I’m lying awake in a hotel room at 3 AM. It’s not because I’m thinking about a troubling case or worried about the economy. I’m awake because my room is right beside a busy freeway and the truck traffic has been non-stop all night. Not to mention the late night party guys who are loudly walking down the hallway. Drinking must impair hearing since they are talking much louder than is necessary. Why is all this important enough for me to write about it? Two things are going through my mind. The first is the concept of brand letdown. The second is the mystery of client satisfaction when they receive poor veterinary care.
I’m staying at a mid scale brand name hotel . I have often stayed at this chain both on vacation and for business. I have always been satisfied because every time my expectations were fulfilled for the service and comfort that was appropriate for the price I paid. Simple. I got what I paid for. When I booked this stay there was an internet offer that if I paid in advance I would save approximately 20% off of the bill. At the time it was a no brainer. I knew what to expect so it wasn’t a risk. Well I got what I paid for which is a poor nights sleep in a noisy hotel. This is disappointing because my faith in this hotel chain has been challenged. Logically I know that if I stay at one of their hotels again all will probably be good but I also know that there is a chance that I may be stuck with a lemon. The one thing I can guarantee is that the next time I book a hotel I will be scouting out the competition. The question I ask myself is, does my veterinary practice meet or exceed our client’s expectations? Do I even know what our clients expect of our practice? Are we leaving the door open for our customers to try another vet in the future? One simple way to determine how many clients you are losing is to track the number of new clients you get over a period of time. Most practice management software should be able to give you this figure. Some of the more robust software can additionally give you a client retention figure. I can’t tell you what a normal number for either client loss or gain is with the economy the way it is. If you are gaining more new clients as a percentage of your increase in practice revenue you are likely losing just as many old clients. For example if you had no growth in practice revenue but you had a relative increase in new clients of 10% you know either your clients aren’t spending as much with your practice or you have lost a number of old clients. Ideally we want to be growing gross revenue at a rate the same or above the rate of new clients. If you are doing that it means that you are adjusting your prices appropriately each year and your clients are spending as much or more with you this year as they have been in the past.
Now to the second point. It has always puzzled me why certain horse owners are happy with less than optimal veterinary care especially when it is with a reduced price. We can argue all night about standards of care, but when we hear of a client that brought their horse to a very busy vet for a lameness exam and the horse was diagnosed with navicular disease without the benefit of a diagnostic nerve block and radiographs, you feel sorry for the horse who has been condemned without a proper diagnosis. Even worse is when a client has taken their horse to every lay practitioner in town over the past year in order to save money. When they finally come to you, a simple work up and X-ray finds a huge bone chip in the swollen fetlock. Lameness diagnosed. As I laid here counting trucks instead of sheep I realized that these clients don’t have a frame of reference to know if they are getting proper veterinary care or not, and so assume that they are receiving the standard. Usually, it is only after a problem persists and there is a hint that there may be another option that a client will search for better care. Now, if you are laying awake at night listening to trucks and drunks outside your room, you know you are not getting what you paid for. Not so easy when dealing with a mysterious horse ailment.
It does nothing for one’s professionalism to tear apart a colleague’s diagnostic or therapeutic skills in order to gain a client. Better to keep the clients you have and expect to gain new clients based on your excellent reputation. This is common knowledge. The key though is to diligently maintain your reputation so that your clients do not have an excuse to test their loyalty to your practice.
I would be interested in hearing how others are tracking how many clients they are losing or gaining and are you following up with clients who have left your practice to see why they left.