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Issue: 56 - Aug 15, 2013
Be Different or Die
By: Dr. Phil Zeltzman
Dr. Phil Zeltzman1

“Differentiate or die.”

The title of this popular book* by Jack Trout, a marketing guru, applies very well to veterinary clinics. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but many of our clinics look the same, feel the same, sound the same, smell the same and offer the same products and services. All clinics pretty much have the same “on hold” recording. All clinics claim to offer the best medicine in town.  All colleagues insist on being knowledgeable and compassionate.

“How could it be otherwise?” you ask, “we all are here to treat pets.”

The problem with conformity, with homogeneity, with the lack of uniqueness, is that there is nothing to distinguish one clinic from the next. So how is a client supposed to choose between clinics?  More often than not, the client relies on subjective criteria such as proximity and price. And then we are the first ones complaining about price shoppers, and what a foolish way it is to compare clinics.

So what are we supposed to do?

Craig Ballantyne, editor of the ezine “Early to Rise,” notices that “almost 7 out of every 10 tablets sold around the world are iPads.”  Apple’s competitors seem to give up, one after the other, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and possibly Research In Motion, he explains.**

Why? “Every single vendor in the tablet space made the same mistake. Not a single one of them did anything different than the iPad,” explains Maribel Lopez, a financial analyst.  They merely tried to imitate their competitor. (Please note that Ballantyne’s article was written before the birth of the Surface tablet by Microsoft)

Meanwhile, Apple keeps getting better by offering the iPad, then the iPad2, then the iPad3, then the iPad 4…

In a totally different field, Craig Ballentyne points to Pizza Hut.  Their way to differentiate from the fierce competition? Offer pasta.  Meanwhile, Domino’s is venturing into the chicken business.

So how can you differentiate in your field?  There are many veterinary business consultants, and they have shared countless suggestions for years.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

* Hire excellent, polite, helpful, knowledgeable, friendly, considerate, smiling, problem-solving receptionists.  No exceptions.  No excuses.  No attitudes.

* Treat clients like they just walked into the Ritz-Carlton, and not the cheap no-name motel down the road.  Recall your last visit at a cheap motel vs. a fancy hotel?  How were you treated at the front desk?

* In a multi-doctor practice, allow clients who prefer consistency to see the same Doctor at every visit, as much as possible.  You’d be surprised how many clients referred for surgery tell me that they have no clue who their referring vet is, because they “see a different vet every time.”  How would you feel if your client didn’t even remember your name?

* Offer a coffee-chocolate-tea dispenser in your waiting room.  They have become very affordable.

* Promote services your local friendly competitors don’t offer.  Call me partial (I’m a mobile surgeon), but working with a mobile specialist allows you to provide better patient care and customer service in-house, while improving your bottom line. So you may want to consider working with a mobile surgeon, a mobile ultrasonographer, etc.

* On the phone, do not treat your clients like banks and other businesses treat their customers. I assure you, most people don’t want to “listen carefully as our options have changed.”  They don’t want to press 5 to talk to a human being.  They just want a friendly voice to pick up the phone after 3 rings or less, and help them solve their problem.

* No bad odor when you walk into the building!

* Spontaneously offer to clean up a carrier soiled by a stressed-out freakozoid cat.  With a smile.

* Volunteer to carry a large bag of food to a client’s car.

* Surprise an anxious client, who has been sitting in an exam room for more than 5 minutes with a cup of green tea.  One of my referral clinics has a sign that says “Ask us for a free bottle of water.”

* Happy clients could give a WOW card to outstanding team members.  After so many WOW cards are collected, employees could be rewarded accordingly.  And publicly.

You can be a student of WOW as you live your everyday life. If you had a good experience at a store, a hotel or on the phone, how can you emulate that at your practice or in your professional life?  If you had a dismal encounter at a medical practice, a car rental office or on a web site, how can you make sure your clients never experience similar poor customer service?

Of course, you don’t have to be a practice owner to apply the WOW concept.  You can be an associate vet, a technician, a receptionist or a hospital administrator and still benefit from the idea!

In summary, Ballantyne suggests that “You must identify what makes you different and better. Once you do, make sure everyone knows about it.”

Marketing gurus have suggested for years that every business should have a USP, a “unique selling proposition.”  What’s yours?

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

* Wiley ed, 2001.

** Early to Rise, 9-21-2011 issue.