What would Disney do if he owned a veterinary practice?

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Jul 02, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

Next time you're diagnosing a pet, ask yourself, "What would Disney do?" Of course, old Walt would probably listen to the animated animal talk and tell him what the problem is. But you can learn a lot about improving clients' experience at your practice from the Disney Corp.'s lessons of customer service, says Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director of Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. Dr. Downing speaks on the topic, which she adapted from the book If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9-1/2 Things You Would Do Differently (Second River Healthcare, 2004) by Fred Lee. Lee was a human-hospital administrator who took a job at Disney for a period of time to take his management skills in a new direction. Here are just a few of the ideas Downing shares with other veterinarians:

1. Don't just provide a service, create a culture. At Disney theme parks, customers are known as "guests" and employees are "cast members." These "cast members" at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are sensitive to the fact that their every interaction with a "guest" is a show of meeting and exceeding expectations. "Simply delivering a service is like teaching a monkey to do surgery," Dr. Downing says. "It's just a matter of going through the motions." But creating a culture is about everyone understanding that their job is to meet patient needs and exceed client expectations. Dr. Downing uses selling a bag of dog food as an example of how delivering a service and creating a culture differ:

> Delivering a service. A client walks through the door to buy a bag of dog food. The receptionist hands her a bag, charges her for it, and the client leaves.

> Creating a culture. A client walks in the door to buy a bag of dog food. The receptionist has seen this client before and calls her by name. The receptionist knows the dog food is going to go up in price by 15 percent in two weeks and lets the client know that now is a good time to stock up. The client decides to buy two big bags, and the receptionist carries the second bag out to the car.

"It only takes one team member becoming personally involved during one client visit to transform a client's experience of the practice," Dr. Downing says.

2. Give your clients a story to tell. When children return from a Disney theme park, they remember the experience vividly. They have stories to tell. A floppy-eared Goofy took a picture with them. They flew through the air on the Dumbo ride. They ran wild on Tom Sawyer's island. Why can't your practice do the same thing—for young and old? That's how you get loyal clients, not just satisfied clients, Dr. Downing says: "When they can't remember anything, that means they were satisfied. When they remember something good, that's loyalty." Team members can walk that second bag of dog food to the client's car. You can show clients the yeast infection under the microscope. Everyone can call clients and pets by name and look genuinely happy to see them. When your clients meet other pet owners, they'll have good stories to tell about your theme park of a practice.

3. Build your own "cast." Decide what your culture, your mission, and your values are, and make sure team members' actions fit with them. "You want a team that will deliver that little extra," Dr. Downing says. If you or a team member is more Cruella De Vil than Snow White, it's time for a change in your own attitude or your hiring and firing practices. And if you want your team to be educated and practicing what you preach, you need to "train, train more, and then train some more after that," she says.

You might not build Mickey Mouse ears on top of your sign, but that doesn't mean you can't bring some Disney magic to your clients and patients. When you do, you'll leave them with smiles and wagging tails.