Rethinking Client and Technician Interaction

The Back is the New Front: Rethinking Client and Technician Interaction
Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT
Changes to the way that our clients discover our business and increased
competition for our shopped services require us to better communicate the value
of our services to our clients. The successful practice of the future understands
that the leading force of this communication works in its technical department.
The recession of 2008 pushed non-veterinary companies to explore additional
ways to keep revenue growth strong. One of the solutions that they undertook
was expansion into pet health care. Since then, these companies have proven to
be highly competitive.
Large businesses have the resources to have great online presence. Most
Google searches for veterinarians in any city will list several ads by competing
veterinary corporate entities for free, first-visit exams. Other Google searches for
veterinary related services and items (read flea products or spay procedures)
typically return no veterinarians, but only competitors to our industry including big
box stores and grocery chains. This is extremely concerning. In the past, clients
had one go-to resource for located businesses in any area: the Yellow Pages.
Today, this publication is virtually extinct and online searches are quickly
becoming the third most important way our clients have to find our business
(typically the first and second are ‘drive byes’ and ‘referrals from friends’). As
online visibility becomes more and more of an asset, it will be more challenging
for private practicing veterinarians to find the money or time to keep up with
securing a high rank in Internet searches.
In addition to the competition we are experiencing outside of our industry, there
are internal pressures as well. Today, we are graduating more veterinarians
(and will be well into the foreseeable future) than ever before. These
veterinarians are already adding to an overly saturated employment pool.
According to the 2013 AVMA Work Study Report, America is experiencing a 1525% excess capacity of veterinary services. This means that 15 to 25% of the
time veterinarians spend employed at their jobs is underused and with more
veterinarians coming into the workforce, the situation will only get worse. This
phenomenon drives veterinary prices and margins down, giving little relief to a
veterinary support workforce that’s already minimally compensated.
Another obstacle to our competitiveness is clients’ ever-increasing demands for
service and speed. Many of you have already experienced a crunch in your time
because of work and other life demands. Clients that traditionally made a
separate trip to our practice have less time to wait around are choosing to
resolve their pet care needs using online resources or by using the big box stores
that they are already frequenting. In 2008, Wal-Mart captured 22% of the pet
related retail sales with it’s sights set on 30% only two years later. Currently WalMart sports an aggressive pet product presence on their webpage and even
hosts a page dedicated solely to pet pharmaceuticals. Their flea and tick product,
Pet Armor, a fipronil based medication, was listed in 2012 as one of the most
successful new products to hit the market with over 144 million dollars in sales in
just the first year. These facts demonstrate that Wal-Mart and like companies
are not only pursing opportunities in pet product retail sales, but that people are
responsive to their efforts.
These competitors have taken a series bite out of revenue that traditionally made
up as much as 30% of our total income, namely our flea and tick products sales,
our pharmacy, our vaccines and our spay and neuter surgeries.
With so much of our income at risk and no alternative products or services to
offer, veterinarians must increase client loyalty and compliance in order to remain
competitive and financially healthy. Traditionally, we’ve relied upon our client
care representatives to answer the phone, talk to clients and make our
appointments, but too often our receptionists represent the most inexperienced
and untrained members of our group. In order to take the next step towards
improved client bonding and compliance, technicians must begin to taken an
active role in engaging with and educating our client base.
Technicians can participate in improved client relations in several ways, each of
which is discussed below. These are: assistance with hospital-wide education,
the creation of hospital wide ‘patient well-being’ protocols, client interaction
protocols and scripts, and smart marketing. Keep in mind that this is not an
exclusive list.
Assistance with Hospital Wide Education
Too often our practices are deficit in training. Simply put, veterinary practice
managers often find themselves pulled in too many directions to make sure that
everyone is educated fully and thoroughly. Technicians can take a lead in
training employees by first reviewing the cycle of service. These are the junctures
of interaction that we have with clients as they contact and go through our
practice. Examples of cycle-of-service points are: the phone call to the practice,
triaging cases on the phone, booking appointments, confirming appointments,
when clients enter our building, while they wait for their appointment, and so on.
By reviewing each step, our technicians can look for opportunities to connect and
educate, then train the rest of the team to be compliant with those
Technicians should also collaborate on a list of set questions for each patient
history and a protocol for client interaction with each visit. Setting expectation for
not just what you say, but how you say it, can make all the difference between a
client interaction that feels valuable and one that feels like it can be exchanged
for one at any number of competing practices or stores.
Patient Admissions to the practice are another area that technicians can rethink
and improve upon. Too often, clients drop off their pets and see us in the worse
possible light. Typically before they go to work (and just as we are beginning
work ourselves), they line up at the door, admitted in, and then hurriedly taken
through a series of questions before their pet is whisked away ‘to the back’.
Technicians could devise a list of patient well-being protocols that showed our
attention to patient’s feelings during the inpatient procedure that could be
successfully and passively demonstrated to the client during the admission
In-house marketing materials are another area that can be improved upon. Each
practice has a unique way of explaining the value of its services, yet they often
rely on the brochures, videos and wall posters created by (and in the words of)
others. In this digital age, it takes little time or money to have customized
materials built for your practice. Having technicians collaborate on the message
they want to send to clients, and then hiring a third party to see that this vision is
realized, can be expeditiously and inexpensively accomplished.
The time has come for our most experienced and often most senior team
members to step out of the ‘back’ and into the effort of demonstrating to clients
are unique value. Working with clients in a more engaged fashion will not only
improve our success with capturing client loyalty and increasing client
compliance, but will enrich the jobs of our technicians, underline their importance
to the practice, and create a strong argument for higher wages.