable.

3. The practice must retain the personal touch.

4. The practice must maintain trust and rapport between vet and client.

5. The client should feel involved with the practice.

6. Every client wants to be cared for as an individual.

7. The practice (owner) will make sure all his staff treat the clients the same way.

8. The owner will nurture his or her practice.

9. The owner will take pride in his or her practice.

10. He or she will transfer this pride to the staff by leadership and example.

Are clients loyal? Well, your bonded clients are; that is why they bond and it takes more to lose them than a regular client.

Can you make all clients bonded? No: bonded clients are of a type. Their financial situation is not a determining factor; it is their personality and attitude to their pets. You can, however, get clients who will bond if the circumstances are right. It is a two-way process: they are looking to a practice to offer what they are looking for.

Client loyalty and retention are critical to a successful practice.

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