The 3 Components of Accessibility
If you value pet owner loyalty — and you should — strive to be proactive, communicative and transparent.
The two major drivers of client loyalty are a pet owner’s perceptions of your veterinary practice’s accessibility and value. In the first of this two-part series, I will explore accessibility and explain how you can ensure that you are doing everything possible to optimize perceptions.
A study conducted by Trone Research and Consulting found that more than 80% of veterinarians believe they are highly accessible to clients. Yet, pet owners see room for improvement. (See chart below.) While the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges, veterinary practices have exhibited incredible resilience and adapted to new ways of remaining engaged with clients.
We tend to think of accessibility (in its most basic form) in terms of physical location. How far does the pet owner have to drive to get to my clinic? Is traffic congestion an ongoing issue? Is an awkward left turn or U-turn needed to enter the parking lot? Is parking ample or does the pet owner have to walk a great distance? And, of course, is another veterinary office more accessible?
We’ve always known that accessibility is paramount to a successful practice, but no one asked pet owners to define such a seemingly simple term. As it turns out, their definition goes well beyond physical location. Their overall perception of your accessibility is driven by three elements: proactive patient care, communication and transparency. Each has these nuances:
- Proactive patient care isn’t just good medicine and good bedside manner, it’s also about managing expectations and exploring what’s happening today and what might happen in the future.
- Communication goes beyond reminders about the next wellness appointment or follow-up exam. It’s about making connections and building relationships when your practice isn’t already on the pet owner’s radar.
- Transparency isn’t only about being open, it’s also about collaboration — partnering with the pet owner to form a proactive pet care team.
Clients who believe you deliver on each of the three points are likely among your most loyal customers. If you can moderately improve on those attributes, perceptions of your practice will improve, leading to better client retention, greater loyalty and more revenue.
Let’s explore in detail.
Proactive Patient Care
From a pet owner’s perspective, proactive patient care isn’t just about a
veterinarian and team treating the client and her pet well. Pet owners also want you to empower them with knowledge about what’s to come and what might lie ahead. The awareness will make your treatment plans more palatable.
Everyone has a client who aspires to do everything right for her pet yet falls short on compliance with your recommendations. That doesn’t mean you should stop providing guidance. Pet owners are paying customers who want you to give your best.
Opportunities for proactive patient care are more common than you think. Just look at it within the framework of a pet’s lifetime.
Assume that a dog’s expected lifespan is 10 to 13 years and that the owner will visit your practice twice a year. That’s at least 20 visits. Now, assume the dog is a large breed or predisposed to joint issues. Twenty visits give you 20 unique opportunities to:
- Remind the client of the importance of exercising the dog and managing its weight.
- Discuss the proactive use of joint supplements.
- Inform the client of the commitment to and the process and cost of managing joint pain. And educate her about the discomfort that befalls the pet once treatment is needed.
Even if the pet owner doesn’t comply with your recommendations early on, she will always know that you were being proactive. She will recall that you didn’t wait until treatment was required. She will remember that you cared enough to start a conversation about pain management before the pain began. She will appreciate that you discussed the risks associated with various treatment plans. And, since you took the time to outline the stages of aging, pain and treatment, she’s far more likely to be patient and less frustrated when the results aren’t immediate. More than anything, she’s more likely to comply with your treatment approach because you informed, educated and prepared her well ahead of time.
Today’s new generation of pet owners has far more access to information and misinformation than older clients ever did. Encourage your clients to share what they have discovered on the internet. It’s the perfect opportunity to identify misinformation and arm pet owners with accurate information, steer them toward better resources and manage their expectations as their pets age.
Proactive patient care also means demonstrating your commitment to a partnership. Discussions about proactive care need to be delivered collaboratively. Never scold or condescend. Remember that clients are often bewildered and frightened. Be their partner.
If the only time pet owners hear from you is when it’s time for a routine exam, they’ll easily think that you care only about the money. Clients want to feel as though they are more than a transaction. With so much physical distancing and social isolation happening these days, people place more and more value on your willingness to connect and nurture a relationship.
Pet owners want communication at least once a quarter, but ideally every six weeks. This does wonders for keeping your veterinary practice near the top of their mind. A newsletter is great, especially for providing seasonal education, and it can even lead to an appointment.
Still, you need to go further to strengthen client loyalty. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most effective. For example, consider the periodic text message or email: “Hello, [Client Name], this is Jane from ABC Animal Hospital. We haven’t heard from you in a while. I just wanted to reach out and see how [Patient Name] is doing. We’re here for you and [Patient Name] if you need anything. Take care. Again, this is Jane at ABC Animal Hospital.”
Thanks to the magic of modern mass email programs, such a message appears directed to one recipient, but it’s part of a mass email effort. You might be surprised to find that your practice management software can implement this type of communication.
You might consider going even further and making a phone call twice a year as part of your routine communication. Imagine a handful of short messages that sound like something you might say to a friend. The best part? You didn’t ask the client to make an appointment or encourage her to make a purchase. You simply demonstrated that she is more than a number or email recipient.
Gone are the days of telling pet owners exactly what their pet needs and not offering options. Today’s pet owners want to be part of the health care team.
When you provide proactive knowledge about future patient conditions or needs, you are being transparent. You also need to be transparent about what is happening today. That means taking the time to explain all the options, the pros and cons, and the associated costs. While the client might decline the best and perhaps most expensive option, your ability to provide all the options will ingratiate the pet owner over time.
You might be surprised by how many clients will pay for whatever their pets need. Do not judge what they are willing to do to support their pets’ health and comfort. While nearly two out of 10 pet owners have switched primary veterinarian within the past few years, only 18% of those who changed did it because they sought a lower-cost option.
Clients know that you are the most knowledgeable resource regarding the health and well-being of pets. They chose you. If you want their loyalty, consider demonstrating your loyalty to their pets.
Kimberly Ness is a senior vice president and marketing strategist and consultant at Trone Research and Consulting. She leverages her 25 years of animal health industry experience to lead a research team that focuses on uncovering key action steps that build loyalty between pet owners and their veterinary clinics. Trone is the brains behind Diggo, which provides actionable market insights for clinics seeking to better serve today’s pet owners. Learn more at diggovet.com.