4 strategies to handle demanding equine clients

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4 strategies to handle demanding equine clients

Keeping an ambulatory practice on schedule is a challenge, but at least you can use these strategies to handle clients who knock your day on its rear.
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May 01, 2011

"Hello, Mrs. Smith? This is Ryan from On the Go Equine Services. I'm just calling to let you know that Dr. Duidal is running about 90 minutes behind schedule right now."

Sound familiar? If you run an ambulatory practice, chances are it does. Staying on schedule is a constant challenge when you're facing uncontrollable variables such as traffic and weather. On top of that, you often encounter clients who are unprepared or who have discovered the need for more services since scheduling the appointment—and failed to mention them to the practice.

Dr. Jeff Hall at Equus Veterinary Service in Oregon City, Ore., estimates that 40 percent of his ambulatory appointments require more services than were originally scheduled. Dr. Hall's practice schedules calls in two-hour blocks, leaving him some flexibility for addressing extras. "I work hard to stay on schedule," he says. "But I'll at least discuss the issue or begin an exam that may have to be completed at a later date."

However, many practices use exact times and a point system to decide how much time to dedicate for a specific appointment, and unforeseen work can only mean one thing—the staff will be making a "sorry, the doctor's late" call to Mrs. Smith.

Most equine practices fall into one of two camps when it comes to clients' requests for additional services. The first group usually says no, and the second group usually says yes. Whichever type you are, having a clear strategy for staying on time and dealing with the unexpected can help minimize any impact to the day's schedule.

Option 1: Be on time all the time

Some practices schedule appointments for one or more specific services, and that's the service they provide during the appointment. Additional needs are scheduled for another visit in the future. The advantage to this approach is that the problem tends to be short-lived—clients will get the message and be more thorough when scheduling their appointments.

On the other hand, many horse owners "retain" the use of more than one veterinarian, and if you fail to meet all of Mrs. Smith's needs, you could be sending her into the arms of your competitor. So this strategy may be great if you're a busy practitioner who enjoys a strong reputation or if you don't face a great deal of competition. It might upset some horse owners, but it will create goodwill with the rest of your clients who value their time as well as yours. They'll come to appreciate seeing their veterinarian at the approximate time they had planned to.

Option 2: Never pass on an opportunity

Other equine veterinarians, however, believe they can't afford to pass up an opportunity to generate additional revenue. This approach is more popular with practitioners who have fewer clients, who are located in areas of high competition, or who are well into their careers. Many senior practitioners remember their efforts to build the practice and feel that the benefits of delivering those additional services outweigh the downside of being chronically behind schedule.

And then there's the economy. Fewer and fewer practitioners have full schedules right now, which allows for more flexibility. And even those who have a busy day today are eyeing tomorrow with concern. These veterinarians live by the adage "make hay when the sun shines," because these days, no one knows when the sun will shine next.

Whatever your approach, there's no downside to doing everything possible to avoid unexpected requests or other delays in the first place. Like almost every issue in this profession, success begins and ends with good communication.