Avoiding a Full Day of First Dates: Dr. Stacee Santi

Dr. Stacee Santi, veterinarian and founder of Vet2Pet, says part of the reason we’re so tired is that we find ourselves “having to go on a bunch of first dates all the time.” She thinks the right tech, used the right way, can get us closer to our ideal client – and our ideal day in practice.

When I started my full-time remote job here at AAHA, a lot of people asked me, “Won’t you miss being in practice?” And the answer was a very firm no – but also an adamant yes.  

I don’t miss a lot of things about practice right now. The truth is, I wanted a change and was more than ready for this one. But I miss two big perks of practice: my awesome teammates . . . and those clients.  

You know the ones I mean. The ones who are so amazing, and whose animal buddies are so amazing, that when you see them on your schedule you draw little hearts next to them and say, “At least that’s one appointment who will be happy to see me today.” And they always act like they are, even if they are there for a not-so-happy reason.  

One of the great joys of general practice is walking in to find you have more than one of Those Clients coming in in one shift. I had a handful of times where I had maybe three or four of them all in one day, and those were probably my favorite days. Partly because those animals were super sweet, but mostly because along with the fantastic animals came people who listened intently, offered valuable feedback, took terrific care of their pets to the best of their ability, communicated openly and honestly about their financial limitations, and had a sense of humor. The only real stress you feel in those appointments is the stress of wanting to do your very best to help those families, and that’s the kind of stress we live for.  

Stacee Santi, DVM, founder of Vet2Pet and my guest on the May 31, 2022, episode of Central Line: The AAHA Podcast, has perhaps a surprising take on the value of technology: she says it can bring you closer and closer to those clients – and therefore closer to those magical shifts where you can just focus on being the great doctor and vet team they already know you are. Check out this excerpt from our conversation. 

Stacee Santi: I think if you look at what primarily drives loyalty from a pet owner to a veterinary practice, it’s going to be some basic things like: Location, that’s one, we can’t really change that. Accessibility, that’s one. I can’t get in, I’ve been your client for 10 years and I can’t get in for three weeks, that starts to affect the feeling. I have a question, I want to talk to you in between visits, that’s another one. Personalized care, knowing that you matter, that’s another one. The way the doctor talks to the client so that we’re not over-talking to them or under-talking to them, making sure that what we’re saying is landing. That’s another one.  

People generally say you are too expensive when they aren’t getting the value that they want. It also could be you’re just a flat-out mismatch, if you’re giving this great Ritz Carlton experience and you’ve attracted somebody that is more of a Tractor Supply person, that happens too. 

Recognizing when you’re not resonating with a client – it might be good to just own that. I remember one guy came into my exam room one time, and his dog had like grade 22 dental disease. And he was there just for the rabies shot every three years, and I’m like, “Well, your dog needs a dental so bad. It’s so horrible.” And he’s like, “No, I only want the rabies shot.” And I just told him, “I’m not your girl. I respect your viewpoints, but we aren’t a match. I’ll give you the rabies shot, but let me give you some references to some other practices.” It’s only going to frustrate him if I keep recommending a dental every time and making him feel bad and he has zero intention of ever doing it. 

Katie Berlin: And that’s the spot that somebody else could have to see you, who does want your recommendations and who is going to want to do those things that you find on the exam, whereas he could never do it, and I think we’ve all had that client for sure.  

SS: Well, and the opposite is true as well. I don’t know if you recall, but years ago, Humane Society started offering spay/neuter and full-service dentals to the general public, and there was a huge panic that, “Oh my god, we’re going to lose all of our clients, they’re going to go over and get the $89 dog spay. And they’re not going to come to Riverview and get the $300 dog spay.  

Well, that actually didn’t happen because the people that wanted the $300 dog spay with all the bells and whistles weren’t comfortable getting the cheaper version, which doesn’t come with the bells and whistles. So if a client that wants that ends up at the shelter, they might also be a mismatch.  

Think about when you travel, what kind of hotel you’re going to stay at – sometimes this one’s better, sometimes that one’s better. It’s a personal decision, and I think veterinarians have this mentality that you have to be everything to everybody all the time, and it’s exhausting, and it actually doesn’t even make sense when you say it out loud. 

KB: That hotel analogy is really good – I can’t afford the Ritz Carlton, but then I don’t expect the Red Roof Inn to be like that. It makes total sense and you’re right. People need different things out of different experiences, and knowing your client is so important and everybody in the practice can learn who that client is.  

I really want to make sure that in these conversations we have actionable things that anybody in the practice can do regardless of their role. If you’re in a practice and you’re not on the leadership team, what’s one other tip that you could give to veterinary teams to start learning who your client is and how they want to be related to? 

SS: I think the best thing teams can do is forward book the best clients. And there was an initiative years ago to forward book every client. 

KB: Forward booking, meaning like at the dentist, they try to schedule you for your next six months check-up or whatever. 

SS: Yeah, I’m not a fan of forward booking everybody because you’re very busy, but I’m a fan of forward booking the top clients that I enjoy working with, because if you fast forward to six months or a year and you come in to work and your day is stacked with your top clients, that’s a beautiful thing. Trying to stack your day in the future and build the experience you want may not happen today, but if you do the work today, it will happen tomorrow. What I consider the best time in my life in practice is working with those clients that are my people.  

Catch the rest of Dr. Stacee’s episode anywhere you get your podcasts, including Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher; on YouTube; or find links to all of these platforms, full audio and video, and transcripts to every episode at aaha.org/podcast.  

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