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Veterinary Forum November 2007 (Vol 24, No 11)

Doctor to Doctor: Courting your clients

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    In last month's segment, the focus centered on what type of practice to decide on and how to keep a favorable rating in the minds of clients. We now will discuss how to make your practice friendly and vital to both the community and your clients.

    Getting your name out there

    The more a potential client hears your name or the name of your practice in a positive light, the greater the chance of that potential client becoming yours. To help publicize your name and practice, contact local public officials or charitable organizations for opportunities to become active in your community.

    If possible, offer special on-site programs to schools or educational organizations. Some local classrooms may have an animal mascot, so an afternoon trip to the school for a lesson about pet health and safety could promote your practice while simultaneously contributing to the public good.

    Joining the local Chamber of Commerce can put you in touch with businesses and community leaders. Sponsoring educational programs, such as wilderness walks, that benefit the entire community can be a worthwhile investment of your time and money. Work with your local newspaper to organize a weekly or monthly column about concerns owners may have about their pets.

    In addition to becoming active in your community, it is important to do your part for the betterment of local pet welfare. By becoming involved with pet adoptions, breeders, shelter programs and the local humane society, you can add many new patients to your practice.

    Track your referral sources and expand on the most successful, whether it be a Yellow Pages ad, exterior sign or word of mouth. Ask clients to refer others to you as well. If clients have a great experience at your practice, they will be more than happy to do this. Many clinics offer incentives for referrals by current clients. Groomers, pet sitters, trainers and pet stores all have the potential to refer new clients to your practice as well.

    Making yourself user-friendly

    An important thing to remember about client courtship is that retention equals success. If you can create a positive first impression in a client's mind and keep building on it, you will be rewarded with loyalty. To keep this loyalty, there are several ways to make each client's experience with your clinic a positive one.

    Packaging services can result in more services being requested by the client, as well as a decrease in "missed" charges. Most pet problems can be grouped together into standardized treatments and fees, resulting in greater client consistency. Grouping services together saves a lot of time when generating client bills, as well as eliminates services that may be forgotten — intentionally or unintentionally — and not charged for. It is much easier for your cashier to delete one service from a package than to program in 8 to 10 different services and/or products to generate the same bill. It also makes providing client estimates a snap.

    Make a sincere attempt to provide a written estimate that consists of an exact fee. The goal is never to charge the client more than the estimate — charge less, when possible. This can be accomplished by grouping all services and then adding a "contingency" line item. When was the last time you were charged less than the estimated fee? How did that make you feel? This is a major strategy in generating enthusiastic clients who will refer other pet owners to your practice.

    It also makes good business sense to stock only quality products. If there is substantial local competition for over-the-counter products, do not try to get into a price war with other businesses. Make sure all of your staff members are aware of the products you dispense and can educate clients on the advantages they offer over other products on the market. Make the client aware that you will provide a total refund for any product that does not live up to expectations. Most distributors will, in turn, provide you with a credit for any product that is returned.

    Extending your hours also can communicate the message that clients are truly special. Clients often choose a clinic that is the most convenient. Many successful practices are open 7:00 am to 7:00 pm during the week and from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturday. Lunch hours should be staggered so clients can be seen during this time. Drop-off services also are popular among clients. For these services to be effective, sufficient staff must be available and capable. If possible, consider making house calls or offering a pickup and delivery service. Many veterinarians now offer home euthanasia, too.

    Some closing thoughts

    It's not necessary to reinvent the wheel. If it works for others, consider it for your practice with a few possible enhancements. A practice management consultant can provide a wealth of knowledge of what has worked in the past, but be sure to check references. Your best advice will come from consultants who charge for their time and expertise, rather than from those who get commissions or other compensation from sales. Take each recommendation with a grain of salt, and be sure it does not come from anyone with hidden interests other than helping your practice.

    Remember that quality has no finish line. Today's quality will be tomorrow's mediocrity.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: Making a difference, big and small


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