Increasing profitability with communication with Tanja Mimica B.Sc. MBA
Importance of good communication
Communication is key.
I have worked with some practices that are performing very well financially, and others that are struggling to break even. I would go as far as to say that all the differences between them are rooted in communication.
Here's why: when vets communicate well with clients, it leads to acceptance of treatment plans. When the practice owner or manager communicate their vision and values well with the team, it leads to staff engagement; when the staff communicate well with each other, it improves efficiency in the practice, eliminates conflict and creates a more positive work environment. Finally, when staff members communicate well with clients, the number of client complaints decreases.
It doesn't matter whether you have a fancy new piece of equipment, great marketing material or the best surgeon - if your team is not communicating effectively, your practice is not going to be profitable.
Differentiating your practice
Pet owners can really only differentiate practices by the level of customer service they receive rather than veterinary competency. How do you define exceptional customer service?
That is 100% true, but I think some practice owners don't recognize that.
Here's an anecdote: My partner James, who is not from the vet industry, and I took our dog Alex to the vet a few weeks ago. He was really sick, so we saw about 5 vets in 3 hospitals within a period of 36 hours. After each consult, my partner commented on whether he thought the vet was ‘good' or not.
From a medical point of view, they were all great and Alex received excellent treatment.
After I quizzed him a little to find out what he based his opinion on, it was clear that it had nothing to do with judging their professional skills but purely whether he thought the vets ‘seemed like they cared about Alex'. Now, I'm sure they all really did care about the patient, so the only difference was how they communicated.
In our industry, customer service is almost entirely about how well we communicate with clients. Exceptional customer service means letting your clients know you care about their pet.
It's the old saying ‘they don't care how much you know, until they know how much your care' - cliche but true.
Pet owners complain that veterinarians are expensive but really it is just a perception of poor value for money.
Again, it's about communication. It doesn't matter what you have done for Fluffy, if you haven't communicated that to the client and explained the benefits for Fluffy.
Vets and nurses do great work every day that delivers value to clients, but unfortunately clients don't always see that, so we need to get better at communicating. We take patients to the hospital area and call it "out the back” - that term alone diminishes the value of our professional services. We chat to the client about their work while performing a 12 point check, so the client never realizes what you're actually doing for their pet.
A dental cleaning is a good example of this, and I know the uptake of dental prophys is a big challenge for many practices.
The vet looks at Fluffy's teeth and says "He needs a dental cleaning" The client's first question is "How much will it cost?";. So we give the client an estimate of $450, they either refuse on the spot or walk away with the estimate and never book the procedure. In this scenario, the vet has not demonstrated value, they have quoted the cost.
The first thing the client cares about is why their pets needs this - how Fluffy feels now, how he'll feel if the procedure isn't performed, and how he'll feel after it is performed.
The second thing the client cares about is why it ‘costs so much' - especially when they have their own teeth cleaned at the dentist for $100. You have to explain the procedure in order to demonstrate value. Start at the beginning, from admission to pre-meds, to the GA, to post-op monitoring...all the way to the discharge appointment and the revisit.
Demonstrating value is about helping the client understand the benefits of the procedure to their pet and what the procedure involves, while communicating in a way that lets the client know you care.
It sounds really basic, but the reality is that many practices are not doing this.
You can demonstrate value after a routine wellness check by summarizing what you have done (12 point check) prior to giving the client the bill or by performing nail clips and anal gland expressions in a consult room with the client present, just to name a few.
About Tanja Mimica
Tanja has almost 15 years experience in the vet industry, having worked as a vet nurse, practice manager, and more recently as business operations manager at Greencross and Vetwest Animal Hospitals.