Service providers who have successfully grown their businesses over the last decade have changed the way they interact with their customers. They have built client-centric cultures in which the needs of the customer take precedence over the needs of the business.
Relationships have become more important than expert opinions, and providers must offer solutions to more than a single problem and anticipate potential issues and provide solutions before the customer even knows they exist. In his book, “Making Rain: The Secrets of Building Lifelong Client Loyalty,” Andrew Sobel explains that in order to consistently “make rain” it is necessary to “reposition yourself as a client adviser rather than an expert for hire.”
Businesses ascribing to a client-centric philosophy recognize that the bar has been raised in regard to customer expectations from all levels within an organization. This means the burden—or opportunity—to please clients is a greater responsibility than ever before.
What They Want
Pet owners demand more from veterinarians. They no longer bring pets to the clinic to seek out experts to sell them specific products or services. Expert opinions and veterinary drugs are readily available with just the click of a mouse. Instead, they come to veterinarians because they seek trusted collaborators who can offer solutions to a variety of problems. They seek added and unexpected value at every step in the relationship.
Client centricity is about providing insightful client service. Where offering good client service means having a cats-only exam room, client centricity means that every time a cat has an appointment, a room is ready with a pheromone dispenser and a technician is available to immediately take the client and patient back and begin the appointment. Client centricity is providing a treatment plan before providing services so that a client is never surprised or put in an awkward position.
It’s having paperless medical records because they allow anyone in the practice to answer a client’s specific questions immediately, at any time and from any location. And it’s releasing management’s stranglehold on decision making so that teams can be empowered to resolve client/patient issues without always having to “ask the manager.”
Being solution and relationship focused, rather than sales oriented, requires getting to know clients on a personal level, as well as making yourself available to them as needed.
Some of the problems in practices, such as lack of client loyalty or less frequent visits, stem from the lack of attention given to clients’ needs in the past. It is easy to say, “The client comes first,” but our actions often speak otherwise. Consider an all-too-common scenario: A practice that closes at 7 p.m. sends a vomiting dog to the emergency hospital without offering the option of seeing him in the clinic because the owner called at 6:45 p.m.
If you were to walk in the client’s shoes, wouldn’t you see this as a business in which the employees are allowed to put their own priorities (leaving on time) ahead of the client’s?
Consider the difference if the client were told you would be happy to see her pet provided she can arrive within the next 10 to 20 minutes. Which way would you want to be treated? And which response would encourage your loyalty to the practice?
A client and his pet arrive 10 minutes before the practice opens, but the staff pretends not to see them and lets them stand outside until exactly 8 a.m. If the clinic culture was to treat clients as you would expect to be treated, wouldn’t that mean welcoming them in, offering a fresh cup of coffee and getting their pets checked in ahead of schedule?
Instead it is more common for employees to act as if we are put out that the client was responsible enough to arrive a few minutes early, when this is behavior specifically asked of clients during all other times of the day. And don’t kid yourself; they know you see them out there.
Similar behavior occurs regularly, but the point is the same in all of them: In a practice with a culture that instructs and empowers the team to make every decision based on walking in the client’s shoes, the scenarios above would not happen.
Teams that set aside their agenda to go above and beyond for a client will earn a client base that trusts and recognizes that their needs take precedence over all else. This engenders client loyalty.
The first step is to define a clinic’s existing culture and trace its roots. The existing culture is rarely the one that is printed under your mission statement, but the “real” one in which deeply ingrained behavior prevails wordlessly and in which every new team member is inducted. Not only is this often a culture that places the needs and desires of the practice team before those of the client, but in many cases it a culture that has been modeled after the behaviors of its leaders.
For real change to occur practice leaders need to dig deep into their ingrained philosophy, behaviors and actions before they can hold the team accountable for a client-centric mindset. For team members to trust that they are allowed and required to walk in the customer’s shoes, they must have strong role models. They must hear the practice manager assisting clients by acknowledging their situation and looking for solutions that let the client know he is being heard and respected, regardless of his situation. Clients must see the practice owner going out of his or her way to ensure that a client never leaves the practice feeling unattended to or unheard.
Leadership should also reflect on whether it has stripped employees of the power to think and make decisions on their own. Not only do tight controls display a lack of trust, but they make it impossible to solve client issues in a timely manner. Client-centricity requires a team that is able to solve problems and make decisions in the client’s best interest without fear of recrimination for overstepping their bounds.
The task can seem daunting. It’s understandable. But ignore your clients’ relationship- and solution-centered expectations at your own peril.
Expertise is a commodity and no longer provides the intrinsic value that it once did. It’s not just about the Internet. In most cases you only have to draw a circle with a five-mile radius from your practice to find at least nine other businesses that offer expertise similar to your own.
Today’s pet owners are looking for a trusted adviser—someone who knows them, understands their perspective and can offer solutions that always have their best interests at heart. This can only be accomplished by putting yourself in your clients’ shoes.