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Practice Management

Over the Counter: The Client Perspective

by Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, MCP
    Receptionist at clinic

    This article is part of a real-life case involving questions of communication, discrimination, and compensation. For the other articles about this case, follow the links below.

    The Story So Far...

    The Story So Far…

    A practice owner, Dr. Non, hired a new male associate, Dr. New, at a starting salary of $85,000. His existing female associate, Dr. Strong, who was making $65,000, found out Dr. New’s salary and confronted Dr. Non, asking for equal pay. Dr. Non refused, stating that her production did not warrant a larger salary and that he had issues with her performance. Dr. Strong filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and, when that was denied, a civil suit against the practice for discrimination.

    (For the full background of the case, read Dr. Non v. Dr. Strong.”)

    Over the Counter: The Client Perspective

    A lot of times, I think, doctors don’t realize the effect something like this can have on their clients. You may feel that your clients are immune from events within the inner workings of your practice, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. When two doctors in a practice are in conflict, it is bound to affect every aspect of the hospital. Employees are certainly affected. One of Dr. Non’s employees was asked to give a deposition. How often is an employee asked to do that, and what is he or she going to say to other team members about it? That employee also has family and friends who are going to become aware of the problem, and some of them might even be clients of the practice.

    Internal problems also spill “over the counter.” Employees might talk about them “behind the scenes,” but as we all know, many conversations are overheard by others. Some employees might talk openly to clients about a problem even if they are instructed not to. When employee morale is low, client morale can also be affected: customer service might be impaired, the doctors of the practice might not be as attentive, and overall, clients might feel that something is not the same or quite right. In the current case, lawyers have even interviewed some of the clients to get their feedback on Dr. Strong!

    One of the things we as consultants suggest to our clients is that they “keep a finger on the pulse of their clients” on an ongoing basis. This is a critical concept that every successful business employs to discover problems before they can become catastrophes. To make it practical, I might suggest that you send out a client questionnaire to all new clients to ask for feedback about their experience at your hospital. If you are using Vetstreet, you can send out an electronic questionnaire to all your new clients; if not, you can send a questionnaire in the mail. Ideally, the questionnaire should be simple—no more than one page—but it should ask the client for feedback about your practice and their experience. Questions such as, “Did you feel the veterinarian was attentive to you and your pet’s needs?”and “Was the veterinarian professional in his/her manner of communication and seem genuinely interested in you and your pet?” will help elicit the information you need. You may think you have no issues with your staff…but your clients might tell you otherwise.

    Another way to keep the finger on the pulse of your practice is to use the concept of a “mystery shopper.” Have a friend or relative (the “shopper”) pose as a normal client and bring a pet into your practice for a wellness visit. This person should be very aware of and attentive to every aspect of the visit, from the initial phone call to the final payment of the bill. In fact, VMC has a mystery shopper form that walks our clients through all the “points of contact” that we wish them to evaluate. Everyone can be informed that a mystery shopper will be coming into the practice, but they won’t know who or when. Once the form is completed, the mystery shopper reports back to the practice regarding their findings.  This is a great way to evaluate the customer experience.

    Read about the other aspects of this case!


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