Practice Management News and Views from around the World – December 2013

A message from Vets Practice Growth

More than 1,800 practice owners and managers now have a copy of this free book on vets marketing. Inside you’ll see how to get more new clients; retain them and find ethical ways to get them to buy from you more often; and get them to happily spend more with your practice.

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A spoonful of service makes the veterinary clients come ’round

from an article by Denise Tumblin and Christina Materni published in the DVM360 online magazine

In the 1964 Walt Disney classic, Mary Poppins used a spoonful of sugar to persuade a young child to take medicine. Along those lines, we thought sugar could be the perfect symbol of great veterinary service. Here are recommendations for remarkable service—drawn from examples from the country’s Well-Managed Practices—that will make pet care easier for clients to swallow and keep them coming back to your clinic.

Keep it simple

Do clients’ thinking for them. Offering too many choices for medical care will overwhelm clients and make it more difficult for them to make a decision. One or two recommendations is usually all a client needs or wants. Clients look to veterinarians for their medical knowledge and expertise, so be decisive about the care pets need.

Another way you can do clients’ thinking for them is by being proactive. Offer automatic refill and heartworm preventive reminders. Schedule the next appointment at the end of the current one; if that isn’t possible, call the client the next day to schedule. If a client has multiple pets, review medical records of the other pets to talk about any necessary care that might be due. Also, always ask clients if there are additional pets at home that aren’t being cared for by your practice.

In the exam room, take the time to talk with clients about pet lifestyle. For a new kitten or puppy, discuss wellness or budget plans and stress the importance of socialization. This is also a great time to address any behavioral issues. In addition, you might present your client with spay and neuter considerations. For older pets, start educating your clients on the benefits of semi-annual exams. Go over weight management and nutrition, quality of life, behavior and activity level.

Make it affordable

Keep your payment options open. To help clients budget for pet care, consider offering monthly payment plans for preventive wellness that can be managed in-house or by an outside company. Other options include pet insurance (particularly for clients with multiple pets) or third-party payment services. You can also create multiple plans to find out what the best alternative for your client is. Plan A, since it is presented first, should be your absolute best recommendation for care. Give the client time to consider the option. If they don’t have the money for the necessary care, express your understanding and offer an alternative: Plan B. This is a pared-down version of Plan A. If that still doesn’t work for them, offer a Plan C, which is your “at a minimum” suggestion. Use your best judgment to come up with an affordable option that still has crucial benefits for the pet.

Use a reward system based on tiers. For example, after five visits, a client’s pet receives a complimentary nail trim at the next visit (keep clients coming back with the redemption approach versus an immediate reward). Another example: after purchasing 10 bags of food, a client receives a free bag of pet treats. A company, Rethink Veterinary Solutions, provides another spin on reward systems with customizable reward cards.

Create connections

Be warm, friendly and helpful. When clients enter your doors, know who they are and why they are here. By getting to know your clients, their pets and their needs, you’re building relationships, which leads to better and more personalized service. Take a good, objective look at the intangibles that your practice offers. Are you giving your clients a reason to return? Make sure your receptionists get up and greet clients rather than wait for clients to come to them. Help carry pet food to clients’ cars. Keep an umbrella handy for rainy days. Open your doors to the community by hosting an open house.

Cross-promote with local businesses. Offer loyalty rewards. Consider joining forces with other local businesses for cross-referrals. Not only will it benefit your clinic, but it will also keep more money in your community.

Dr. Karen Howe, medical director at Minnetonka Animal Hospital in Minnetonka, Minn., is a big fan of cross-promotion. Her neighbor is a baker, and she has her make delicious bite-size cookies or bars for her clinic’s annual open house. That way, both the clinic and the local bakery get positive attention.

Don’t be afraid to hear “no.” If at the end of the day you have educated your clients and recommended the very best care at a cost that reflects that care, you may still hear that two-letter word. Remember, the answer’s always “no” if you don’t ask.

So put yourself out there. Implement these recommendations and find new ways to get your clients to say “yes” to the care their pets need. By listening and getting creative, your service scheme has the ability to sweeten the deal not only for your clients and patients, but also for your practice—in the most delightful way.

You can click here to visit the DVM360.com website

You can click here to visit Denise Tumblin’s website

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What’s happening in small animal practice in the UK?

Selected data from the MAI consolidated report to July 2013

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You can click here to visit the AT Veterinary Systems website

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6 Ways to Keep Your Employees Happy

From a blog published in the Stallwood Consulting Service website

Your employees are an integral part of your business. They are the heart and soul. They are the profit makers. They are what makes you successful.

In order to ensure your business runs smoothly, you need to keep your employees happy. Unhappy employees work at a slower pace, decreasing production. They are also more likely to quit, which gives you a high turnover rate and forces you to re-train new employees.

If you want a successful business, use these tips to keep your employees happy.

1.Provide flexibility. Let’s face it. People today are busier than ever before, which means that not everyone can adhere to the 9-5 lifestyle. One great way to keep your employees happy is to provide flexibility in the schedule. Allow some people to start earlier or later than your normal business hours to accommodate their needs. For example, the employee that needs to get their kids to school before work can come in an hour late and stay an hour late. You could also allow employees to work four ten-hour days for an extra day off, or have them work an extra hour Monday through Friday and allow them to have a half day on Fridays.

You may also want to consider allowing your employees to work remotely on occasion. This allows them to work comfortably from home without having to fight traffic. No matter what type of flexibility you offer, it will certainly make your employees happy.

2. Offer great perks.

Reward your employees every now and then with much needed perks. For example, have someone come in and give your employees massages on a monthly basis. You may also want to provide an onsite gym or fitness center, provide free lunch, or even offer hair salon services. Having an in-house pet-sitter or daycare can also be an extra perk to keep your employees happy.

3. Provide great benefits.

If you offer great health benefits to your employees, you will certainly keep them happy. Allowing them to have great coverage for small premiums is a great way to put a smile on your employees’ faces.

But aside from health benefits, there are other benefits you can give your employees that will make them happy. Having a great disability or maternity/paternity leave can also be beneficial. Facebook is known for keeping parents happy by providing a four-month paid maternity leave while also reimbursing their employees for the cost of daycare AND giving the parents $4,000 as a gift.

4. Praise good work.

Your employees work their butts off for your company, so show them your appreciation by recognizing their hard work. Honor those employees who have gone above and beyond with a special luncheon or honors award ceremony. By showing them you appreciate their work, you’ll encourage them to keep performing for you.

5. Provide growth opportunities.

Nobody wants to be stuck in the same job forever, so make it a practice to promote from within. Allow your employees to have the chance to earn promotions and salary increases on a regular basis. This keeps your employees working hard and keeps them working for your business.

6. Work hard yourself.

Employees become disgruntled when they realize they’re doing all the work while the managers and CEOs are doing nothing. Don’t let this happen in your business. Make sure that your employees see that you also work hard to keep the company successful. If they see (or hear) that you spend three weeks out of the month on vacation, playing golf or coming in late/leaving early, it will make them angry.

You can click here to visit the Stallwood Consulting website

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Can leadership qualities be measured?

from an article by Minda Zetlin published in the Small Business Solutions Journal

It turns out the answer is yes. Robert Mann, author of “The Measure of a Leader,” has spent the last 43 years developing leadership appraisal tools. Originally created to help the Ontario school system to train principals, his methods can help any leader identify weaknesses and strengths.

When he started his research, Mann says, he expected to identify personality traits of good leaders. It turned out, leaders’ personalities vary widely but, he says, whatever their persona, there are specific behaviors that will make a leader effective. The good news is that you can learn these behaviors, or help an employee with leadership ambitions learn them:

Good leaders have a mission and inspire others to join them.

“What is the organization’s purpose?” Mann asks. “You must be able to understand that and communicate it to a group of people such that they will commit themselves to it. And you have to have a strategy for them to follow to achieve that mission.”

Good leaders create strong organizations.

“The leader has to have a good grasp of what the company is organized to do,” he says. “What’s the most efficient way of producing what it’s organized for?” This is important because the leader needs to understand and manage not only the mission but also the structure of the organization, with sub-leaders who are also important to the company achieving its goals.

Good leaders have strong interpersonal skills.

“Interpersonal behavior will very strongly affect how people feel about the organization’s goals, and whether working toward those goals is worthwhile,” Mann says.

Good leaders are good motivators.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone loves them. “Some leaders rely on the exercise of power–coersion–to motivate employees,” Mann says. A second way to motivate is by the exercise of authority granted to a leader who’s proved superior ability or skill or commitment. “A third way to motivate is with charisma, so that people are drawn to the leader.”

Most good leaders use all three forms of motivation, he adds. “But there’s usually one that dominates. The interesting thing is it doesn’t seem to matter which.” Different situations call for different forms of motivation, he says. “You have to adapt your performance to the culture of your organization.”

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The corporates are coming!

by Paul Gadsby

You’re an independent vet who’s just received news that a corporate will be moving into your area in three months. What do you do now? Simple – you form a war cabinet, and here’s how. . .

You have received a three-month warning. A national corporate has received planning permission on a site near you and will soon be in place offering their cheap promotional offers such as vaccines for life schemes etc.

This is a serious threat to your business. How do you stop your clients – and prospective ones – from registering with an all-singing, all-dancing glitzy new surgery offering what look like good deals?

If you, like many independent veterinary practices throughout the UK, find yourself under threat from this kind of fierce competition, it’s worth considering carrying out the following activities.

Ignite your staff. Call an emergency meeting in which you fire-up your staff for the challenge ahead. Explain to them what is happening, what the threat means for the business and therefore their job security. Hook into their professional pride – involve each member of your team in a lively, round-the-table discussion about the hands-on tasks that need to be completed and conduct a collective brainstorming session for further ideas. You are, in effect, forming your war cabinet. There may be some members of staff who you feel don’t pull their weight – this is an ideal opportunity to involve them in a vitally important team project – no one wants to turn up for work and deliberately underperform. They may not be excelling due to a lack of tangible direction – this project gives them a specific goal and with it a slice of accountable responsibility under which many employees flourish. And the whole team will be behind each other all the way, so there’s no reason for them to feel isolated. Enforcing something of a culture change like this is much easier to do in a small independent business than a larger one.

Identify your USP that the corporates can’t copy. You may well have worked this out already some time ago but it has since slipped to the back burner. Re-energise it in your marketing. It could be your levels of experience and expertise, your out-of-hours offering, your hard-earned reputation as the trusted veterinary voice in your community, the fact that you’re not ‘run by head office’ like the corporate will be (this may be the truth or a perception of the truth, either way the perception of truth is what the public go by).

Lock down your best members of staff. You never know, those people most valuable to you may be eyed up by the new corporate coming to town, so take those people aside, reaffirm how important they are to you and do what’s necessary to make sure they don’t get poached.

Brighten the place up. We’re not talking about a major refurbishment of your premises, but simple things like a fresh lick of paint in reception and maybe the exterior building as well and tidying up any litter from the car park can go a long way. They’re the kind of jobs that you say every morning that you’ll see to them, but just don’t get round to because the instant motivation isn’t there. It is now – so get cracking. Something a little more pricey but worth considering is a new carpet/flooring material for the reception area.

On the marketing front, drum up a few ideas that can grab the attention of your present and prospective clients. They may not match what the corporate will be offering in terms of price but if you lock those clients down quickly before they arrive it will be worth it. Maybe introduce a loyalty card scheme to reward your best clients (e.g. they get a stamp for every £70 spent, and after collecting 10 stamps they get a free consultation) – you could launch the scheme at a nice party at your practice, letting the local media know about it too.

Working under these kind of time limits is never easy as obviously moving fast is key, but you’ll be surprised at how the three-month warning energises yourself and your staff. Everything you try may not work, but much of it will, and the corporate will find that when it moves in a lot of the local custom has already been snapped up by the loyal and pro-active independent practice those clients are happy with – you.

You can click here to visit the VetsMarketing website

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Ending team animosity at your veterinary practice

from an article by Suzy Quick published in Veterinary Economics

Dawn and I didn’t always work well together. When I started work at the veterinary office, not only was I nervous about moving in on this already close-knit group of comrades, but Dawn in particular had an aggressive nature I wasn’t used to. While she was outspoken, I’m an introvert. I take the reserved, passive approach, and she could be downright bossy. I resolved to focus on my work in the treatment area, and as long as she stayed at the reception desk, surely we wouldn’t have a face-off.

Just when I got the knack for dodging Dawn, there was a shift in our office structure. One of the technicians quit abruptly and her position had to be filled. Dawn, the most flexible and seasoned employee, was obviously best suited for the job. I realized I’d soon be working alongside my nemesis. I felt sick. All I could think of were negative possibilities.

Determined not to let this situation destroy my love for working with animals, I tried to keep it professional and stay detached from Dawn and her personal attacks. At first, it was awful. She set the thermostat to an arctic chill and turned all the fans on high. I turned the air conditioning back down and shut the fans off when she wasn’t looking. I got frustrated when she left empty shelves before my shift, and she hated the way I tied the trash liners so tightly around the trashcan rim. Dawn had a flair for delegation; I didn’t want to follow her orders. I’d balk at her attempts to recruit my help—if she needed it, all she had to do was ask. This petty squabbling went back and forth for a long while.

Sadly, last winter we lost a loyal regular boarding dog. Dawn created and hand painted a clay paw print for his owner to memorialize him. The grieving client was overwhelmed with gratitude at the thoughtful gesture. We decided to offer this for all euthanasias; Dawn took on the responsibility of crafting each paw print. One day I remember watching her struggle to decide which color would be best for a certain print. It was important to her that it was special.

Facing this tender side of Dawn, I realized we were both there for the same reasons. We loved our jobs and wanted to be there for pets and their people. As I learned to accept our differences, she learned to respect my boundaries. We still have the occasional run-in, but now we’ve developed a tolerance and a deeper respect for each other.

So, dig deeper to find ways to relate to people who aren’t like you. We’re all made differently; sometimes our differences are extreme, but that’s OK. We can each be ourselves and still be exactly what this world needs.

You can click here to visit the DVM360 website

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