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Compendium June 2010 (Vol 32, No 6)

In Practice — Focus on Your Current Clients

by Louise S. Dunn

    What Is a Client Worth to Your Practice?

    According to the Well-Managed Practices Benchmarks 2009 study,1 clients spend an average of $440/year on medical care for their pets. The American Pet Products Association 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey2 found that dog owners spent an average of $225 in the previous 12 months on routine veterinary visits, while cat owners spent $203. The AVMA 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook3 cites the mean annual veterinary expenditure of US pet owners as $200/dog and $81/cat.

    Do some math. Depending on which stats you use, a pet that lives for 10 years has a value to your practice of between $881 and $4,400. We all have clients who spend far more than this every year, and in a high-end practice, each client is probably worth two to three times this amount. Say each of your clients has two pets and refers two new clients to you. That makes each client who walks in your door worth $3,524 to $17,600. Are you doing enough for these clients, given the amount of money each one is worth to you?

    Are Your Clients Referring Friends and Family?

    The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has a marketing tool called "How well am I marketing my practice?" Here is a summary of the responses:

    In an ideal world, you would have happy clients, dogs that don't bite, cats that won't scratch, and cows that won't have trouble calving. Some things just aren't possible…but what is possible is transforming your client relations to a higher level of communication, compliance, satisfaction. and loyalty. Let's look at an example.

    Mrs. Jones sits anxiously on the edge of her chair in your examination room. You and your team have just explained the medical care you have provided in the past 2 days to get her dog, Hershey, back on her feet.

    Mrs. Jones' face shows her anxiety. Hershey had surgery for a ruptured cruciate ligament and is being discharged with sutures, medications, a large bandage, and an E-collar. When Hershey enters the room, Mrs. Jones squeals in delight at the sight of her dog. Hershey is just as excited to see her owner, and the awkward leg wrap and E-collar make her run into the legs of a chair. Suddenly, Mrs. Jones whips out her cell phone, snaps a picture, and immediately sends the photo to her friends and family—all the while gushing about how wonderful the hospital is.

    Savor the feeling: the joy of seeing the human–animal bond in action; the satisfaction from a job well done; the feeling of a successful medical treatment; the words of praise and thanks. Do you think Mrs. Jones will refer your practice? She already has. Hershey's picture is now speeding to cell phones, being forwarded and twittered. Just how many people have received Mrs. Jones' referral? Hershey's E-collar antics could even end up on YouTube!

    Mrs. Jones is probably the type of client you want more of. She loves you and your team. She sets up progress examinations and purchases special treats. How do you keep Mrs. Jones and attract more like her? There are many colors in the picture of client retention and referral: the client, the team, the environment, the economy, the culture.

    Mapping the Client Experience

    All clients are important to the success of a business—the ones that visit once a year as well as those who come in every month. The single-pet client and the multiple-pet client are both significant. To manage your client base, you need to know what you are seeking: Which client behaviors do you want? Which techniques or services do you perform that influence behavior? Which clients do you want to focus on? The answer to these questions goes beyond regular demographics. It involves mapping—mapping the client and the experience.

    So, what is experience mapping and how does it affect client retention and referrals? Experience mapping is looking at every interaction from the client's perspective. Identify each step in executing a particular event, such as making an appointment, greeting the client, admitting the patient, performing the examination, and discharging the patient. Study each step in detail. What needs to happen at each stage? Understanding client needs and preferences and taking care to meet each of them will build your client relationships and loyalty. Verbal and nonverbal cues are both vitally important, and you'll need to train your team to interact with each client appropriately for each of the steps you've analyzed.

    Go back to the Hershey Jones case. Map out every step: the task, the person, and the objectives. Mrs. Jones called the office. Did she get a real person or a choice of options? If you have an answering machine with options, are the choices clear? Mrs. Jones spoke to the receptionist (who really drives your business). What information did the receptionist ask for, and what information did Mrs. Jones get? Could Mrs. Jones find your practice easily, park, and get Hershey inside without incident? Assess every step of the client experience with the object of identifying opportunities for "value creation." What does the client need during each step? Some clients value distinctive or unique products and services. What can you and your team provide that is unique?

    For example, Mrs. Jones obviously uses her cell phone a lot. What if you asked her at the surgery admission if she would prefer a phone call or a text message to inform her when the surgery is done and Hershey is in recovery? Perhaps you could send her a picture of Hershey snuggled under a blanket in her cage. And wouldn't it be nice if the picture showed a stuffed animal in the cage with her for additional snuggling—say, one that was picked up for 50 cents at a garage sale? You would need to acquire some stuffed animals and train your surgery technicians to ask the new question during admission and to take and send the picture. This minor change in your routine could pay big dividends in the form of client enthusiasm and appreciation.

    Back to Mrs. Jones. You saw in her face that she was anxious. What did you say to her to put her at ease? Responding to nonverbal cues can demonstrate your empathy and send the message that you care, not just about your patients, but about your clients. The cell phone is another cue, not just about Mrs. Jones' satisfaction, but perhaps about how she prefers to communicate.

    The Service-Profit Chain

    Look at your team members closely. They play a large role in client retention and referral. Well-trained teams with low turnover can increase client loyalty and boost profits by as much as 55%. Just a 5% increase in client loyalty can result in a 25% to 85% increase in profits. A popular Harvard Business Review article4 calls this the service-profit chain. The chain goes something like this: value drives client satisfaction, client satisfaction improves loyalty, and loyalty improves profit. Therefore, to increase profit, you need to concentrate on value. In the grand picture of the service-profit chain, your team members are just as important as your clients because your team plays a vital role in client loyalty. An exercise you and your team can use to build loyalty find opportunities is to map out each team member's job responsibilities and identify areas where you can create value.

    Part of keeping a good team together is acknowledging their success. Remember how Mrs. Jones gushed about the care given to Hershey? It was a message about your team's performance. Did you share it with your team?

    Geo Mapping Your Clients

    Another idea to explore for improving client retention is geo mapping your client base.5 Geo mapping combines your client address/location information, data from the US Census, and socioeconomic, sales, and other data to form a baseline for the client population in your area. Consider the maps from various pharmaceutical companies showing the US distribution of heartworm disease, Lyme disease, or rabies. Do you use this information when you talk to clients about their pets' potential for exposure to these diseases? Do you find yourself pointing to the map and showing how many cases were reported in your local area? The concept that certain diseases tend to occur in certain locations and that those locations can influence health has been used widely in human and animal medicine. Now think bigger.

    Geo mapping can be used for more than mapping populations at risk of disease. It can also be used to identify trends and new marketing areas and to measure the effects of your marketing campaigns. Imagine you are interested in introducing a new service. Should you venture into the new service area? How do you market it? To whom do you market it? Geo mapping may be the tool you need to help you answer these questions.

    Here is an example of geo mapping using your current database. You diagnose heartworm disease in a dog or feline leukemia in a cat. After running a database search, you send a medical alert to your clients in the same zip code as the affected patient. The medical alert explains the risks to their pets. Thinking even bigger, you send a public service announcement to the local paper. You are combining individual and computer intelligence—also known as integrated intelligence.

    The Social Media Factor

    Last, but not least, do not ignore social media. These days, it behooves a business to dedicate a few team members to develop and monitor its social media network. Online communities can be powerful; often, they are the first place a person gathers data and forms an opinion. Remember Mrs. Jones? Where did Hershey's picture end up? Perhaps she sent it to her daughter, who forwarded it to a friend, whose mom saw it and chuckled (and later went online to look up your veterinary practice). Perhaps someone wrote in their blog about Hershey's care, and the story was picked up by another person facing a similar situation with their pet. A few clicks, and articles appear about the condition, the surgery, and the care…and soon, someone new is trying to e-mail you to set up an appointment. The Harvard Business Review acknowledges that, in regard to social media, "the implications for health care are profound. Indeed, online communities are changing the way doctors provide care" as clients tweet, blog, research, and communicate.6

    You can set up your own social media team. Many of your employees can probably provide you with a wealth of personal experience and expertise that you can use in setting up a formal policy about online community interaction, ways to monitor and survey the online terrain, and even how to establish the practice's own venue (e.g., Facebook page, veterinary hospital blog).6 You can set your practice up to engage the online community and respond quickly to any social media crisis (e.g., a tweet from an unhappy client). You can even set up a blog on your Web site and have all your postings go from there to Facebook and Twitter automatically.

    Your goal? It's not just about the amount of money a single client spends. A client who spends $500 can be just as loyal and valuable as one who spends $5000. Both have friends and family to refer to you. Learn about your team and your clients, identify the behaviors you want repeated, attract and keep your stars, and enjoy the fruits of being truly connected and engaged with your clients.

    Additional Helpful Web Sites

    Lewis B, Otto D. Getting wind of your existing clients value. MarQuant Analytics. Accessed May 2010 at: www.marquantanalytics.com/ar03CMOCT.html.

    Hoagland-Smith L. How to determine small business client acquisition costs and more importantly why should you know. E-Zine Articles. Accessed May 2010 at: ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Determine-Small-Business-Client-Acquisition-Costs-and-More-Importantly-Why-Should-You-Know&id=122382.

    Lake L. Explore the value of customer retention. marketing.about.com/cs/customerservice/a/crmstrategy.htm.

    Customer attrition cost measure. Execution MiH. Accessed May 2010 at: www.bipminstitute.com/analytics-reporting/customer-attrition-cost.php.

    1. Benchmarks 2009: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Available at: www.industrymatter.com/benchmarks2009astudyofwell-managedpractices.aspx.

    2. American Pet Products Association. 2009/2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. Available at: www.americanpetproducts.org/pubs_survey.asp.

    3. American Veterinary Medical Association. U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. Available at: www.avma.org/reference/marketstats/sourcebook.asp.

    4. Heskett JL, Jones TO, Loveman GW, et al. Putting the service-profit chain to work. Harv Bus Rev July-August 2009. Accessed May 2010 at: hbr.org/2008/07/putting-the-service-profit-chain-to-work/ar/1.

    5. Geo mapping and surveys. Datamotive. Accessed May 2010 at: www.datamotive.com.au/research/example-charts.

    6. Kane GC, Fichman R, Gallaugher J, Glaser J. Community relations 2.0. Harv Bus Rev 2009;87(11):45-50, 132. Accessed May 2010 at: hbr.org/2009/11/community-relations-20/ar/1.

    References »

    NEXT: Methods of Urolith Removal [CE]

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    Did you know... Behavioral issues affect almost every aspect of veterinary medicine.Read More

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