How technology can enhance value for your veterinary clients
Technology plays a major role in nearly every part of your veterinary practice. From taking digital radiographs to performing dental procedures, cutting-edge equipment helps you offer the best care for your patients.
But while these tools help you diagnose and treat pets, who's looking out for the business side of your practice? There's always room for increased efficiency and profitability, and technology is standing by, ready to help. These days, tools like websites, social media platforms, and electronic medical records function as allies in your fight to run a successful practice. And if you haven't learned by now that these gizmos are more than just a series of circuits and switches, it's time to change your views. They're actually crucial to enhancing clients' perceptions of the value your practice offers. So let's look at how you can lean on your electronic assistants—and become a better veterinarian in the process.
In a December 2010 article published by the Harvard Business Review, researchers uncovered some of the ways that technology has changed consumer behavior. One of author David C. Edleman's findings? Consumers today can compare their current service providers to competitors more easily and more frequently. This means the idea of clients "belonging" to your veterinary practice may be a thing of the past. Pet owners are now evaluating every aspect of the service you provide, from their interaction with staff members and doctors to the appearance of your facility. And they're not just scrutinizing these things—they're posting their observations online for everyone else to see.Kelly Baltzell, president of veterinary marketing firm Beyond Indigo Pets, says that the Internet has changed people's psychological patterns dramatically. "We now expect to find information immediately, wherever we're located. Knowledge is at our fingertips via computers and mobile devices," Baltzell says. "With the advent of the Internet, we also expect others to treat us as equals. Through the Internet and my social media networks, I am empowered as a consumer. When I purchase a service, I expect to be listened to and heard."
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In Benchmarks 2011, associates and staff members ranked a business's website as the top resource they would use to find information on that business and decide whether to visit. What's more, Well-Managed Practices say their practice website is the No. 1 most effective marketing and promotional resource they use. So what does your website say about you?
First of all, it's important to realize that your practice's website isn't a build-it-and-forget-it investment. People make decisions in one-twentieth of a second when they look at your site. Your clients are smart enough to know a good site when they see one, and it will reflect positively on your business if yours is modern and up to date.
"Clients expect a certain level of website in today's world, and I can't imagine not having a presence online. It helps start the more important personal relationship with the client because a virtual, preliminary introduction has already been made," says Dr. Thomas Burns, hospital director at Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Mass. "Clients are doing more homework on every important decision in the present economy, and a good website allows you to showcase your services."
Dr. Burns says the part of his practice's website his clients appreciate most is a section that helps them deal with the loss of a pet. "It's especially useful for helping children cope," he says. "I recommend that clients consult our pet loss section even before they lose a pet. You just can't give them that depth of information during painful discussions."
Dr. Burns says he also appreciates the ability to post new-client forms on the website, because clients can download and complete them before their first visit. This prevents delays on site, and the forms are often completed more thoroughly.
Managing your website can be a tedious, time-consuming process—and an investment that returns huge dividends when done well. You could delegate website maintenance to a staff member who has an interest and the technological know-how. Or consider outsourcing this responsibility. Whichever option you choose, plan on monthly or at least quarterly updates.
For guidance on how to get started, see the management tools included in Benchmarks 2011. (Information on ordering the study can be found by visiting http://dvm360.com/benchmarks2011. One sample tool, a guide to making your website sing your practice's praises, has been posted at http://dvm360.com/websitehelp.)