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Improving the client journey

What is seen, heard and felt are the most important factors driving clients’ opinions of a practice

19 February 2019, at 12:43p.m.

My wife and I took our first puppy to a practice 15 years ago. There was no parking, no receptionist present when we arrived and no acknowledgement of our puppy or us as new clients. Much to our embarrassment, the puppy peed on the floor. No one said anything, even when we apologised. You won’t be surprised to hear that we didn’t go back. The hard fact is that only a tiny proportion of your clients who feel they have had a bad experience will tell you. The vast majority will say nothing to you but may be happy to tell their friends. And many – like us – will move to another vet.

Getting the customer experience right is one of the most important things you can do to create loyal, bonded clients who will recommend you to others. The key drivers of clients’ opinions are: 1. What they see, 2. What they hear and 3. What they feel. Each of these will be discussed in relation to the three key stages of a practice visit and some simple steps suggested to ensure as many of those opinions as possible are positive.

Arriving at the practice

It may have been some time since you entered your business with “client’s eyes”. Try it. Perhaps ask someone who is not a client to walk with you and tell you what they see and feel as they enter. When a client walks in, make sure they experience:

  • A clean, organised, welcoming room that smells pleasant and feels comfortable
  • A personal greeting to help them feel valued and looked after
  • Smartly dressed team members, exuding friendliness and professionalism
  • A tidy waiting area without ancient leaflets and posters cluttering every surface
  • A well-briefed, friendly and caring reception team, who are aware of your visit – particularly if it’s for euthanasia. They should also be able to talk knowledgeably about your approach to preventative care and other basic healthcare questions
  • An explanation for any delay

The consultation

There is no such thing as a standard consultation. Many will be routine, some will be heartbreaking – but, whatever the content, clients know what they expect from a good one and you’d be amazed how many times basic principles get overlooked. Focus on the following:

  • Leave the previous consultation behind you and focus your full attention on the pet and owner in front of you
  • Make sure you know the name of the client and their pet when you greet them. It shows that you care and that you are treating their pet with respect
  • Explain exactly what you’re doing and why as you go: “Temperature is fine, teeth look fine” etc
  • Make sure the costs you discuss for any treatments are accurate – don’t be tempted to guess
  • At the end of the consultation, it’s courteous to open the door for the client and, ideally, escort them back to reception

The departure

A nodding client may not fully understand what you’ve said to them. It has been noted that though most clients say that the vet explained well and in language they understood, the majority of those later admit that they didn’t really understand. Many ring the practice back for a further explanation.

This highlights the importance of ensuring that clients leave the practice feeling not only as if they and their pet have been well looked after but that they are clear about next steps. Make sure that:

  • Your reception team check with the client that they understand the instructions they have been given and have the necessary medications and food
  • A clear explanation of the bill is given including a breakdown of costs. If they can see what they’re paying for and how the bill is made up, it makes it more palatable. An offer to help with insurance paperwork, where applicable, is also a good idea

Few clients are driven by price alone. Pets are members of the family and the care and compassion you show to them is more important to many. If they feel that you genuinely care about their pet and offer an environment that is welcoming, friendly and supportive, even at the most difficult of times, they will be loyal, and they will recommend you.

Chief Operating Officer at The Ralph Referral Centre

Stuart Saunders has been a practice manager for more than a decade and has recently taken on the role of Chief Operating Officer at the Ralph Referral Centre in Marlow. He has been a board member of the Veterinary Management Group since 2016.

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