Veterinary medicine is at a crossroads. The cost of doing business continues to rise and the client base is becoming more and more diluted. Our individual piece of the pie is getting smaller than ever. We can complain and feel sorry for ourselves but that will do nothing to fix the problem and, in fact, it just makes things worse.

While there is no magic bullet that will make everything better, there are many areas in which we can strive to improve. We all need to take a critical look at the way our practices run to see if we are really doing our part for our staff, our clients, and our patients.

I highly recommend reading the Bayer-Brakke study; it really spells out areas of concern and offers solutions. This 2011 study conducted by Bayer and Brakke Consulting focuses on, among other things, what the client wants and needs from their veterinarian. For too long, we've taken the "build it and they will come" position, and for many years that worked, but not anymore. There are multiple reasons the market for our services has changed and they are too numerous and complicated for me to write about in this small blog post. Many are out of our control, but others are not.

We control the culture of our practice, and customer service must be #1. In order to ensure that clients return and refer their families and friends, we have to create raving fans. In the book, Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, one of the main premises is that customer service is so poor in general that it is easy to be better than average, but what's more important is exceeding clients' expectations. Do they feel your empathy and understanding? Is your staff top-notch and anticipating your clients' every need? Do you communicate in plain English? Do you listen? Do you spend adequate time with each and every client? Do you return calls in a timely manner? Does everyone in the practice abide by the "golden rule"--always put yourself in the client's position and then do for them what you would want done for yourself? The list goes on and on, but I think you get the idea.

So, while there may not be a quick and easy answer to building up a client base, phenomenal customer service is a great place to start. Yes, you can build it right and they will come!


Comments (3) -

Arnold L. Goldman DVM
Arnold L. Goldman DVMUnited States
2/22/2013 12:52:20 PM #

Thanks Mark for pointing out what we should all already know, after location customer service counts for almost everything! Medical knowledge and surgical skill are assumed as givens, when they are considered at all. Convenience, access and exceeding expectations are the true loss leaders in private practice....

Douglas Leidholt
Douglas LeidholtUnited States
2/22/2013 2:05:31 PM #

Though I agree with your present statement this has been occurring for several years, which we have experienced in Fort Collins.  There is a veterinarian on every corner.  Know how it used to be with McDonalds?  Though some practices may not have good customer service the majority do.  This town has become a war zone where some clinics hire people to write horrible things about other clinics on line, ethics has disappeared and the worst thing you can say about another clinic is the norm.  Many of us that have been in Fort Collins for years are just devastated at what is happening.  Needless to say, the worst the economy gets the harder it gets.  I warned CSU, AVMA, and AAHA that we where producing way to many veterinarians and now we are seeing that effect.  Lets face it, most vet graduates want to be in small animal private practice not the entities that need veterinarians.  There are way to many board certified surgeons, as well as other specialties with only a few lacking, like neurologist.  Contrary to what was said to me several years ago, the pie has not got larger and people who don't use veterinarians still don't and never will.  It is a sad picture right now.  So, though good customer service, finding your nitch, etc is important it won't always work.  By the way, when I went into practice in Fort Collins there were 5 vet clinics including large animal.  At this point there are more than 25, with a couple of new ones this year.  I don't even know everyone anymore.

karyn gavzer
karyn gavzerUnited States
2/27/2013 4:38:08 PM #

I loved your blog and agree that giving in or giving up is not the right response to tough times!  In addition to the client service opportunity you mentioned as a possible improvement goal, I see multiple opportunities for practices to do new, better and different things.  One that I'm very excited about right now is the one Dr. Marty Becker just developed for the "Fear Free Practice" for pets. It creates a visibly different experience for pets and their owners and I think clients will love it. Other possibilities for new services that I think many clients would welcome are:  veterinary-nurse home visits to check on pets who need ongoing monitoring or treatments (like insulin shots); breed-specific wellness care,; "indoor" cat programs that include tips on creating an enriched environment for indoor cats; pet hospice care and more.  

A wise man once said, "Once you take your eyes off of your goal, obstacles are all that you see."  I loved your blog because it suggested a goal to focus on -- I believe that there are many possible goals to focus on and wanted to add these thoughts to your excellent suggestion.

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