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I spoke with Michael Gerber, management guru and best-selling author of The E-Myth Revisited and the E-Myth book collection, and Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, who co-wrote The E-Myth Veterinarian with Gerber. We discussed what it takes to retain a successful veterinary practice.
Michael, what do you mean by encouraging business owners to work on their business rather than in their business?
MG: Working in their business is what most people do day in, day out. They just do their job.
Working on your business is a way to transform it, to improve it. This is what true entrepreneurs do. It allows you to take a step back and think and reflect. It gives you a chance to innovate, quantify, and orchestrate. It gives you an opportunity to re-imagine what you do from the standpoint of the pet owner, not from the standpoint of the doctor. Only this will allow you to invent the veterinary practice of the future.
Peter, how can colleagues apply this concept to their practices?
PW: Again, “working in” is just doing the task. “Working on” means stepping out and evaluating how you can do things better.
Innovation died in the veterinary profession about 100 years ago. It’s a very doctor-centric business model. We need to start to think about a more client-centric business model. We need to innovate.
Look at our waiting rooms: plastic chairs, old magazines, walls that haven’t been changed since the 1970s.
Listen to the way phones are answered. If you’ve been answering the phone in the same manner for the past 20 years, try something different. Clients call for all kinds of reasons. Yet your staff should be able to give a consistent answer to 80 percent of questions, because that’s how often they are asked.
How can we improve the client experience? In other areas, how can we increase profitability by using our team better? How can we do a better job with client acquisition and client retention, instead of doing the same thing every day?
It could be simple things—changing the uniforms, giving name badges to the front office crew, or even improving the layout of the practice.
Yet, instead of focusing on the client experience, we tend to buy technology like digital radiology, ultrasound units, or endoscopy units. Technology is wonderful, but we need to first do a better job with the client service side of things.
Michael, please elaborate on why you are a firm believer in the benefits of creating systems in a practice.
MG: A system ensures that the outcome of a task is consistent and predictable. A few examples of what should be systemized:
- Client admission. It’s amazing how much information is not gathered; questions are not asked in the correct manner, and some are not asked at all.
- Acquiring clients. Focus on lead generation, lead conversion and client fulfillment.
- Client retention. What do you need to do to keep the clients you have and encourage them to come in more often?
- Onboarding new hires. Use a consistent and thorough training system for new recruits.
What else can be considered a system within a vet practice?
PW: Everything can be turned into a system—hiring, marketing, restocking an exam room, cleaning a cage, performing a physical exam, setting up for anesthesia, walking a dog safely, etc.
By creating systems, you build accountability and ensure quality control. You should be able to measure the effectiveness of everything you do. By creating systems, we reduce the amount of thinking required. Now please don’t be upset at this idea. The minute we ask people to think is the minute we run into variability. The minute we run into variability, many things go wrong.
I’m not saying that we should take the brains away. We need to give guidelines so that people have some flexibility. Their brains should be used to solve problems and be creative when it matters.
For everything else, we need to ensure that everything that must be asked, learned, or done is performed correctly and efficiently. By just doing thing correctly the first time, we can save a lot of time by avoiding do-overs.
MG: By using systems, we move from a people-driven practice toward a system-dependent business. This is critically important. What commonly happens in practices is that your rock star employee, Sally, knows everything about XYZ. It could be about managing supplies, keeping track of all of the passwords, supervising the front desk, or calculating drug protocols. But if all of a sudden Sally goes on a vacation, or gets sick, or quits on you, then you and your practice are in a lot of trouble. You’d have to completely reinvent the wheel and figure out how on earth Sally did what she did.
Whereas if you had systems, you could train another employee the day after Sally leaves, and he or she would quickly become as good as Sally.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. Visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com.
AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Pa., contributed to this article.