Practice Management News and Views from around the World – January 2015

Happy New Year from Armenia

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Are you ready to become, or to employ, a Veterinary Practice Superhero?

by John Sheridan

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You don’t need me to tell you that far too many veterinary practices are struggling, with reports from around the English speaking veterinary world about a drop in client numbers, shrinking profits and veterinary earnings reported to be lower than the income of several other professional groups. All this at a time when there are more vet schools, more graduates, more competition, more regulation, increasing graduate debt, more stress and inadequate veterinary salaries.

The 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession reports that more than 75% of vets working within the profession in the UK are employed in practice. A significant proportion of new graduates leave their first job within the first few months and the survey indicated that that nearly one in ten indicated that they are planning to leave the profession for reasons other than retirement, either as soon as possible or within the next one to five years. The reasons given included dissatisfaction with veterinary work, working hours, stress, being ‘fed
up with the way the veterinary profession is going’ and not feeling that their work is
adequately rewarded or valued.

Here in the UK, many graduates who have embarked on a career in practice in the last few years are feeling frustrated, angry and concerned about their future. They planned to be successful clinicians, working in a busy practice, with a boss and professional colleagues they could respect and who would respect them. They wanted an opportunity to develop their professional skills, caring for animals, looking after clients and enjoying a comfortable work/lifestyle balance.

They acknowledged the professions self-imposed 24/7 obligations and hoped that their own out-of-hours responsibilities would be reasonable, to enable them to enjoy an acceptable balance between work and leisure. They wanted to work in modern facilities, with modern equipment, a good choice of drugs, consumables and other products. They were looking for
support for clinical issues and for all their non-clinical responsibilities such as communicating effectively with clients, business procedures, fees, charges, the computer, the PMS software and all the other tricky stuff

Oh – and I’m sure they were looking for a realistic income and other terms of employment which would enable them to service any debt, live in reasonable comfort and begin to enjoy a lifestyle comparable to graduates in other learned and caring professions.

The reality however, is that too many recent graduates report that they receive little or no support from the practice, they’re worried about communicating with clients who don’t always accept their advice, they think they’re working too long and too hard and their income is nowhere near what they think they are worth.

It seems to me then, that for any individual graduate seeking a career in practice, a number of questions arise

First – were the expectations I’ve outlined, realistic?

Of course they were and although life was much simpler and far less sophisticated when I graduated, I think that they were similar to what I was looking for in my first job more than 50 years ago.

Second – How did it work out for you?

After a few months in your first job, how did the reality compare with your aspirations and expectations?

If there wasn’t a reasonable match between what you hoped for and what actually happened, then you might need to ask two more questions:

‘Why’? and ‘What could you, or should you, do about it’?

Perhaps the first thing to recognise is that if the job hasn’t worked out well for you, it hasn’t worked out well either, for your boss, the other practice team members, your clients or for the whole practice.

What can be done to resolve a growing problem?

Recent graduates frustrated with their chosen profession, is just one of the many problems facing the practising arm of the profession worldwide. It’s a problem too, which has to be addressed by all of the stakeholders who have an interest in the business of veterinary practice.

Practice owners and managers have at their disposal a wide range of organisations, consultants, articles, books, webcasts, webinars, professional advisers, business tools and other CPD opportunities.

There seems to be a shortage however of non-clinical support resources specifically designed for recent graduates and for students planning a career in practice, telling them how to take control of their practice career, with clients queuing up to seek and follow their advice, supportive colleagues, a smiling boss and a salary which reflects their value to the practice – all without compromising their professional standards and values.

How to be a Superhero in your career in veterinary practice is a brand new series of online videos, designed to do all of that – and more.

Take the first step to achieve all that you want to achieve in your practice career by viewing ‘Your Career in Veterinary Practice’ – the first video in the series – available online now

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How NOT to Treat a Customer

From an article by Rebecca Tudor published in her CatalystVets website

A few weeks ago, our blog was not working. The post was mailing out properly but when you tried to leave a comment it would not let you. This normally would not be an issue, but since you had to leave a comment in order to be eligible to win a book, it was a REALLY big issue.

I am not tech savvy at all and one of the reasons I hired Heather, as my virtual executive assistant is to get the blog online. When this issue came up, I was no help. Heather could not figure it out either, so we emailed our tech support “guy” to ask for help. His initial fix didn’t work so we had to get in touch with him again to get this fixed ASAP.

The good news is he ultimately did get it fixed. Unfortunately, his communication style involved being condescending and talking down to us. While I am grateful for his help, it is stunning to me that anyone would treat a customer this way.

I was hoping that we were misinterpreting his emails but I called him out on it and he said, “He was sorry I felt that way”- Awesome- thanks for caring so much!

A few months ago, we had Brian, an old client, come up from Charlotte so we could do a second TPLO on his dog, Hunter. Surgery went well and Brian wanted to take Hunter home, which was fine with us since he had been through this before. Overnight, Hunter had a little blood oozing from the incision and Brian was concerned so he took Hunter to the local emergency clinic.

Thankfully, all was fine but what was shocking to me was how the emergency veterinarian made Brian FEEL.

She told him the bandage was unnecessary and that “her surgeons” didn’t use them. She asked why he had the surgery done in Raleigh and he told her because he knew us and we were also significantly less expensive than the surgeons in Charlotte. She then told him he should have had the TPLO done at NCSU and he (correctly) told her they don’t actually do TPLOs (they perform TTO’s) and she proceeded to argue with him about that. Crazy-right?

The reason I bring up these two incidents is not because the expert in either situation did a lousy job. In fact, our IT guy responded quickly and ultimately got it fixed. The veterinarian examined Hunter and eased Brian’s mind that the small amount of blood was fine.

These “experts” they did their job BUT they both made their customers feel BAD.

Who knows why they did this-maybe a bad day or maybe they thought we were idiots? Does it really matter? All I know is Brian will NEVER step foot in that emergency clinic again- he will drive to one further away where he is treated like he should be.

For us, we are cringing because we may need to call this “IT guy” again for help-we feel stuck because we do not know who else to turn to when there is another issue. I can tell you though, Heather and I both hope whoever helps us makes us feel BETTER instead of making us feel BAD.

It is not enough to be the expert. If you want to do well, then you better be the expert who also goes out of their way to make their customers feel like you care!

Have you ever been in a situation where the person helping you did their job but they made you feel terrible in the process?

You can click here to visit the CatalystVets website

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The key to writing successful hyperlinks for your vet’s website

From an article by Paul Gadsby published in the vetsmarketing.co.uk website

Hyperlinks are a crucial part of your practice’s website because they make your pages easier to read and help navigate people around your site, but many businesses don’t use them to good effect – find out how to make full use of them in this article.

It’s all in the eyes

Firstly, people don’t study web pages in depth; they scan them rather than read them, their fingers hovering over the mouse button as they look for the next place to visit. This obviously needs to be another page on your site, not someone else’s or the ‘back’ button to return to Google.

They want to know – as quickly as possible – what the page is about so they look for visual clues. Their eyes are naturally drawn to things that stand out; headings, sub-headings, bolded keywords, italicised words, and hyperlinks.

A strong web page effectively gives users a series of shortcuts to the information they need, and hyperlinks can do this really well.

The first good thing about them is that they quickly attract the attention of a user in an aesthetic sense. Words underlined and in blue leap out from standard text. So, you’ve already grabbed their attention. The next part in the process is even more important. . .

The beauty of context

What you need to do now is make sure your hyperlink actually makes sense to the user, and is appealing enough to make them click on it.

Many websites neglect this stage in the process (or just don’t know about it) and they insert limp, vague hyperlinks that don’t make sense and give no idea about what the user can expect if they click on it. They don’t place the link in any kind of context whatsoever, rendering it meaningless, and it’s amazing how many times we see this across the web.

For example, often the words “click here” are used as a hyperlink, sometimes in the midst of a long paragraph, where people can click (or tap if they’re using a handheld device) to read a further article about the matter under discussion. But what does “click here” mean in any example? No one knows for sure, not if they’re just scanning the article like most people do. This website is relying on the user to read the bulk of the surrounding copy to put the link in context themselves. This is a cardinal sin. The user won’t exert the extra time and effort (in terms of both eye movements and mental concentration) to do this. “Check this out” and “Find out more” are other examples of vague, lazy links that achieve nothing – and are sure to be duplicated in several places on the site, or even in the same article.

You need to make your hyperlinks easy to understand, so you need to add some element of description in there too. One word just won’t cut it. Use as many words as you need to accurately describe the page or document being referenced, while still obeying the web content golden rule of being as succinct as possible. What can help you minimise the number of words you use is to focus on the keywords – the absolute most important words that describe the content you’re forwarding them to – and to put them at the very start. This is called ‘frontloading’ and plays a big role here because people mainly look at the first two words of a link – so don’t construct a sentence that has your keywords halfway through or at the back. Four-to-six words is a good maximum to aim for in a link – major keywords at the start and use the rest to entice the readers in by explaining what they’ll gain as well. By giving each link a few words rather than just one or two also helps you make each link unique, which is essential. If readers see the same worded link twice or more they’ll assume they all go to the same place, so if your links all refer to different pages, you must make sure the text is unique for each one.

Another thing to consider is the number of links you insert in a page, or even a paragraph. If, for example, you have five or six links in just one paragraph and feel all of them are important content wise, then think about laying out that paragraph differently. They may look easier to read as bullet points, for instance.

User-friendly content/navigation

Strong links that provide accurate and relevant information about where the user can go next are successful because they make your pages more scannable. The user will be confident that if they click on the link the content of the next page will be equally helpful, and can give them an idea about where to go next after that – your website is becoming the place to be to access user-friendly content and swift navigation. All the time you’re keeping people on your site for longer, leading them to click on more of your pages and read more of your content – fantastic for your search engine optimisation! Search engines identify anchor text such as links as a cue to what the page is about, so you will rank higher with better hyperlinks.

You’re also educating users about a topic that they’re interested in while enhancing your practice brand and values in front of them – great for your marketing in general.

So, when writing links always ask yourself what the user will get when they click on your link. Is it relevant? Is it easily noticeable on the page? Is it understandable and helpful? Is it descriptive enough? Does it have meaning? Are the keywords at the very front?

Your fundamental job is to engage the user in the subject matter, and to help them get from one place to another with minimal effort.

You can click here to visit the VetsMarketing website

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Once upon a time…. Except this is real life!

From an article by Judy Gillespie published in her VetAnswers.com website

The following is a story of two veterinary practices, in the same neighbourhood, offering similar services but with two very different client service outcomes….

This is a true story….only the names have been change to protect the…. well not so much ‘innocent’ but to protect some from embarrassment.

I received an email from a friend who knew I would be interested in her recent experiences with two different veterinary practices.

We’ll call my friend ‘Jane’ and her dog ‘Nancy’.

Jane had been taking Nancy to a veterinary practice (we’ll call it ABC Vet Practice) that was close to her home. Nancy had suffered from mites since she was a puppy and they were proving hard to eradicate. ABC Vet Practice insisted she keep bringing Nancy in and continue with the treatment of injections and scrapes which Jane felt was becoming very costly and didn’t seem to be working. Not only that, but every time she visited she saw a different vet – none of whom seemed to have much knowledge of Nancy’s history. Even worse it took a chance meeting with a friend of mine for Jane to begin to understand Nancy’s condition after my friend emailed her an eBook on mites.

Then one fateful Sunday Jane’s other dog (we’ll call her Marie) had a ruptured anal gland (eww!) and as ABC Vet Practice wasn’t open Jane ventured slightly further from home to find a veterinary hospital that was open on a Sunday (we’ll call it 123 Veterinary Hospital).

Jane was impressed from the very beginning with how helpful the staff were at 123 Veterinary Hospital. They were happy to see Marie straight away and not only were the staff lovely and friendly but the treatment seemed much better value than that at ABC Vet Practice.

The following Tuesday Marie needed to see the vet yet again (for another reason) and so Jane contacted 123 Veterinary Hospital. She was pleased to find out that not only could she see the same vet as she saw on Sunday but he actually stayed on at work a little later when he could easily have passed the consult to another vet.
Hmmm… the plot thickens…..

Two days later Jane received two letters in the mail – one from ABC Vet Practice and one from 123 Veterinary Hospital.

The letter from 123 Veterinary Hospital was a welcome pack that contained a lovely welcome letter, vouchers to use at her next visit, service brochures and some magnets – nice!

The letter from ABC Vet Practice was a reminder notice that Nancy was due for her yearly heart worm vaccination…1 MONTH AGO! Seriously… I’m not joking. Jane received a reminder letter asking her to make an appointment for Nancy for her annual heartworm vaccination that was 1 MONTH LATE!

Jane’s email to me ends with: ‘Needless to say we are very happy with 123 Veterinary Hospital and will keep going there!’

I decided to also do a little research on both veterinary practices:

ABC Veterinary Practice

  • Website: It took awhile but I finally tracked down a website. It was very basic with absolutely no images of the actual veterinary practice and under the ‘Meet Our Team’ tab there was only ‘No Staff found’
  • Facebook page: – What Facebook Page?

123 Veterinary Hospital

  • Website: Home page gives a brief history and then goes on to list how they ensure happy clients. It also lists the number of awards they have won for business achievements that recognise their expert, friendly staff and commitment to caring for animals and providing top quality service. The photo gallery showcases their facilities and earns extra points for the images including smiling staff and cute animals! The ‘Staff’ page is chockablock full of images of staff including their biographies. Ok to be fair there are a few section on the website that haven’t been completed but overall there is quite a bit of information.
  • Facebook page: – With over 500 ‘Likers’, it looks nice and active with posts nearly every day. It has lots of cute images and although it could do with a few more educational type posts, overall there is lots of interaction with their ‘Likers’.
  • So what’s the moral of this story?

    • If you want to keep your clients you have to give them good service!
    • If you want to keep your clients you have to offer them value for money! (Note: this doesn’t mean you have to be the cheapest, it does mean your clients need to feel they are receiving good value for the money they pay)
    • If you want to keep your clients AND have them tell their friends how fabulous you are you have to provide a high quality service – face-to-face & online.

    I’m really not writing this to embarrass ABC Vet Practice – I’m sure they’re really nice people who work hard and care for animals. It’s just a shame that all their hard work is not paying off because of some pretty basic problems.

    So where does your veterinary business stand?

    Is your veterinary business like ABC Vet Practice? You’re working really hard but clients still seem to be leaving.

    Or is your veterinary business like 123 Veterinary Hospital? You’re working hard and your clients are so pleased they encourage all their friends to visit you as well.

    And how do you know for sure which category you’re in???

    You can click here to visit the VetAnswers website

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    Saying ‘no’ to a veterinary pharmaceutical rep

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

    This practice owner puts the kibosh on freebies to his veterinary team. Is that fair?

    Dr. Lee Hopson is a hard-working veterinarian. He is sole owner of a seven-doctor small animal clinic with eight veterinary technicians and an impressive support staff. His success requires long hours of planning, managing and keeping up with cutting-edge medicine.

    Helping the practice keep up with new medicine are the many pharmaceutical reps who call on Hopson and his team. These reps hold lunch-and-learn events for the veterinarians and technicians. The reps are very attentive because Dr. Hopson’s annual purchases are in the six figures.

    One day a rep from a large company presents a lunch-and-learn to introduce a new parasite preventive that he would like to see replace the product used by more than 80 percent of Dr. Hopson’s 17,000 clients. At the end of the lecture, the sales rep speaks to the technicians and offers to mail them free samples for their personal pets. The company, the rep says, likes to assist clinic staff members with their own pets whenever possible. Everyone agrees that the new preventive sounds wonderful and should be incorporated into the hospital’s parasite prevention protocols.

    Everyone seems thrilled—except Dr. Hopson. He loves the product, but not the free medication offering. Keep in mind that Dr. Hopson is far from stingy. Each year he treats his staff members and their families to a Disney World trip. He provides veterinary care to their pets at no charge and sells them medications at cost. He views his staff members as an extension of his veterinary clinic and as representatives to his clientele.

    What bothers Dr. Hopson about this rep’s actions is that he was given no choice in determining how to reward his employees for their efforts. What if he’d prefer to put that $1,800 worth of product toward his practice’s costs and educate his team differently on the parasite protocols? He doesn’t want outsiders handing out freebies and benefits to his employees with no insight into his practice protocols.

    Dr. Hopson tells the drug rep that the free medication should be sent to the clinic and that he’ll determine its ultimate disposition. He congenially tells his staff that at his clinic there will be only one suitor for their affections—and that’s him.

    The drug company respects Dr. Hopson’s wishes, but some staff members grumble a little. Is Dr. Hopson being unreasonable?

    Rosenberg’s response

    Dr. Hopson’s veterinary practice is not a public company, nor is it a democracy. It’s the owner’s responsibility to make management decisions and to abide by the consequences of these decisions.

    If staff members feel that Dr. Hopson is a fair and honest employer, there won’t be any repercussions from this decision. If the staff feels he’s dishonest, this situation will be the least of his problems.

    The drug company rep was trying to sell more product; getting on the staff members’ good side is one way to go about it. Nevertheless, Dr. Hopson has to deal with the bottom line and meet the financial needs of his practice. He has every right to intervene in the drug company offer for free employee products.

    You can click here to visit the dvm360.com website

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