Practice Management News and Views from around the World – January 2017

Seven Inspiring Life Lessons

Join us at Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, from 26-28 January 2017 for the VPMA-SPVS Congress 2017.

From behavioural economics to the ultimate front of house experience; resilience to understanding mindsets; practical H&S to managing social media, with speakers from home and abroad; within and outside the profession

  • Andy McCann, performance coach to high profile business leaders, Olympians and World Champions. He is joined by one of his mentees, Ryan Jones, ex Wales Rugby captain
  • Brenda Tassava, a veterinary practice management consultant from the USA brings a wealth of experience in leadership, business and HR
  • Mind Matters, in partnership with RCVS, chaired by Dr Radha Modgil, GP and co-host of Radio 1 ‘The Surgery’.
  • The popular Equine stream with lectures on personality profiling, marketing and pricing… all case study led.
  • A repeat of the popular New to Management stream, led by VPMA
  • Brand new for 2017 - New to Ownership, for those considering setting up from scratch or taking up a partnership.
  • A  stream for the reception team - focusing on customer care
  • Richard Dixon, CEO of Vets Now - 'In Conversation with Martin Whiting

The Profitable Practice Stream will be held on Saturday, January 28th and will start with a presentation by John Sheridan – entitled the SPVS Profitability Survey

Do you know how your business is performing, and how it compares with others?

Profitability is key to any business, yet the results of SPVS first Profitability Survey suggested that over half of practices are recording profits that were ‘below average’ or ‘poor’ on their profit rating scale. This is obviously of concern as practices need to be profitable in order to deliver a good service to their clients and a good working environment for their staff. However, the fact that some practices ARE making good profits does suggest that this is an opportunity as well as a challenge.

In this session, John Sheridan will explain the purpose and scope of the Profitability Survey, outlining how it defines profit, how the data is generated and how practices can be involved, both in helping gather data and in using the results to help them achieve their practices objectives. He will outline what he sees as the significance of the survey for the profession as well as for individual practices.

You can click here to register your attendance

Friends with benefits: When discounts get out of hand

From an article by Marc Rosenberg published in the dvm360.com website

Price cuts put smiles on veterinary clients’ faces. But your practice can suffer if you overuse them. Then what do you do?

Who wants a discount on veterinary care? I do I do!

In 1999, Dr. Jack Carlson left a large, well-respected small-animal practice and opened his own Carlson Animal Clinic. He respected the restrictive covenant he’d signed with his old employer and opened a facility more than five miles away from his old practice.

He opened his doors with only two clients—himself and his wife. He worked long hours, made many sacrifices and ended up with a thriving three-doctor practice providing cutting-edge veterinary care.

His initial efforts to build his new practice involved networking, a bit of moonlighting and some discounting.

Now, 10 years later, some of his early practice-building gestures were become problems.Initially, as a civic gesture, he gave a discount to police, firefighters and military personnel. He also gave discounts to close personal friends and relatives as well as staff members.

Most recently, he was approached by a senior citizen group and agreed to a 10 percent discount for its members.

During Dr. Carlson's recent meeting with his accountant, his yearly reconciliation revealed an unacceptably high number of dollars attributed to courtesy discounts. It seems that many clients receiving discounts had asked that their adult children and extended family receive the same courtesy.

Dr. Carlson had a true dilemma on his hands. Disallowing certain discounts was not going to make those clients happy.

His accountant had made it quite clear, however, that revenue was not keeping pace and either fees had to be raised or courtesy discounts curtailed.

Police, fire and military discounts were untouchable, Dr. Carlson thought. So he hoped his friends and relatives would understand a decrease in their discount rates in view of the pressing economic climate.

For staff discounts he took an innovative approach; he offered pet insurance for staff pets and billed his normal fees to his team.

Finally, he had to wrestle with those senior discounts. His decision ultimately was to discontinue this courtesy with a note of apology and an offer to assist specific individuals when a true hardship arose.

Reflecting back on his years building his hospital’s client base, Dr. Carlson felt that he was paying the piper. Early discounts offered as a practice builder had ultimately come back to haunt him. He rationalized his change in discount policy by telling himself he was entitled to a fair fee for his services, and he hoped his more stringent discount policy wouldn’t hurt his bottom line too much.

Maybe he’d made a mistake in his early lean years of practice or maybe he simply was adjusting (as all small businesses do) to economic pressures. He took a deep breath, implemented his new policies and hoped for the best.

What do you think? Did Dr. Carlson make the right decisions early on and now?

Rosenberg's response

Clients respect and understand a reasonable fee for a satisfactory veterinary medical service.

That said, discounted services fall into three categories: charity, courtesy and client incentive.

We all discount services at times. But these discounts must be well-considered or they’ll begin to hurt the bottom line. Dr. Carlson initially used fee discounting as a practice-building incentive, and in the midst of his other veterinary management duties, these discounts got out of hand.

I believe Dr. Carlson should have tactfully stopped his incentive discounts.

Charity discounts within reason are acceptable as long as the practice owner selects the charity and is not coerced into offering them.

Finally, it’s rewarding to discount immediate family, because it's nice to helped loved ones when you can.In the end, there are no easy answers—so don't minimize your decision to discount.

The wisest strategy you can employ is to factor your discount services into your overhead as a budget item. This will keep the bottom line in check while allowing your practice to monetarily assist pet owners of your choice.

You can click here to visit the DVM360.com website

Can you handle the truth about your veterinary practice? Benefits of mystery shopping.

From an article by Sue Crampton published in the VetAnswers.com website

The telephone is an essential tool for your veterinary practice - do you know what's being said to clients when they call?

Most business owners and managers are well aware that the telephone is an essential tool in the quest to gain and retain clients. New clients will assess your website first, and then call you to make an enquiry. What message are you sending on the phone and what feelings does that invoke in your client? While many practices will conduct telephone training themselves, and even coach team members on phone techniques, this is still only one side of the story.

If you aren’t asking your clients about your performance then how do you know what they think?

Mystery shopping gives you insight

Using a Mystery Shopper is a great way to gain insight into how your team is interacting with clients. A Mystery Shopper will provide feedback on how the phone was answered, what rapport building (if any!) was undertaken, the knowledge and recommendations provided and the potential conversion (appointment/invitation).

By far the most important information gained from a Mystery Shopper is “Based on this call, would you attend this practice?”

What has research shown us?

It is interesting to note that according to research conducted by Crampton Consulting Group, the greatest proportion of clients leaving a practice is due to ‘perceived indifference or lack of interest by an employee’. In this way, mystery shopping can effectively take a ‘snapshot’ of practice staff and assist employers and managers to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. It facilitates the ability for the practice to focus resources towards more specific in-house training, knowing exactly where that training is required.

Commonly, practices excel in phone answering and greeting, however staff then seem to get lost trying to navigate the rest of the call in a way that conveys their knowledge as well as showing care and empathy.

In a recent industry benchmarking exercise, not a single mystery shopper was offered an appointment or invited in to the practice.  Phone calls do not convert to new clients unless they enter your front door!

Find out your strengths & weaknesses - improve your competitive advantage

Undertaking a Mystery Shopper Program and actively profiling the customer service strengths and weaknesses serves to increase a practice’s competitive edge in the growing veterinary industry. Criteria specific feedback and industry benchmarking give the practice owner a clear picture of their business and a true representation of what their customers really think of them. Armed with these tools, practices can be assured that they can accurately implement changes and improvements to ensure lasting results, increased customer confidence whilst building and strengthening the practice.

You can click here to visit the VetAnswers.com website​

I don't give discounts ...to my veterinary clients. And I don't feel bad about it.

From an article by Hilal Dogan and published in the DVM360.com website

Alright, associates in veterinary practice, let's do a little self-reflection exercise. Answer these questions for me:

  • Do you believe there is value in what you do?
  • Why do you feel guilty about charging clients appropriately?
  • Do you truly believe you are stealing from people?
  • Are you suffering from imposter syndrome?

… Or do you simply need to reassess your pricing strategy and make sure it represents an accurate and fair value of your services?

For some veterinarians, discounting is an emotional issue. For some, the reasons we behave the way we do with money are deep-rooted in our subconscious; sometimes we can’t access those feelings until someone hits us on the head with it.

So this is me, hitting you on the head.

Discounts: Warm fuzzies for all

Veterinarians have an innate desire to make things right. That desire is reinforced by the need to feel valued by others, to ease their suffering. Warm fuzzies galore. And the easiest path to that feeling is discounting—or worse, giving away—services.

Veterinarians' self-worth

I’m not even going to get into the fact that if clients don’t understand the value in what you do—no matter what the charge is—they’ll complain about costs or feel unsatisfied. Mark Opperman, CVPM, covers this topic extensively in the first two chapters of the recent second edition of his book The Art of Veterinary Practice Management.

But what are we really doing here? We're flailing around, ignoring our self-worth and looking for external validation and approval. When clients say they’re grateful for a discount, we're happy they're happy.

Sorry to burst your bubble—no amount of external validation is worthwhile unless you honor yourself first and believe your services are valuable.

No Ferrari for that Honda

We can start to change by rewiring our brains. This is called neuroplasticity. To do this, we have to change our beliefs and then our habits. Whether you choose to give discounts and free services regularly or not can play an important role here.

I choose to stick to my guns, charge appropriately and not break down the second a client (or even my boss!) claims a charge is too much. My response is, “Well then, we can work within your budget.” To be fair, my clinic markets itself as a premium clinic with cutting-edge technology, so we don't regularly see low-income clients. But I am certainly not going to give away a Ferrari when all someone can afford is a Honda.

I am most certainly not going to live with the fear that if I charge a pet owner too much that he or she won’t come back. My bosses have repeatedly emphasized this when they talk to me about billing and charges because they think I charge too much. Full disclosure: Today I am on strictly production-based pay, and I don’t change prices. I simply enter in the services provided as dictated by the price sheet—no more, no less. I don’t have the time or energy (nor do I want) to sit and agonize over every transaction with a client. This is precisely why you have predetermined prices, is it not? Rant. Over.

As a young new vet coming into this working world, I still have respect for the way things were done and greatly appreciate what elders have done before me. However, I also have the clarity to see that the way we used to do things is just not sustainable or enjoyable anymore. We are dropping like flies out of the profession. So many of us complain about veterinary practice revenue and how there isn’t enough for reasonable pay. (Any of this sound familiar?) And yet we devalue ourselves and our services with discounts.

My advice is, believe in your value and charge appropriately. The struggle is real, but it’s worth it.

You can click here to visit the DVM360.com website​

Common Telephone Mistakes That Cost You Clients

From an article by Amanda Donnelly and published on her website

Whenever I ask team members if they receive telephone calls from pet owners asking about fees, most report they field numerous calls each week if not daily. Wow, that's a significant opportunity for practices to attract new clients and book appointments. Yet I find client service representatives (CSRs) routinely aren't adequately trained to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.

If you haven't provided formal training in this area of client communications, then schedule time now with your team to discuss the following common mistakes made by CSRs when handling cost inquiry calls.

Mistake #1: Responding to callers' cost inquiries with a lack of enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, busy CSRs tend to answer pet owners' questions with short, quick responses that don't help to build trust and rapport.

How to fix this mistake: Have team members use a positive opening line to immediately engage the pet owner. This set the tone for the rest of the call and conveys a desire to help.

Mistake #2: Quoting fees without communicating the value of services.

Since the caller asked about fees, it's easy to fall into the trap of just quoting fees. What callers really want is to know more about the value of bringing their pet to your hospital.

How to fix this mistake: Rather than just giving prices, have CSRs ask a few questions to learn about the caller's pet. Not only does this show interest in the caller, it helps to tailor recommendations to the pet's needs. Then train the team to give a few details about each service and its value before quoting fees.

Mistake #3: Not asking for the appointment.

When team members, don't ask callers to schedule an appointment, they unwittingly send a message that they don't care if the pet owner comes in, they know the caller will want to think it over before scheduling or worse yet, there isn't enough value to coming in for the caller to take immediate action.

How to fix this mistake: Have everyone adopt a mindset that of course the caller will want to book an appointment at your wonderful hospital! Train employees to say, "May I schedule you an appointment?" and then quickly offer specific times.

Mistake #4: Ending calls with a lack of enthusiasm.

All too often CSRs simply say "call us back when you're ready to schedule" or "you're welcome" after the pet owner thanked them for the information. If the potential new client didn't book an appointment, this lack of enthusiasm (albeit friendly) doesn't make a lasting impression that will make them want to call back.

How to fix this mistake: Have team members use a positive closing statement tailored to the call. If the caller booked an appointment, this could be as simple as "We're looking forward to seeing you and Hannah on Friday." If the caller doesn't book an appointment, close with an enthusiastic statement that tells them why they should call back. I call this a Proud Statement. Tell the pet owner what the value is of being a client at your hospital. Here's an example: "Mrs. Smith, we'd love to take care of Hannah. We have a caring team here just waiting to help you. Please do call us back and we'll get you set up with an appointment."

You can click here to visit Amanada Donnelly's website