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Mind the gaps in customer care

It is important that you minimise the gaps between expectations and experience to boost customer satisfaction

20 February 2019, at 12:20pm

Humour me for a moment… It’s your wedding anniversary. You’ve consulted the council of TripAdvisor, perused sample menus on the restaurant’s website, booked a reassuringly expensive locum and dressed to the nines. You arrive only to be greeted by a waiter with an untucked shirt, dog-eared menus and a wonky table. The food that follows might be the best you’ve ever had, but you won’t notice that. Why? Because this was important to you; you had built up the occasion and you expected better. The size of the gap between your expectations and your perception of your experience is directly proportional to your levels of satisfaction.

In a vet practice, this isn’t (necessarily) about simply casting a duster over your reception desk, but about taking steps to communicate honestly about what clients can expect from a visit, and using SERVQUAL Gap Analysis (Parasuraman et al., 1988) to shrink the gaps between expectations and experience to instantly increase satisfaction.

The knowledge gap

What do pet owners in your town want – late-night opening, the latest gadgetry, the lowest price tags? Are you sure? Practice owners can expend a lot of their time and money, and everyone’s energy, failing to meet clients’ expectations, when some answers are right in front of them. Receptionists don’t just book appointments, they also have to turn some down, so find out why. Had the potential client wanted a time you couldn’t offer or a service you don’t offer, or did they mention when arriving flustered that parking outside was a nightmare? Fix what you can and accept what you can’t – consider altering your consulting hours and stop advertising your “convenient, central location” if you know parking spaces are at a premium – manage expectations.

The policy gap

Maybe you’ve got it sussed; your clients asked for online booking and a cat-friendly waiting area – done and done. But when was the last time you took your practice out for a test drive? Is your online booking system smooth and speedy? Is it mobile compatible? What about your cat-friendly waiting area? Does it feel like an afterthought? Is the reading material relevant? You’ve done the hard part by identifying, implementing and marketing client benefits, so make sure they’re not inadvertently letting you down.

The delivery gap

This is where your best intentions come to rest. You can write SOPs (standard operating procedures) to your heart’s content, but if your team lacks either the will or the skill to put them into practice, there will be a gaping hole between what you think your practice does, and what it actually does. This gap is common across all industries, and it’s your biggest weakness because chances are you think you’ve taken steps to get it covered. It’s the great value healthcare plan that your receptionist doesn’t recommend, because they’re not sure they really understand it. It’s the new laser you bought that your nurses don’t feel confident to use. The new in-house lab test for same-day turnaround that your vet doesn’t have time to report until tomorrow anyway.

What makes this gap even more of a threat is that it affects job satisfaction just as much as client satisfaction. Hopefully your practice is a safe space where you can ask your team what’s holding them back and receive a meaningful answer, but even then, a little secret shopping goes a long way to uncovering the truth – you care enough to do it to your competitors, why not your own practice?

The communication gap

If your practice’s website, social media and booking process were its online dating profile, then the client’s initial visit is the first date. Be honest, are your photos five years old? Did you overstate the shape you’re in? There’s nothing wrong with being an “established” practice, but don’t misrepresent yourself with photos of your opening day, or worse – stock photos! Go deeper; if your vets carry themselves as very serious professionals, don’t refer to them as the pet’s’ “aunties and uncles”. Identify what your practice’s personality is, and be true to it, so that the expectation matches the experience.

The customer gap

This is what it comes down to: if the sum of the client’s expectations, minus the client’s perception of the experience your practice gave them, results in a positive number – they’ll come back again. Each time they do, the sum of their experiences will aggregate, until – if you’re doing it right – it becomes their patience when you inevitably run late on consults, their goodwill when you make a mistake with their prescription and their trust when you recommend a treatment plan.