As vets, the needs of our animal patients are always at the front of our minds. However, what really drives good veterinary business and defines successful patient care is how well we know our two-legged clients – something which can be even more challenging than treating their pets. In today’s competitive climate, providing a good customer experience and building loyalty to the practice has never been more crucial. To do this, practices really need to get to know their customers and gain a clear understanding of their needs and desires.

Don’t forget about the before and after

It’s easy to forget that the consultation is only one part of the customer journey and that their experience actually begins well before stepping foot in the practice and ends long after they leave. For example, your client may have just spent the last 30 minutes trying to find a car parking space, or spent the whole week worrying about having to get their cat in the basket. They may have not been able to get the appointment time that they originally wanted or have had to take time off work. These are all considerations which can influence the client’s attitude towards you and their loyalty to the practice.iStock_000040498154_Medium

Similarly, after they leave the practice, the client will reflect on things such as whether they think they got good value for money, whether they feel adequately supported and whether they fully understand any ongoing management instructions. For example, if they need to get a urine sample, did they receive detailed instructions on exactly how to do this rather than just being presented with a sample pot?  Clients need both emotional and practical support  – they need to be listened to and to feel valued while also being offered practical help and advice.

It is these ‘before’ and ‘after’ parts of the client journey that vets need to make more of an effort to develop so that they can help make their customers’ lives easier and bond them to the practice. This extra understanding of what clients need can make all the difference to good client care and retaining them in the practice.

Knowledge is power

When it comes to providing the best service, knowing as much as possible about owners and their pets when they come in for a consult really does add value – nothing beats the personal touch. This is something which independent practices often benefit from – more detailed knowledge of their customer base. But how can we go about gathering this information and making sure it’s put to best use?

Firstly, make sure you use what you’ve already got. Before the owner enters the consult room, make sure you’re equipped with as much information about them as possible, Even if this just consists of a quick peak at whether they have got any other pets registered with you. For example, asking about how Fluffy’s sister is getting on is a great way of building a rapport with the client and potentially bringing their other pets’ veterinary needs to the forefront of their mind.

Checking back through stock lists, till and client records to evaluate purchasing habits can also be extremely helpful. Considering the way clients think, feel, reason and even select a product or service will help purchasing decision makers appreciate what clients want and help them choose the right products to retail in practice. There are also various professional auditing services which can use your CRM system to group customers based on various data which can be useful to target communications more closely to the customer. See ‘Why profiling your customer pays’  to find out how to identify common pet owner traits and which are particularly telling.

Tailor your talk

Practice managers should encourage members of their front-of-house and veterinary teams to take customer characteristics into account and adopt the appropriate communication technique. For example, a one-stop shopper may be interested in buying worming products, flea treatments and pet food after bringing the pet in for a vaccination, whereas a bargain hunter is likely to only want to pay for the vaccination. It is also worthwhile asking the client how he or she is getting on with a particular product or preventive treatment and whether he or she needs any more information or advice about it. This can help gauge what type of purchaser that client is, as well as evaluating whether your current retail products and accompanying communication. It will also help increase owner compliance.

Ask the questions

To glean information over and above that requested on signing up to the practice or during consultation, a questionnaire is a very simple and effective way to gauge what clients want from the practice. Why second-guess when you can get information straight from the people you are trying to understand and influence? This can be something as simple as few multiple choice questions that can be quickly filled out while waiting for a consultation or incorporated into the practice’s online communications.

Is this something that you feel that veterinary practices need to be better at? Or perhaps you’ve got some good tips anbout how best to get to know your customer base? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

To read more about why it pays to profile your customers click here or for tips on how to evaluate customer satisfaction, click here