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July 10, 2018
July 9, 2018

How to Draw Clients Back to Your Practice

Mark Opperman

If your practice is seeing a decrease in the number of transactions or clients seen each month, you are not alone. Many practices are seeing this same phenomenon. These practices often enhance their marketing of products and services to offset these decreases and increase their average client transaction figure. I agree that this is a good thing to do; we need to take a full-service approach and educate clients about everything their pets require to maintain a healthy life. And while I am not willing to accept the decrease in client numbers – there is a limit to how much a client will realistically do. So if your client numbers are down, let’s look at increasing the number of transactions and client visits in your practice.

Evaluate Your Client Service

Whenever client numbers are down, the first thing you need to do is evaluate your customer service. I have consulted with over 1,500 practices over the years and I always ask practice owners what they believe to be the quality of their customer service. In general, owners think they provide great customer service. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter what you think about your customer service. Your clients’ opinions are the ones that truly count. Have you asked your clients what they think? Do you survey clients on a regular basis to get their opinions regarding the quality of your customer service? Few successful businesses will continue to be successful if they do not “keep a finger on the pulse” of their clients.

I suggest you survey your new clients about their experience at your practice. It is the new client who is currently making a decision about whether or not they like you and whether they intend to return to your practice. Your established clients have already made that decision – they have returned and will probably continue to do so unless something happens to change their minds. So let’s focus on your new clients and survey them to find out how they feel about your practice. You can send them a questionnaire to be completed online, by email, or through “snail mail” (Keep in mind that if you send questionnaires through the mail, you need to include postage-paid self-addressed envelopes for their return). You can expect to see about 50% response to the survey and you will hear the good along with the bad. It is important to send a well-designed client questionnaire. We had one designed by a company that specializes in this and I am happy to share a copy of that with you here.

There are other simple ways to evaluate your customer service. How well do your receptionists communicate over the phone? What is the client experience when they enter your practice? This can be evaluated by a mystery phone shopper or mystery shopper.

Mystery Phone Shopper

A mystery phone shopper is exactly what it sounds like. Someone calls your practice posing as a client, asks a series of questions, and then evaluates the responses. This can be done by a friend or family member or you can hire a company to do this for you. The results are often eye-opening. You may find that clients are being placed on hold for extended periods of time or perhaps a receptionist is giving callers inaccurate information. When we have conducted these surveys for our clients, I can’t tell you how many times we heard “ABC Veterinary Hospital, can you hold?” and then click, we were put on hold. Your telephones – and how they are answered – are your first point of contact with your clients. It just makes good sense to periodically evaluate how well your team is doing in this area.

Mystery Shopper

A mystery shopper is a little different. With a mystery shopper, you actually send someone into the practice to evaluate the client experience. Again, this can be done by a friend or relative, as long as no one knows them within the practice, or you can hire a company to do this for you. You might be surprised by how many companies offer this service and how cost effective they can be. Search the internet for mystery shopper businesses and see what comes up. Again, we are often astonished at the outcome of a mystery shopper experience. Sometimes the result are great and we like to report that back to the team. At other times that we find huge gaffes in customer service. Some of the more common problems are team members not greeting clients as they enter the hospital; not making eye contact with the client, not knowing pets’ names, or not knowing the reason for the client’s visit. Mystery shopping has turned up some other interesting revelations and these may have nothing to do with the team. Instead, some issues have to do with the doctors. Impressions noted by mystery shoppers have included that the doctors “did not seem to care,” “are more interested in money than my pet,” and “did not seem to know what they were doing” among other comments. The fact is – most veterinarians never get any feedback on their exam room communication skills and this can make or break that doctor and their practice. Mystery shoppers can open everyone’s eyes to problems that exist in the hospital and I suggest that they be used on a routine, periodic basis.

Bonding Rate

If you are seeing a decrease in the number of transactions or client visits, do you know whether this is caused by clients coming in less often or because you are losing clients? One of the things you need to look at is your practice’s bonding rate. Bonding is defined as the return rate of clients within the past 18 months. This should be a relatively easy number to determine. If you are a VetStreet user, then you can find this number with a click of the mouse; it is a standard report in your VetPortal. If you are not a VetStreet user, you should be able to determine this number by doing a criteria search and sort in your veterinary practice management system.

The bonding rate in a veterinary hospital is typically about 60%. I personally believe this rate to be low. Most of our practices have a 70-80% bonding rate unless they are located in a college or military town. Take a look at your bonding rate and see how it stacks up. If the bonding rate is low, you will need to do some investigation to determine the reason. You should also compare your bonding rate to the number of new clients coming into your practice. If you are losing 30 clients a month and only generating 20 new clients a month, you have a decreasing client base and a real problem. The industry average for new clients is about 19 new clients per full-time equivalent (FTE) doctor per month. Of equal importance is how many of these clients we retain.

Evaluate Your Reminder System

Another area you need to review is your reminder system. I remember consulting with a veterinary practice that had this very problem. While I was on-site, I asked for the receptionist responsible for sending reminders. I was told that “Barb” used to do it but “Barb” had left the hospital a few months earlier and they didn’t know who was doing them now. Well, guess what? It turned out that no one was doing them! This is one of the reasons I like to outsource reminders – so I can be sure they are being done and in a timely manner.

You also want to review what products and services you have linked to reminders in your practice management system. Certainly wellness exams, vaccinations, fecal, and heartworm need to have reminders linked to them, but what about dentistry, blood work and EKG’s (especially for seniors), and senior wellness exams? One area where many practices fail to use their reminder system is products. Don’t forget that you can link a reminder to flea control medication, heartworm medication, thyroid medication or, for that matter, any medication or product you wish. You can also offer to automatically send the product to your client. By using email reminders, this becomes cost effective and is a great service to your clients.

I think many practice owners find it far too easy to blame the economy or some other factor for the decrease in their client visits. This has been a banner year for many veterinary practices which have seen awesome growth in both their number of visits and average transaction. If your practice is not one of these, maybe it’s time to find out why.

Mark Opperman, CVPM lectures across the U.S, Canada, and internationally. Train your entire team in customer service and retention at It's What's Up Front That Counts in a location near you or contact us if interested in a private seminar.

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