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Improving customer service in practice

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01 March 2015, at 12:00am

SARAH METCALFE of SureFlap describes how her company operates and believes the value of having great customer service at the heart of everything that’s done by a business cannot be underestimated

CUSTOMER service gets a lot of talk these days – everyone knows they should be trying to deliver great customer service, so why aren’t we always delivering what our clients are expecting?

A recent study suggests that while 80% of companies believe they are giving great customer service, only 8% of their customers agree! This statistic alone should be enough for anyone running a business to look again at how they can improve their customers’ experience.

In the pet industry we are linked to our clients not only by the things they buy but also by emotions when treating and taking care of their family members. This means we have a much greater chance of being able to positively affect our clients’ lives through delivery of a great customer experience.

At SureFlap, customer service has been a focus from day one. We knew that creating a great product means nothing unless you back it up with great customer service. Our approach to customer service has contributed to our global growth, new products, and an increase in revenue of over 40 times since the business started.

We also have one of the happiest sets of customers around: customer recommendation and our customer service reputation are major factors when our customers are choosing to purchase our products and work with us.

Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business and providing an experience that encourages happy clients and positive feedback to others will ensure both repeat custom and new clients. Focusing on a great customer service experience isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes financial sense for your business.

People who have one great customer service experience are likely to continue to do business with you for two years. Conversely, 95% of people who have a bad customer service experience will share it with others, and 54% of them will share it with more than five people. Plus, 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with your organisation again.1

In the days of online communities, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, one unhappy customer story going viral can easily reach millions of people.

Creating a happy workplace

Let your staff do their jobs: it’s very easy to step in and change things as the boss or manager because you believe your way is the best way.

We are lucky that in the veterinary sector most people are working in jobs they love, and so are more likely to be happy in their line of work to start with. Empowering your staff to make or suggest changes and letting them do their jobs means they feel trusted and supported.

If they are trusted and supported they will have confidence to come up with innovative solutions, and will always work in the best interest of your practice. Your reception staff should be paid well, they are the touchpoint for each of your clients every time they come in, and one unhappy receptionist can cause a lot of problems in your practice.

You can train skills into people, but it’s very hard to change a personality to fit with what you want from your practice. Hiring staff for culture fit within your practice means you will always have someone who knows the way your practice should run. Enabling your team to work at their best and making them feel good at work means a happier practice, and happier clients.

Having great staff and allowing them to suggest and implement changes with the focus of improving your clients’ experience will only benefit your practice. Your happy clients will tell their family, friends and their communities (online and personal).

Studies show that happy employees work harder, longer and are more profitable for your business. The costs of happy staff cannot be underestimated. On average, recruiting a new member of staff costs twice as much as keeping your current employees happy.

In addition, companies that have engaged employees experience a growth rate that is 2.6% higher than those with disengaged employees.

Listen to your clients

Given the opportunity, your clients will tell you exactly what they want and expect from your veterinary practice. Ensuring that you have the mechanism to listen, whether that is in person, by questionnaire, e-mail, online or elsewhere, means that they can tell you when you are or aren’t doing a great job.

By default, a practice is a place where people have to go to care for their animals. You can delight your clients by giving them some added benefits to visit you. This could be a place to get a cup of coffee and talk about pet behaviours, or an in-store display of the newest helpful/innovative pet products.

Every added incentive for your clients to come into your practice and for you to know their needs and strengths will build a deeper connection between you, your staff and your customers.

Products and displays can be a great way to start conversations between clients and staff, and you may discover things which indicate a health issue, improving your chances of diagnosing or preventing issues before they start.

Encouraging and engaging with your clients in conversations means you may be able to pre-emptively solve problems they didn’t know their pets had.

It is important to put a process in place to review the feedback from your clients, and then make the changes you can see they want. This will ensure your clients are happy; and if they aren’t you will be the first person to know.

When you get negative feedback from your clients, make sure you use this to improve your practice. A client’s complaint is your way of being able to respond and fix their problem. When you have fixed their problem they are more likely to tell people about their positive experience than clients who never had a problem in the first place.

Using technology

My vet practice has a wonderful system of e-mailing and texting me to help remind me of routine vaccinations, check-ups and worm and flea treatments!

However, their systems don’t match up, meaning I get the initial reminder, and then after I’ve seen the vet for the check-up I still get reminders to book the appointment. So what is a great system then becomes an annoyance.

It is important to utilise the digital world to implement new technologies for clients. However, if you are going to use these systems it is advisable to make sure that they work properly and provide a benefit to your clients.

The biggest cause of unhappy clients is when the expectation of what you are delivering and what they are receiving are different. Make time to explain exactly what they will receive, but don’t over-promise something just to keep them happy.

Ensuring your clients know what services you are offering and then going above and beyond will ensure that they are delighted. This will leave them, and their pets, feeling well looked after every time they visit your practice.

Deliver great service

The new RCVS trial of a dispute resolution service has highlighted that not all clients are happy with the service they are receiving and they feel their views are not being heard in practices.

Providing outstanding customer service means you will be less likely to have clients requiring this service, and your ability to admit and deal with issues in-house will improve the reputation of your practice.

These types of issues, and interventions from the DRS, can harm the veterinary profession as a whole.

Avoiding the DRS means less negative publicity for the veterinary industry and less time and money spent by the practice.

Key points

  • Create a happy workplace.
  • Make customer service a practicewide focus.
  • Listen to your customers.
  • Use technology (properly).
  • Let your staff do their jobs.
  • Create a feedback loop, and use the feedback to improve.
  • Make it easy for your customers.
  • Go above and beyond (create a wow factor).

The value of creating a company where great customer service is at the heart of everything you do cannot be underestimated. Happy workplaces and happy employees automatically lead to better treatment of your clients.

Ensure you listen to your clients, and make changes based on their suggestions; this will ensure that your community of clients grows, and you will have happy clients, and happy pets.

References

1. Lee Resource Inc. Ideas for happy workplaces from The Happy Manifesto by Henry Stewart (Kogan Page: 2013).