Columns , Merchandising

How do you measure up?

Client feedback is essential for improving a practice, especially in the purchase of pharmaceuticals and food. If a pet owner is disappointed and you don’t know why and can’t make amends, you might have lost a patient.

How do you measure up?
Smart technology can be used for more than product and nutritional sales feedback.

I find that many veterinary hospitals are very good at taking action when they sense excitement or urgency with their business plans. Changes are proposed and implemented after the leadership team has had a vision, attended a conference or CE event, or read an article in this very journal. Whatever the case, these actions and adjustments are good. Where we fail, however, is in evaluating whether a specific change has benefited our clients, patients and staff.

The reason for making a change or implementing an action item is to improve things. What we forget to do is reach out and obtain objective data that indicates “Yes, this change or decision was good” or “No, it wasn’t.”  We furthermore have to ask whether a change or directional shift is good for all involved, does it need modifying, or do we need to scrap it and start over?

I want to focus here on pharmaceutical and nutritional sales. Many of us still see significant income from products, but some would say the revenue has diminished. Let’s ask why.

Show That You Care

If I asked for a raise of hands at my next lecture, how many attendees do you think would respond when I ask, “How many clinics in this room actively solicit client feedback about drug or food sales?” I have asked the question before, and less than 5% show a hand.

Those of you soliciting client feedback — I applaud your effort — typically ask generic questions such as “How would you rate your last visit?” or “Did you find the clinic to look and smell good?” or “Did you find the doctors and staff to be friendly and helpful?” Don’t get me wrong, any solicitation of information is good. In this age of technology and competition, however, we have to do better.

How do you think the Chewys and 1-800-PetMeds of this world would answer the question about soliciting client feedback? I can guarantee you a decisive “Yes!” Yes, they gather specific responses from customers to ensure satisfaction and, more importantly, ensure repurchases.

Many of us don’t know of the amazing technology that can seamlessly and automatically complete the research for us. Many years ago, I switched to a web-based system that monitors and protects my hospital’s No. 1 asset, our client base. It was one of the most significant and essential systems I implemented, and it ultimately became a game changer. The days of hoping we get surveys mailed back within 10 to 14 days are over. If the client is upset because we didn’t rectify an ear infection or skin allergy, I promise you that the pet owner moved on well before we got the chance to open the envelope. The same can be said about a product or food recommendation we made.

The last thing we want is for clients to think they spent money on products that didn’t work or that they didn’t understand. In either case, the chances of repurchase are going to be almost nonexistent.

How to Get Started

Smart technology is an innovative tool for integrating client feedback into the daily management of our veterinary practices.

Here’s how it works:

  • The web platform — several companies provide the service — integrates with all major practice management software systems. It is triggered by a client visit or invoice. Within 24 hours, clients are sent an email thanking them for their patronage and trust in the hospital and staff. Clients emailed within the prior 90 days are skipped along with those whose pets were euthanized.
  • The email is personalized with client and pet information, making it appear that a doctor or another team member took the time to personally send the thank-you note. The content can be changed every few months to keep it fresh and personal.
  • The client is asked to answer a few questions that will ensure the highest level of care and service is being delivered.

On average, 30% of clients answer the survey, which is an incredibly high level of participation. What makes these surveys smart is a hospital can vary the questions based on the services or products purchased. Even better, a clinic owner or practice manager can receive an instant text message or email if the pet owner gave a less-than-desired response.

A Bonding Mechanism

Imagine this: Your hospital introduces a groundbreaking nutraceutical used in osteoarthritis cases. The product requires a loading dose of several weeks and then maintenance doses. Imagine a survey sent to the purchasing client that asked:

  • After purchasing “Product X,” do you understand that results typically occur within one to two weeks?
  • Do you have any regrets about buying “Product X”?
  • Are you aware that “Product X” has a 100% money-back guarantee?

With the first question, you set realistic expectations for the product and confirm whether the client felt adequately informed. With the second question, you make sure the client didn’t feel “upsold.” With the third question, you confirm that your hospital stands behind the product and will provide a remedy if the product didn’t perform as claimed.

The survey responses are invaluable, but we also take the time to further educate the client and bond her to our product offerings.

Imagine a follow-up survey four weeks later that gathers objective data on the efficacy of the drug or nutritional item. Imagine asking, “Based on the results of ‘Product X,’ will you buy it again?” All this information can be acted upon.

Limit Your Inquiries

I am not advocating that we create a survey for every prescription item that leaves your pharmacy. There is only so much information we could obtain regarding a 14-count bottle of amoxicillin. But think strategically. Create mainstay categories you would like to further investigate — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, parasite controls, flea and tick medications, weight-loss diets.

Smart technology can be used for more than product and nutritional sales feedback. It has many applications for helping you to stay connected with the wants and needs of your clients. Used daily, it provides you and your staff with up-to-the-minute information that can dictate whether recent changes or decisions in your practice have been positive for all involved.

The technology will open your eyes to new opportunities that allow you to connect with clients and ensure that they are being educated about and satisfied with the products they take home. The practice is essentially extending the conversation time beyond the 20-minute office call.

I challenge you to implement some of these tactics. The next time I ask whether you actively solicit feedback from your clients, I want you to confidently wave your hand high in the air.

Selling Points columnist Brian Conrad is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Centers in Kennewick, Washington, and immediate past president of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.

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