Your clients have probably told you more than you ever wanted to know about them. But have they ever told you what they really
want when it comes to veterinary services? You might be a practice purist, insisting you only want to offer veterinary medicine.
Or you might want to give clients the moon and stars but are unsure where to start. When it comes to offering such extras
as boarding and grooming, extended hours, and online appointment requests, you can add value to your business (and set yourself
apart from competitors) while making clients happy. Here are three ways to please clients—without losing your sanity.
1. Online appointment scheduling
What you want: To keep from adding one more task to your team's already maxed-out, never-ending to-do list.
What clients want: To request an appointment in their preferred communication format—at 2 a.m. if they like.
Seventy-seven percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet. It stands to reason, then, that a good portion of your veterinary
clients are used to doing a fair amount of their business online. Have you considered offering online appointment requests
to your clients?
About 5 percent of clients at Broad Ripple Animal Hospital request their appointments or prescription refills online. "It's
only 5 percent, but it's really important for us to pay attention to how our clients want to communicate with us and offer
that method for those who do," says Brenda Tassava, CVPM, director of operations at Broad Ripple Animal Hospital in Indianapolis,
Brenda Tassava, CVPM, CVJ, is the hospital administrator at Broad Ripple Animal Clinic and Wellness Center in Indianapolis.
Clients fill out an online form requesting an appointment, specifying the doctor they would like to see, the reason for the
appointment, and two preferred appointment times. Within 24 hours, a staff member responds via e-mail with the confirmed appointment
time. "Clients understand that they're not making their own appointment but merely requesting an appointment time," Tassava
says. "We make it clear that they need to call us for emergencies, but if they can wait until the next day to be seen, we
try our best to honor their preferred appointment time."
Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, owner of KG Marketing and Training in Springboro, Ohio, agrees that online appointment and prescription
refill requests are a great added service for clients. "This approach provides convenience clients want while allowing the
veterinary team to stay in control of customizing the schedule as they see fit," Gavzer says. "Clients should never be allowed
to make up the schedule themselves, but requesting appointments—and having a team member confirm the appointment with the
right doctor and for the correct amount of time—is absolutely a good idea."
Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, is a veterinary business consultant and internationally known writer and speaker based in Ohio.
The cost to add online appointment and refill requests is nominal. It may already be a feature of your practice management
software. And both Tassava and Gavzer say it doesn't take any extra time to process online requests—in fact, it's even more
efficient than telephone.
"Our receptionists really like the system and find it much more convenient because they can break away from the phone when
the time is right for them and process the requests," Tassava says. "Also, they can copy and paste the information the client
writes about the pet's condition straight into the patient record, which is much faster than typing up what the receptionist
thinks the client said over the phone."
2. Boarding & grooming
What you want: To practice high-quality medicine without running a hotel and salon.
What clients want: The peace of mind of knowing their pet is in safe hands while they're gone.
"Every square foot of your hospital, if not used for storage, needs to produce income," says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Gary Glassman, CPA. "Boarding and grooming is a natural offshoot of veterinary medicine."
Gary Glassman, CPA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, is partner with Burzenski & Co. in Connecticut.
Glassman says the comfort of knowing a pet is tended to by trained medical professionals is a big plus for boarding and grooming
clients. And boarding and grooming professionals often identify medical issues while caring for the pet, which offers better
medical care—and more revenue for the practice.
"From a financial standpoint, boarding makes great sense," says Glassman. "The most profitable veterinary practices I work
with are those that offer significant boarding and grooming." Think about it this way: You already pay for the space, so you
might as well use it. You'll pay wages and benefits for boarding staff, but the rest of the income goes straight to your bottom
With grooming, the numbers aren't quite so easy, but boarding and grooming do nicely go hand-in-hand, Glassman says. "No one
wants to send a dog home from boarding without being bathed or groomed," he says. "And grooming as a service can lead to a
boarding opportunity, as well as medical opportunities."
To make boarding and grooming work for you, you must market appropriately, Glassman says. Offer luxury boarding suites at
premium rates, and you'll be surprised how quickly they book up. Always offer complimentary pre-board exams, and assign a
technician to the boarding kennel each day to check for medical issues. Also consider doing a market demographic study before
making any big investments in space to make sure there is a need for your services.
"A lot of veterinarians see boarding and grooming as a management headache, and just want to stick to practicing medicine,"
Glassman says. "But there are many great business opportunities in offering services that will benefit your clients as well.
Find the right person to manage these services, and you'll reap great rewards for your practice and your patients."