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Issue: 55 - Jul 15, 2013
Increasing Clients’ Trust and Referrals
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

You don’t have to have a big budget to attract new clients.  Instead, focus on your current client base and let them be your greatest source of advertising. To do this, start by making sure everyone on your team appreciates what drives pet owner buying behavior so they can deliver more of what clients want. Follow these practical tips and strategies to build trust and rapport with clients which will lead to greater client loyalty and more referrals.

Be Trusted Advisors

Have you thought about what pet owners want when they come to your practice?  Of course clients want you to be friendly and compassionate to them and their pets.  But they also want the peace of mind of knowing that you can be trusted to advise them about the best products and services for their pets.  Now more than ever before it is critically important to the success of veterinary practices that they ensure they are the trusted advisors for pet owners.  Clients may be able to buy less expensive drugs on the Internet and at stores such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens but they can’t find a trusted veterinary professional to talk to at these outlets.  Likewise, low-cost providers can’t provide comprehensive medical care and education to pet owners like you can.  Play to your strengths and make sure your team is seen by clients as their most trusted advisors.

Another way to increase your status in the community and be seen as trustworthy is to be active in charitable activities.  Look for opportunities to contribute your time and resources to events that raise money for local organizations.  For example, you may be able to collect canned goods for the local food pantry or participate as a team in a 5K walk that raises money for an area shelter.     

Become Knowledge Experts

The best way to build trust with clients is to provide client education on all medical topics that are of interest to pet owners.  This includes preventive and wellness care as well as education about medical and surgical care.  Pet owners should be able to turn to the veterinary team for information about nutrition, preventive products, behavior, weight management, supplements, and breed specific diseases as well as other medical topics.  Otherwise they will turn to the Internet or employees at non-veterinary stores.

Interestingly the 2012 Veterinary Information Gap Study from Veterinary Economics and Trone Brand Energy published in the August 2012 issue of the magazine showed that pet owners’ top 5 health-related topics they wanted to learn about were vaccinations, fleas/ticks, cost of drugs, heartworm and intestinal parasites.  The top 5 health-related topics that veterinary professionals feel are important to speak to clients about were blood tests, pain, senior pets, exams and intestinal parasites.  As you can see the 2 lists don’t match up.  Are you talking to clients about what they want to talk about?

Another way that you can help pet owners is to embrace the fact that they will search on the Internet for information and help them do this better.  You can create a guide titled “Finding Credible Information on the Internet” and put together a list of websites that you know provide accurate client education.

Pay Attention to Pets 

What do you mean pay attention to pets-isn’t that what we do all day long?  Well, yes and no.  Of course teams provide medical care for pets but do you communicate and act in a way that shows clients that you care about THEIR pet and in a way that celebrates the bond they have with their pet?  Here are some examples of how you can give special attention to pets and let clients know how much you care:

  • Make positive comments about the pet.  Owners love to hear team members show interest in their pets.  You may be able to comment on how attractive the pet is, tell the owner you like their collar, or compliment the pet for being so cooperative and friendly.
  • Pet the cat, kiss the dog, rub a belly or let a puppy lick your face.  You get the idea.
  • Talk to pets directly as if you were having a conversation.  Call Ginger “Miss Ginger” and Oliver “Mr. Oliver”.  Use the pet’s nickname or come up with your own positive nickname for the pet.
  • Tell stories about something cute the pet did while being hospitalized or boarded.
  • Show clients where their pet will stay so they can see the soft bedding in their cage or run.
  • Have catnip in an exam room for cats.

Create Lasting Memories

If you want clients to come back and tell others about your services then you must create an exceptional client service experience-one that will be remembered. What you say and how you say it makes a tremendous difference in how clients will remember their experience at your practice.  Most team members are friendly to pet owners which means they are average.  Being nice to clients is a great start but it won’t set your business apart from other practices.  Train your team to use specific communications to take service to a higher level.  Create general standards for the team as well as specific standards for various client points of contact such as during exam room visits are during client check-out at the front desk.  Here are some examples of communication standards:

  • Greet clients enthusiastically with a smile.  Use greetings such as “Welcome to (hospital name) or “Oh, what a cute puppy” when clients walk in rather than a standard “How may I help you?”.
  • Us the client’s name when speaking to them.  For example, use phrases such as “Mrs. Smith, we’re ready to see Chloe now.  Can you follow me to the exam room?”
  • Always ask the client “Have I answered all your questions and explained everything thoroughly?” or “Tell me what questions you have?”
  • Avoid the words “no”, “I don’t know” and “our policy”.  Instead say, “That’s a great question.  Let me go find out the answer for you.”  Another example is to say “Let me see what I can do for you.”
  • Rather than saying “Have a nice day” when clients leave, use a tailored goodbye such as “Enjoy your BBQ and please let us know if you have any questions about how Stitch is doing.” 

Use Social Media to Drive Referral Business

Social media has made it much easier to get the word out about your business.  You can use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to let clients know about your services and to give pet owners an opportunity to interact with your practice.  You can post short messages on Facebook about important, timely medical topics and links to articles that are credible.  You can promote team members and your brand by posting photos and short posts about interesting cases, success stories and your community involvement.  You can engage pet owners by having a pet costume contest or a contest for a complimentary dental cleaning if clients write about why their pet needs its teeth cleaned.

Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC