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How to operate a first-class veterinary practice

8 tips to follow

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Listening to the on-hold phone messages, you would think that every practice offers the best patient care and state-of-the-art equipment. Yet we all know that reality is slightly different.

So what would it take to design a truly first-class practice in 2017?

Here are eight suggestions provided by business journalist Emma Johnson.

1. Build the Premium Idea Into Your Core Values

One practice’s mission statement is to be “ethical, respectful, enthusiastic, professional, honest, compassionate, reliable, progressive, consistent and clean.” Each core value is wonderful and we should all adopt them. But clients cannot be misled. They will ultimately decide whether they have been treated respectfully, greeted enthusiastically and handled professionally.

One colleague explains: “Our employees feel that we are the best clinic in the area. It starts with our mission statement and with a feeling of pride that we practice nothing but the best medicine.”

2. Focus on Customer Service

Every practice owner vouches to offer outstanding customer service. Yet we’ve dealt with staff members who are moody, short or patronizing.

Fritz Wood, a certified public accountant and certified financial planner, tells of a practice where gross income increased by 20 percent over the course of a year. What changed? How was such a miracle accomplished in a few months? The practice fired its head receptionist!

Our receptionists are the faces and voices of our practices. They are the first and the last people our clients meet or hear. This might seem self-evident, but it is sadly often forgotten.

3. Measure Metrics for Success

As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you don’t track. Years ago, a colleague from Indianapolis made me realize that even a receptionist’s job can be quantified, and that she delivers not only a service but a product. How so?

Her product is a happy client, or a client who drops off a fecal sample, or a client who sets up an appointment for Kiki’s next checkup, or one who orders six months’ worth of parasiticide.

This is perfectly quantifiable with solid practice management software or a simple client survey. Your modest goal? Start with 80 percent, then shoot for 90, then 100.

4. Narrow Your Marketing and Sales Focus

As they say, “Think globally, act locally.” One colleague does just that. “We only advertise in our local market with local radio. We collect email addresses and we send out quarterly newsletters as well as email promotions.”

5. Communicate Your Differences

Sure, you can sit back and hope that word of mouth does the work for you. But in 2017 you can use technology and social media to accelerate your success. Brag about your accomplishments. Offer outrageous customer service. Broadcast testimonials. Share success stories.

6. Cultivate Hardcore Fans by Going Above and Beyond

Emma Johnson quotes two examples we can learn from.

“One premium pet store competes against big-box mammoths by giving away whole pies during the holidays. A tire store owns its local market on the promise of driving anywhere in the region to fix a flat.”

Here is a perfect application. Ms. Smith, the owner of Dakota, a 160-pound older Mastiff, called to have her pet euthanized at home. Her main concern? Carrying her sick and weak dog into her car to go to the clinic. Her vet, who does not provide at-home euthanasia services, made an exception. He went to her house, along with a technician, to ensure that everything would go smoothly.

Going the extra mile will surely pay dividends. If this vet hadn’t gone out of his way to cater to this excellent and faithful client’s need, guess where she would have brought her next dog for vet care?

Our colleague explains: “We cater to our best clients by giving doctors’ email addresses and sometimes personal phone numbers. Once, one of my associates drove a client and her pet to the veterinary dermatologist who practices 45 minutes away.”

Think that client will be grateful? And faithful?

7. Charge the Right Price

This is a touchy subject, but, generally speaking, premium service correlates with premium prices. So make sure your prices are appropriate and well- deserved. This means spending enough time to perform a complete physical exam, write detailed medical records and answer all of the client’s questions.

8. Easy on the Discounts

First-class businesses don’t offer discounts. Last time I checked, Tiffany & Co. never offers discounts. Apple never offers coupons. Ferrari never offers rebates. Chanel doesn’t try to charge less than competitors. Rolex never has Monday specials. Being the veterinary equivalent of Walmart is OK, but it sends a different message. In addition, offering discounts may convey the idea that your prices were too high to begin with.

Deeply understanding these eight concepts is a good start. Then you need to deliver on your promise.

Emma Johnson quotes Mark Stevens, the author of “Your Marketing Sucks”: “Premium services rely on their people and processes, while premium products differentiate themselves with materials and craftsmanship,” Stevens explains. Offering premium people and processes requires hiring right and training consistently.

Having a first-class practice doesn’t necessarily mean offering the highest prices in town, or increasing all of your fees by 10 percent every year, or tripling your average transaction fee. Rather, it has to do with offering truly premium service, really top-notch medicine and ultimate pet care.

These simple principles are critical if you want to achieve first-class status in your community. You may want to discuss them with your management team and see how you can implement them to become the unquestionable leader in your area.


Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a serial entrepreneur and board-certified veterinary surgeon who practices in eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey.

Originally published in the January 2017  issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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