God Made a Dog
50 Years of change in veterinary practice
Fifty years ago, it was still possible for a young veterinarian, after a few months experience, to set up or purchase a practice on their own, generally
with the assistance of a wife and maybe one additional employee to act as animal assistant, receptionist, bookkeeper and telephonist. That idyllic arrangement allowed the clinicians to concentrate all their working efforts to hone their professional skills and expertise, build a loyal database of clients and generate a modest income.
Since then the veterinary marketplace and the world in which it operates has changed almost beyond recognition.
What has changed?
Since the 1960’s, we have seen an exponential growth in the volume and quality of professional knowledge, expertise and ability. The standard of professional services has grown dramatically. There has been a steady growth in the number of veterinary students graduating each year. Most of them seek to spend at least the early years in their profession in practice but because employment opportunities in farm practice have declined, the number of graduates seeking employment in small animal practice has exploded.
The economic downturn in recent years has restricted the growth of many small animal practices, limiting the employment opportunities for new graduates in existing practices but resulting in a steady growth in the number of small animal practice outlets
We have also seen a fundamental change in the gender balance of veterinary undergraduates and slowly but surely, the profession is changing from a
predominantly male structure to one comprising mostly female graduates. Many of them will seek career breaks to raise a family and there is some anecdotal
evidence that the length of time that female veterinarians will devote to their profession is likely to be significantly less than that contributed by their
male counterparts. It seems likely therefore that for many veterinary households, the income generated by the veterinary clinician may not be the prime source of household income and the attraction of and demand for, practice ownership opportunities may decline.
Younger graduates are probably wiser than their older colleagues in that they recognise the importance of a healthy balance between work and leisure and
between the responsibilities for their career and their home and family relationships.
So the traditional path to practice ownership by seeking and purchasing a partnership share in an existing practice would seem to be less attractive for
many of them with the result that many existing practices owners have legitimate doubts about their ability to finance their retirement by selling off a share of the practice assets to an incoming partner, prepared to shoulder a fair share of the administrative and managerial burden of traditional practice
On the other hand, we have also seen a steady growth in the number of newly established small animal practices. Some have been set up independently by
enthusiastic veterinary entrepreneurs and some, in the UK, have been established as joint venture opportunities between veterinarians, who wish to take on some of the benefits and challenges of business ownership with the support of a corporate organisation with a recognised brand in the veterinary marketplace.
All of these changes within the profession have developed at the same time that comparable changes have occurred in the pet animal marketplace in which our
profession operates. The overall number of pet animals appears to have been fairly static with some changes in the balance between dogs, cats, fish, small
mammals, birds and exotic species
The availability of professional veterinary services for pet animal owners has never been greater, resulting in more competition between providers for a
share of the pet practice market at a time when for many, the burden of practice ownership and the demands of increasing regulation from local, central and international government and from professional bodies has resulted in declining profits and, in some cases, professional burnout.
Perhaps the key change which has developed over the last two or three decades is a recognition that the delivery of high quality professional veterinary services in a demanding marketplace depends on three essential components:
- Clinicians (veterinarians, veterinary nurses, technicians and clinical support staff) committed to their vocation, superior professional standards of care for their patients and the delivery of exceptional service for their clients.
- The availability of resources in which the clinical professionals can operate within a business environment serviced by professionals with the necessary operational, marketing, personnel, planning, financial and management skills required to satisfy the needs of all the stakeholders in the enterprise — the employers, the staff and their clients.
- A practice/business leader with a clear vision of what the enterprise is for and where it’s going and an ability to take the lead, share the vision,
inspire confidence and motivate the practice team to achieve shared objectives.
Whether your prime professional objectives as a veterinary clinician, are concerned with your career development, work-lifestyle balance, personal income
– or with service to clients, clinical standards, animal welfare, happy staff, practice size, growth or market share – every one of them will depend on the
ability of your veterinary practice to operate effectively, efficiently and economically as a business and to generate profit for re-investment.
You can click here to visit the Veterinary Business Video Show website
Hire veterinary candidates with a knack for service
One of the keys to building a successful veterinary practice is providing a positive experience for clients. Of course positive experiences don’t just
happen by accident. You must cultivate great experiences by building a culture of service excellence.
The first step in achieving this goal is to get the right people on board–people who are passionate about serving others. Not everyone is.
How do you find that person? During the interview, look for evidence of sensitivity to others’ needs, a willingness to resolve issues, the ability to put others’ priorities first, a calm and collected demeanor in the face of challenges, and the willingness to recognize and correct mistakes.
To make objective comparisons, ask job applicants the same questions, such as: “What do you think constitutes service excellence in a professional practice?” Look for answers that mirror your clients’ needs.
Also ask, “How have you handled a difficult client in the past? What made the person difficult?” Pay attention to how they describe the client involved. Does he or she show empathy? How did the candidate resolve the situation?
Also notice how the applicant describes a “difficult-to-please” person. You may have many of these personality types in your practice. Technical skills,
after all, can only take your team so far.
You can click here to visit the DVM360.com website
Your first duty as a boss is to make your employees happy
Generally when we think about our responsibilities as bosses and leaders, “workplace happiness” is not the first thing that springs to mind.
Supervising? — yes.
Analysing, reporting, developing strategies, employee selection, growth of the company? — absolutely.
However most managers would feel that people’s happiness at work does not come into the equation.
Work is tough — work is about effort and achieving goals. Happiness is about having fun. However this point of view can have serious drawbacks, and is a
misrepresentation of what happiness is really about. By addressing your employee’s happiness in the workplace you can help your business to survive and thrive — and give it the leading edge in retaining employees.
What is happiness about?
It’s about creating and responding to opportunities around you.
When we feel happy, it broadens our range of responses to situations, and increases our confidence and skills. For example — when we smile, we send out
signals that we are approachable. This leads to greater opportunities for meaningful communication and networking with others. It builds our relationships.
Feeling happier also leads us to feeling more creative – which can have very beneficial results in the workplace. It also boosts workplace performance. If
you are happy, you will work harder and produce better results.
How do we make our teams and staff feel happier in the workplace?
Firstly we need to ask them! Consider taking a survey of your staff to get a baseline of their workplace happiness and satisfaction.
Once you have those results, consider what tools you can create to support and inspire your staff. There are many strategies you can implement — both small
and large — to increase your employees happiness.
Positive feedback — all employees want to know that their efforts are being firstly noticed, and secondly being appreciated. It doesn’t take much
to give positive feedback and boost your employees’ morale.
Provide challenging — though attainable — goals. Staff want to feel that they are contributing to the company and making a difference. There is not
much worse than stagnating in your job, and watching the minutes crawl by everyday until 5pm.
Share a laugh with your staff. One way to really bring a team together is to share some light-hearted time together. Laughter really is the best
Creative a positive culture. Actively encourage your employees to share small successes and positive stories. For example — a really great meeting
with a client; a satisfying outcome to a work issue or complaint; or even something positive that is happening in their personal lives. Make it clear that you value hearing those experiences, and share them with your entire team.
Workplace happiness really comes down to plenty of DRAMA:
- A positive environment
Keep in mind: happy workers stick around longer, bring more energy and enthusiasm to their tasks, and help maintain organisational morale.
You can click here to visit the Stallwood Consulting website
SPVS and VPMA announce new CPD brand and programme aimed at the whole practice team
SPVS and the VPMA have announced a new year-long programme of business and management seminars following the success of their first joint congress and
second year of combined CPD. The 2013 calendar comes under the new VPMA/SPVS Events brand aimed at providing support to all of the practice team. With seminars specific for owners, managers, vets, nurses and receptionists the associations have responded to an increased demand for clear, business-focused CPD to address the challenges and opportunities practices face on a daily basis.
SPVS President Adi Nell highlighted the benefits of undertaking targeted business CPD, “Vets and managers these days are expected to provide not just
excellent medical care, but be proficient in running a business, competent in managing people, and responsive to their customers’ needs on every level. As
associations dedicated to the needs of the practising vet and the manager, we aim to provide support across all these different areas. But we wanted to do more than just provide theoretical support; our seminars are pitched to give practical advice and tools, based on real-world examples, that work within the time and resource constraints faced by modern practice.
“We also recognise that problems or even opportunities in practice cannot be addressed by just one person. Practice success depends on a team effort, people
pulling together to make things happen. We feel that by providing business CPD for the whole practice team, we can encourage collaboration and enable success.”
New for 2013 is the ‘Focus on Diagnostics’ day. Based on the successful model of the ‘Focus on Technology’ day, which brings together practice end-users
with suppliers of digital support tools to get the very best out of modern technology, the Diagnostics day focuses on diagnostic equipment and services. There will be workshops on diagnostic essentials, new technology and product updates, as well as exploring finance models and return on investment. Exhibitors will include laboratory and diagnostic imaging companies, suppliers of clinical pathology and other specialist diagnostic tools and services. The day aims to give the answer to the dilemma of ‘What do I really need, versus, what’s nice to have?’
The associations would like to thanks Zoetis Vet Support+ for their sponsorship of the CPD programme.
You can click here to access the full programme and relevant booking and pricing
Seven top customer service tips
Being friendly is the least you should do
Your aim in giving your customers exceptional service is to make them say “wow!”
You can do that if you make the following seven tips part of your normal pattern of service.
- Be polite, friendly and attentive to your customers. Greet them when they enter your business, use their names, and niceties such as ‘have a good day’
always help contribute to an overall good impression. Most of all, give them your undivided attention. Most of all, give customers your undivided attention
- Surprise them with the unexpected. British Airways discovered that passenger goodwill increases when staff do unexpected extras such as spontaneous
conversations or invitations to visit the flight deck. These have to remain extras and not the norm if they are to retain their surprise value.
- Attend to the little things. Paying attention to the little things which don’t significantly affect the main service is a way of saying: “If we look after
the little things, just think what we’ll do with the big ones.” Such detail includes maintaining sparkling washrooms whose floors you could eat your meals off and customer notices that don’t patronise people.
- Anticipate customers’ needs. In a survey of airport check-in staff, customers rated the best staff as those who anticipated their needs. These were staff who would routinely glance down the queue and anticipate the different needs customers had, from the grandmother needing help with her luggage to the business executive wanting a quick service.
- Always say “yes”. Great customer carers never turn down a request for help. Even if they can’t do it themselves, they’ll know someone who can and put you
onto them. They always use positive language. Even if the answer is “no, we’re closed”, it’s expressed as “yes, we can do that first thing tomorrow for you”.
- Treat them the same by treating them differently. We hate to see others get better customer service than we do, for example in a restaurant. It makes us
feel second-class and devalued. Equally, we don’t want to be treated the same as everyone else if that means a standard, soulless response, as you sometimes
get in a fast-food restaurant. The secret is to treat everyone the same by treating them differently.
- Use tact with tact. Tact means using adroitness in handling other people’s feelings. In awkward or embarrassing moments, tact saves everyone’s blushes. It’s something your customers will notice.
Adhere to these seven principles until they are as familiar to you as breathing and you’re guaranteed to have customers queuing up.
You can click here to visit the BusinessSwings website
10 things to do at your veterinary hospital (when there’s nothing to do)
The key to solving team member boredom is planning ahead, “Staff members will tell me they’re bored when I’m up to my eyeballs in finance reports,” Conrad says. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to stop working and find them a project right away.” So he’s created a list of 10 ways to tackle clinic boredom.
- Call up clients. Team members can check in with clients to whom they’ve recommended a dental treatment or thyroid test within the last 30 days. “They shouldn’t just sit there until clients show up,” Conrad says. “Your staff should work hard to get clients in the door–especially during the slow days in the clinic.”
- Fill medication requests. Team members can use the time to catch up on prescription requests. “Telling clients it’s going to be one or two days for
a refill is ridiculous when they can go to a big-box store and have it within 30 minutes,” Conrad says.
- Scan to save room. Filter through medical records. “Whether it’s scanning records into your paperless software system or throwing out charts for patients you haven’t seen in seven years, make sure all your veterinary files are current,” Conrad says.
- Shine the shelves. Team members can always tidy up the retail area, dust the shelves, and organize products. “Staff members can even search the
shelves and get rid of expired products,” Conrad says.
- Make every minute count. Inventory counts are an end-of-the-year task, right? Wrong. “Appoint one or two team members to be in charge of the supplies list,” Conrad says. “Then they can post a note in the break room that says, ‘When someone has time, I need the NSAIDs counted’ or ‘I need the flea and tick products inventoried.'” This spot-checking throughout the year will make your life much easier come December.
- Take a picture–it’ll last longer. Let your team members take pictures of the clinic–especially the areas clients see. Then have them print and study the 8.5-by-11-inch color photos. “We’re so used to walking in and out of our work spaces that we ignore the clutter,” Conrad says. “When team members examine the pictures, they’re going to see a whole different image.”
- Tackle the hairy tasks. Cat and dog hair is a relentless reality in veterinary practices, so team members can always vacuum out vents and computer
- Sanitize the fridge. Post a warning sign on the break room refrigerator and then let your staff members trash all food dated older than two
weeks. They could even make a trip to the recycling plant to recycle the Tupperware, soda cans, and paper.
- Be social. The more often team members update your practice’s social media sites, the better. “Team members can add new pictures of patients and
clients,” Conrad says (be sure to get permission first). They can also post clinic specials to attract clients.
- Book it to the break room. “Team members can put their nose in a journal like Veterinary Economics or Firstline and take notes,” Conrad says. “Then at the next team meeting they can share.”
Conrad does offer a word of warning: “When your staff takes on these tasks, make sure the projects don’t become their sole purpose for the day,” he says.
“Clients and patients should always come first.”
You can click here to visit the DVM360.com website