What customers want

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vet customer service

Spend too long buried within your business and you’ll likely lose touch with what is important to your customers. Chris Sheedy spoke with a marketing expert to find out how to get into your clients’ heads, and what to do when they’re upset

Conduct a Google search for ‘what customers want’ and you’ll likely end up more confused than you were before. Entrepreneur magazine says customers want to know whether you like them, care about them and if they can trust you; Inc. magazine lists 10 vital points, including whether you bring new solutions to the table, collaborate, and offer a compelling solution; and Harvard Business Review says it’s all about not providing a rushed and inconvenient service and instead offering a satisfying experience.

Read enough of these articles and you’ll come away thinking that journalists are gifted with a special ability to read customers’ minds. But the truth is, the only way to find out what your customers want is to ask them—and that’s not as difficult as it might seem.

“All you need to do is decide on exactly what you want to know, then build a system to collect that information,” says Hunter Leonard, founder and CEO of Blue Frog Marketing. Leonard has worked with and researched hundreds of Australian businesses to figure out the vital ingredients of success.

“You could collect information by simply using a survey card handed out at the reception desk,” he says. “Or, if you’re just a little more tech savvy, you could instead have a wi-fi-enabled iPad sitting at reception. Reception staff should be trained to ask people to fill in a quick survey on a semi-regular basis. They should be given targets, perhaps three or four people per day so that over a month you have collected 100 opinions.”

Incentivise customers to take a minute to answer a few questions by offering them a free bag of tasty chews for their dog, or something similar, Leonard says.

How to monitor your customers’ opinions

There are a lot of “moving parts” in a vet clinic, Leonard says. There are reminders for customers to have their pets vaccinated annually; there is the reception desk and waiting area; there are the scales where owners weigh their animals; and there’s the retail area where they search for products. Then, of course, there is the clinical area itself, the attitudes and behaviours of staff, the speed of service and so much more.

“If any of these things are falling down, then they could impact the success of the business over time. And when you’re working in your business, it is not always easy to identify these things breaking down,” Leonard says. That is where the value lies in a regular and ongoing survey process, particularly one that is linked into a simple online survey system—many of which are available for free.

“The best thing to do is set up your questionnaire on an online survey tool and invest in a tablet that is permanently connected to the wi-fi in the vet clinic,” Leonard says. “I recommend Survey Monkey. It has reporting tools and it produces all of the tables and graphs for free. An easier process than taking 50 pieces of paper that customers have filled in and having to transfer all of the information to a spreadsheet.”

“Online survey systems make it easy for a vet to check historical customer satisfaction levels. They may see that satisfaction in a certain area is at 95 per cent this month, so things are good. But next month when it drops to 75 per cent you know something is wrong and you can fix it immediately. Without such a system the problem would likely become far worse before it was identified. By that time customers could be downright angry.”

Dealing with angry customers

You’ve likely been face to face with an irate customer who feels—rightly or wrongly—that your business has failed them. They are at the end of their tether and have made the short leap from balanced discussion to emotional confrontation. Such a situation seems impossible to defuse and often ends with a broken relationship and a customer who can—thanks to the magic of social media—do immeasurable damage to your brand. But it is always possible to defuse such a situation.

“The first thing to do is simply to listen,” Leonard says. “If the person is angry then let them talk and listen carefully to what they are telling you. The only time you should speak is to ask simple questions that help clarify what you need to fix. You are only going to make it worse if you try to defend yourself or argue with them. And it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, your only job is to fix the problem.”

When pets are increasingly considered family members as opposed to family add-ons, it is important that all veterinary staff are made aware of how to deal with customer anger.

Once you have let the customer have their say and clarified the exact issue, you should immediately go about fixing the problem no matter the cost, Leonard says.

“My advice, in any business, is not to worry about cost,” he says. “Just fix it. You have only one chance to handle it and you don’t want that person to go out into the world upset with you. If they think you’re not going to fix the problem, they may then talk about you on social media and in other spaces. So even if the fix costs three times what the original service was, it doesn’t matter.”

Successful entities, Leonard says, constantly measure what is going on throughout the business and pounce on problems before they become serious.

Of course, something can always go wrong. Business is full of surprises. But as long as you know how to deal with an irate customer, even that can be turned to your advantage.

“An angry customer in the right hands can quickly become a strong supporter of your brand,” Leonard says. “In business it is often said that it is not about the mistake you make, it is about how you fix it.”

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