Most veterinary practices, like most small businesses, are eager to leave 2011 behind. The profession spent a lot of time
discussing why client visits have been declining over the last 10 years, a necessary but not always encouraging subject. The
Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study of pet owner behaviors and motivations brought to light a number of useful factors and potential
solutions (see the May, June, and July 2011 issues of Veterinary Economics for more details).
(LUIS CARLOS TORRES/GETTY IMAGES)
What has been less well-publicized is the second phase of that research, which focused on veterinary practices—particularly
those that have seen increased veterinary visits over the last 10 years, the same time period when the trend has gone the
other way for most practices. What have those practices done to drive demand for their services? What do they have in common?
That's what the researchers proposed to find out—and what this article lays out. As we enter 2012, it's time to find something
So, without further ado, here are the seven things you can do to increase demand for your services, based on evidence from
practices that are already doing them. Make these strategies an everyday part of your practice and soon your clients—and you—will
be howling with newfound enthusiasm.
1 BUILD INDIVIDUAL RELATIONSHIPS
In practices we studied that were seeing increased patient visits, the No. 1 thing they did—the top driver of demand for their
services—was ensuring that clients saw the same veterinarian every time they visited. Pet owners want a personal physician
for themselves and also for their pets. Plus, when you see the same client every time he or she visits, it fosters familiarity
and builds confidence in your skills and advice, creating a high degree of trust. And when you see the same patients routinely,
you know what care they've received and notice if they haven't been in for a while, allowing you to be proactive in scheduling
Another important driver of demand for veterinary services is believing that wellness exams are one of the most important
services you provide. If you believe this to be true and have a longstanding relationship with clients built on trust, they're
going to believe in it too. Keep in mind that clients want to please you as much as you want to please them.
2 MEASURE CLIENT SATISFACTION
Although it's commonly known that veterinarians want to please their clients, our research shows that only one out of five
practices conducts client satisfaction surveys. You really don't know how good of a job you're doing unless you measure success.
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In 2005, the AVMA/Pfizer Business Practices Study found that measuring client satisfaction was one of the top drivers of veterinary
income. But since then we haven't made any progress as a profession in measuring client satisfaction.
There are lots of ways you can measure satisfaction, including new client surveys, after-service surveys, and annual customer
satisfaction surveys. And surveying is incredibly easy to do. Many practice management systems include surveying as a feature,
or there's inexpensive software you can purchase separately. I recommend conducting your surveys electronically, because that's
the way people are used to receiving and responding to surveys these days.
I often have veterinarians tell me they don't survey clients because they don't have time. Or they don't get that many responses.
Or they don't know what to ask. But as of 2011, more than 30 percent of appointment slots are open in the average practice.
Use that extra time to launch a survey. While it's true that you may not get many responses, just asking people for feedback
fosters satisfaction and loyalty. Clients view the survey as an indication that you really care what they think. And it doesn't
take that many responses for you to identify trends and potential problems you may need to address.
If you don't know what to ask, use sample surveys and adapt them to your situation (see "Web resources" for tools from http://dvm360.com). Be sure to ask about the clarity and completeness of your communication. In our research, we found that veterinarians think
they do a great job at communicating, but clients aren't always quite so clear on what you're trying to tell them.
Also ask about the value-for-money of your services, the ease of doing business with you, the quality of your customer service,
and whether clients feel they're important to the practice. Finally, remember to ask about your practice's appearance, cleanliness,
convenience, and so forth.