Are you creating “experience appointments?”

How you can take cues from other industries to give your customers a service that is an experience

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I used to hate to go to the auto dealership.  It was either boring or stressful, depending on the day.  Now I look forward to my car’s maintenance appointments.  What made the difference? The auto dealer created “experience appointments.”

Let me explain.

My car has a light on the dash when maintenance is required.  I don’t have to worry when it’s time.  When my appointment is approaching, I get a reminder call or text message.  Upon arrival on the day of my appointment, I am greeted by a valet, who drives my car to the waiting queue.  I am then escorted to the desk where I can sign-off on any needed repairs.

Then I’ll be invited into the lounge for free coffee and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. If I request hot cocoa and popcorn instead, those are readily available.  Above me are television sets pre-tuned to news and sports channels.  A gift shop is next to the lounge for any auto supplies I may need.  A central desk is staffed with a friendly person to answer my questions, chat, joke, or take me on a tour. If I prefer to sit in an easy chair and read magazines or the latest newspaper, those are available. If I prefer to leave and walk around the neighborhood, I am assured that all services will continue and I will be notified by phone or text if my input is needed or when the service is complete. This “experience” appointment is never boring and is, in fact, very relaxing.

The concept of the “experience” as a business offer was put forth by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their book, The Experience Economy. They suggested that you think of creating a “theater-like” performance for clients to enable them to appreciate great customer service.  Will the customers be willing to pay for it? An affirmative example is Starbucks. People will pay much more for coffee, tea or pastries just to be part of “the Starbuck’s experience.” It’s a place where people enjoy the experience of meeting friends and neighbors, relaxing or reading.  College student pay more just to have coffee along with their study group.

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Another defining example is from Disney, where a thrilling experience attracts customers and provides a fun-packed experience where everyone is happy.  It’s more than a visit.  It’s an experience that people will remember.  And yes, customers pay a great deal for that experience.

So what’s the difference? Selling a commodity — anyone can do that.  There are jars of coffee in every grocery store. Selling a service that is boring or irritating is just something people tolerate — like a quick cup of coffee at the diner.  But selling an experience changes the whole package.

I asked some of my veterinary friends how this concept can be applied to veterinary services, where good medical service is often invisible?  Can a veterinary practice provide a “theater experience?”

One of my colleagues referred me to Dr. Fred Lee, the author who wrote, If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 1/2 Things You Would Do Differently.  He would say, “yes.”

He is a hospital executive who became a Disney cast member in order to understand the “Disney experience,” and how it might apply to hospital care.  He returned to his medical practice with a new awareness of what people dislike about hospitals — the smell, the waits, the anxiety of the unknown and the billing. He asked, “what could hospital service do to make the visit more comfortable for our customers?”

Dr. Lee reasoned that the competition is not the hospital nearby; it is any place customers have experienced good service — maybe the beauty salon, or maybe the auto dealership. So, he said we need to figure out what our clients need and want and then provide those needs and wants combined with memorable experiences that cause them to return to us when those needs return.

With that question in mind, I looked for veterinary practices that appear to have answered Lee’s question and implemented Pine and Gilmore’s steps to make their veterinary services a theatrical performance that provides memorable experiences:

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First step: create a theme. Look at your vision and mission statements.  Do they respond to the needs and wants of your clients?  If so, select the words that set your practice apart. Maybe you want your clients to know you as a “fear free” practice, or “always available” or “low cost — high quality.”

Maureen Casey, the client care coordinator at Metzger Animal Hospital in Central Pennsylvania told me that when their hospital went to a full 24-hour practice without charging extra for emergency service. They adopted the tagline, “Same great care. Same great price.”

Second step: Create scripts. Imagine that all of your teammates are actors on a stage. All of the veterinarians I spoke to said that they want all of their team members to communicate their theme — when they answer the phone, greet clients or chat about the practice with their friends.

Third step: design your “set.” Pine and Gilmore said that your venue should repeat and reinforce your theme.  For veterinarians, that means that signs and videos in the front room should never contradict your theme.  Nan Boss has  “staged” her venue to reinforce her Grafton, Wis., clinic’s name: “Best Friends Veterinary Center.” She says that the welcoming aroma of homemade snacks in the waiting room not only is a “friendly experience,” but it masks any urine or medicinal order.

Fourth step: Create a structure to enable your theme to come alive with memorable experiences.  What is the first impression your clients have when they visit your practice? A receptionist, who is free to call the client and pet by name, perhaps? And what is the last experience they will remember? A staff member helping a client and pet out to the car, perhaps?

You, too, can create an experience that is comfortable and memorable.

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