Good client communication is critical to the success of any practice. But what is the best way to engage with your customers? Tracey Porter investigates
The Pet Wellness Centre in Burleigh Heads does it via Instagram; Animal Emergency Services prefers Facebook, and for Sydney’s Coreen Avenue Veterinary Clinic, online blogs have worked a treat.
The point being—whether you are a private practice with just a few hundred customers or part of a much bigger operation with a client base in the thousands, effective client communication is crucial to securing a sustainable business model.
Decades of research by global marketing industry experts has proven that when customers feel taken care of by a business, they are more inclined to choose—and keep—them as their lead provider. (This is no small thing financially; studies show it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.)
But effective client communication is not just about the generation of goodwill between a practice and its client.
Crampton Consulting Group’s Deb Render, who has almost 30 years’ experience in the veterinary industry, says great client communication strategies are also essential to the client’s perception of the business. In particular, such strategies can help educate the client on the value of a product or service—above and beyond the price.
“Establishing effective communication not only increases your client’s compliance, and brings in new clients through positive word-of-mouth and internet searches, it also increases your average invoice by reducing price resistance. An educated client is a good client.”
Mary Connelly, director of The Vet Lounge—which operates across three different sites and has around 7,000 active clients—says she employs a number of different client communication strategies and has seen client numbers expand rapidly as a result.
As operations manager of the practice, Connelly stresses that she works hard to ensure her practice delivers good service to its clients.
In addition to sending handwritten Christmas cards to its top clients and having an active presence on Facebook, The Vet Lounge uses text messaging and email to advertise in-house promotions and to deliver alerts—such as advance warnings of tick season. Once a year, the practice holds client education evenings, and in the past it even hosted breakfasts at the local dog beach.
Connelly says that constantly reviewing their client communication strategies is the motivation behind the practice’s development of three bespoke iPad applications—to help it stay on the top of the game in this regard.
“One is used in the consult room so we can show clients diagrams when explaining illness or injury, and send e-books so they can read more when they get home,” she explains. “The second is a health report app that the vets fill in during the patient exam. The report is printed for the client so they know what was included in the physical exam [and] also notes any recommendations such as dental disease. The third app is filled in during dentistry and printed for the client. It contains post-operative care, diagrams outlining teeth that have been removed and medications. These forms ensure all vets are communicating to a high standard with our clients.”
Crampton Consulting Group’s Sue Crampton says given that most clients only visit approximately 1.8 times per year, it is vital practices take every opportunity to engage with their clients via a multimodal approach.
“Establishing effective communication not only increases your client’s compliance … it also increases your average invoice.”—Deb Render, Crampton Consulting Group
“Using a variety of platforms and formats for your communication allows you ensure all demographics are covered. You can tailor your approach by asking new clients how they would like the practice to communicate with them, for example, via text message, letter or email.”
Crampton says training support staff and vets in face-to-face communication is also important as clients will judge a practice on personal interaction skills.
“Training your team on how to handle complaints and grief will help support your team and your clients in equal measure. How clients are handled when they are emotional or angry can make the difference between a loyal client who promotes your practice and an unsatisfied client that jumps on social media to vent.”
It is believed that up to 81 per cent of consumers conduct research online before making a decision, and 87 per cent of referred clients will check out the company’s website before making an appointment. It is, therefore, important to view your web page as a window to your brand, Crampton advises.
“Promote your team as pet lovers/owners as well as professional people so your clients feel like they have something in common. Conduct client surveys to determine their preferred methods of communication. Put together a 12-month marketing plan for promotional activity using electronic direct mail. Use your clinic to sell itself by having in-clinic signage about promotions or relevant information for pet care. Make sure that your on-hold feature isn’t wasted on music; use it to detail clinic features, value-added services and information relevant to your clients, such as tick season warnings and prevention.”
Veterinary coach Dr Diederik Gelderman, whose business Turbo Charge Your Practice runs intensive six-month client marketing and communication courses to a select group of around 25 practices a year, says the modern age has created a wealth of opportunity for self-promotion and it is up to businesses to take advantage of this.
Dr Gelderman says this can be as simple as sending a monthly e-newsletter, asking the millennials or Gen-Yers on your payroll to upload a video to YouTube or employing a professional to write a blog.
However, selecting the correct content is key, he says.
“The modern client wants to be involved with the practice, they want to know what’s happening; it’s not a family situation but it’s a very close-knit situation. They want the practice to tell them about new dog recipes, about the nurse who got pregnant and what the baby’s called, as well as the latest and greatest in medicine and surgery and case outcomes.”
Dr Gelderman says that when he first graduated as a vet over 40 years ago, those in the veterinary or medical professions were revered as ‘gods’.
“We said ‘do it’ and clients didn’t ask how or why; they just did it. But over the past 40 years that’s lessened. Now, while we’re not considered friends, we’re certainly colleagues in clients’ pet outcomes. The modern client wants to be involved in the decision-making; they want us to teach them and show them. They don’t want to make the decision themselves but they do want you hold their hand and guide them.
“As society has become more separate and we have less time to spend with our friends—the people we trust— clients have started turning to their veterinarians to replicate that relationship. They’re more interested in us and they expect us to be more interested in them as well.”
Crunching the numbers
When putting together your client communication strategy, consider the following:
1. 80 per cent of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20 per cent of your existing customers.
2. Tuesday emails have the highest open rate compared to other weekdays.
3. Each year, you can expect to lose 14 per cent of your customers.
4. Reducing customer churn by five per cent can increase profits 25-125 per cent.
5. Customers are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend.
6. 68 per cent of consumers feel more positive about a brand after consuming content from it.
7. Social-media users will tell, on average, 42 people, about a good customer experience and, on average, 53 others about a bad customer experience.