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Issue: 65 - May 15, 2014
Turn Your Customers into Long-term Clients
By: Dr. Steve Kornfeld, DVM, CPCC
Veterinary Success Services

It is both difficult and expensive to acquire new clients. Yet we tend to treat this area of our practice as an afterthought. As it is likely you are going to lose 10% of your clients this year, you should give acquiring and keeping new clients your utmost attention. Here are some ideas to facilitate this conversion from customers to new clients.

Realize that the first time pet owners visit your practice they are not new clients. They are customers. The difference is that customers do not yet have a relationship with you and are less trusting in your ability to provide them with what they are looking for. After all, they have many choices.

It begins with the phone call.

When a customer calls, you quickly need to answer the question: "Why should I choose you?" This question is always there and unless you answer it, the caller is going to keep calling around. For customers to trust the doctors, they have to meet them. But to meet them, they have to trust them. It is therefore crucial that your receptionists build trust with customers and then transfer it to the doctors.

To build trust, the receptionists need to show that they are delighted to have received the call and then to welcome the callers to the practice. To show they care about them, the receptionists should also truly show curiosity in the callers as people and then in their pets.

When the time comes to ask about the purpose of the call, the receptionists should then show their knowledge by asking preplanned and practiced questions. With this, callers will assume that if the receptionists are so knowledgeable and caring, so will the rest of the staff and the doctors. To further help build the trust between the callers and the doctors, the receptionists should transfer the trust they have created with the callers to the doctors by telling them how great the doctor they will be meeting is and how much they will enjoy meeting them. The receptionists need to realize that every time they succeed at securing an appointment with a customer, they may have contributed between $8,000-$12,000 to the practice. Quite a significant contribution; that is, if the customer becomes a long-term client.

The first time a pet owner comes in to your practice, the first thing they fill out is a new client information form. An important part of this form should include information on how they heard of you. This information needs to then be analyzed and conclusions drawn. Doing so will allow you to invest more funds in the channels that yield the most new clients and the most profitable clients and make them even more effective. It is therefore very important to make sure all customers tell you who or what sent them to you. Do whatever is necessary to get your front office team to record all this information every time.

Next, customers had better receive such an outstanding care to the point they are delighted with the service. No doubt you always strive to provide excellent care to all your clients. But in the case of your customers, there need be even greater effort to make their experience outstanding. Remember, what you are trying to do here is established the basis on which a long-term relationship can be built.

What is your vision for standing out from their first visit?

This vision needs be spelled out in your first communication with your customers shortly after their visit to your practice.

Two days after their first visit, someone in your practice who knows how to talk to people and using a script, then calls these customers up. The purpose of this call is not to remind them to come back for recheck or of any other necessary service. Instead the time on the phone with them would be dedicated to furthering the bond begun on their first visit. A good way to build this bond is to show gratitude for their visit and to tell them how much you have enjoyed meeting them and their pet. Also remind them of your commitment to the well-being of their pet and to the experience they will receive every time they come in for service. This will take you a long way toward building a strong basis for a long-term relationship with your clients.

What matters here is the second visit. Currently, how many of your customers come back within the first few months? If you don't know, how can you improve it? You need to be able to track this information because your success depends on it. When customers come in the second time, they are new clients and are likely to come in again. That is, if their expectations are met or even exceeded.

A week after their first visit, send your customers a welcome kit.

What can go in this welcome kit?

A letter in which you thank them  for their trust, reiterating your vision, making a promise to them about the quality of the service they can expect to receive in your practice and a list of the services your practice provides. Don’t assume that pet owners, especially customers, know exactly what services you provide. In a recent study it was found that only 25% of pet owners know that their veterinarian provides pet dental care.  Take the opportunity to educate your customers on every service you provide and emphasize services you feel more confident in or think your customers will appreciate, or that make you unique.

Include a small gift for the pet. This can be small and inexpensive to fit in a padded envelope. An idea might be a colorful leash, a collar or a bandana, flea comb, etc.

Give your customers a small gift, such as a memo pad so that they will hang it on their refrigerator and use it to write down their grocery list. If this memo pad has your contact information, they will be reminded of you every time they use it, especially if it has their pet's picture. You may also include a gift certificate for their next visit, to expire in six months.

This is when the real attention begins.

The relationship they have with you at this point is like a block of ice--it tends to melt. This is why you should strive to get them in as soon as possible and to keep them engaged with what's going on in the practice. Find an area of service your customers may be interested in because of their pets' age group, breed and needs, and educate them effectively and on an ongoing basis.

Ask them to submit a picture of their pet in a funny or sweet circumstance and publish it on your website or social media.

Invite them to participate in their topics of interest on your social media.

Send them pertinent information--emails, letters, or a newsletter on topics of interest to them. 

Share with them heartwarming stories from your. Such stories will make your customers feel as an integral part of your practice. The more they get to know you, the more they will trust you when they need further service.

Got success stories? Why not share them with your clients and especially your customers? Show them how great you are and how much they can trust you. Ask the doctors to collect all their success stories. Use them when you communicate with your customers, and they will grow to see you as the best choice for their pet.

If there is a service they may be interested in, you could have a special focus campaign and invite them to participate. Such areas may include, a weight loss focus, internal and external parasites testing, senior wellness, dental awareness, feline focus, you name it; there is always something they will be eager to know more about and enjoy the benefit of pursuing.

You are always before a holiday. Why then not communicate with your customers and wish them a happy holiday? Doing so will show customers you truly care about them and that you have not forgotten them.

Little by little you will build an aura in these customers' minds that you truly are unique.

With all this, you will greatly enhance the chance that these customers will come to you next time their pets need something. They are also going to be more likely to focus on the value of the service rather than on its cost.

Once they come in the second time, they are now considered new clients--meaning, there is a budding relationship and trust. Recognize these new clients for their trust and show them their decision was correct to come to see you again. Remember, it is not the service that is memorable, but how they felt when they were in your practice. Therefore, train your team to note when a customer comes in the second time and give them the kind of experience they will want to come in the third time.

Don't disappear from your new clients' radar. Show them you have not forgotten them. Show them how happy your team is any time they call. Reach out to them on a regular basis, and they will be loyal to you for the duration of their pets' lives.