Do you ever feel that you are doing things with your business that sometimes don’t make sense, but you keep on doing them because that is just the way it is done in our industry?
Why do we take patients to a back room away from their owners? Would the owner prefer to be part of the exam?
Why do horse vets rarely use technicians? Couldn’t they get more done if they had help?
Why do we cringe at advertising? Is it really unprofessional for a vet to advertise for their services?
As competition increases more and more veterinary businesses are following the lead of neighboring practices because they think they are losing a competitive edge. A great example of this in my area are companion animal practices opening up 24/7. When I talk to the practice owners they feel they need to do this because customers demand it, and if they don’t do it they will lose business. They typically end the conversation lamenting how much they hate having to do this; they detest the long hours, staffing issues and the sense that extended hours actually leads to a decrease in profits.
I was thinking of this when I read this article about Tesco, the largest grocery chain in the United Kingdom, and how they were reducing the amount of stores open for 24 hours. This quote by Tony Hoggett, Tesco retail director, resonated with me.
“What we found is that moving from night-time to twilight hours has a positive impact on customer service, whereas when these stores are opening for 24 hours it can mean that you are not at your best when you are at your busiest. At the trial stores, we have seen that service has improved noticeably on all measures.
It is absolutely not about saving money. That’s way down the list versus increasing morale and looking to improve service, which is my main job and something we have done very well over the past two years.”
The reasons they give for reducing store hours is likely more involved than they are stating. I’m sure that there are significant cost savings to go with the increase in employee satisfaction and customer service. What is important is that Tesco considered a business model that the industry favors and thought, “wait a minute, this isn’t giving us the benefits it was supposed to. Is there a better way”?
We found ourselves in a similar situation recently. We have an equine practice and the expectation in that industry is that veterinarians work 5-6 days a week. This means they work about 60-70 hours a week, if not more, during the busy season, and 40 hours at least during the slower time of the year. If you are a small animal vet or tech reading this, you must be thinking this is crazy. We began to think so too. Regardless of how a vet is compensated these extra hours end up leading to burn out, and decreased customer and patient care. There is no wonder that 50% of equine vets change their professional focus within the first 5 years of graduation. Why would someone work that long and hard when they see colleagues who treat other species work half the hours for often the same amount of money. As equine vets we like to say it is because it is a lifestyle, but is that not just an excuse to justify our long weeks? Or do we justify it because we spend most of our time driving around and we need to work the long hours in order to see enough horses to make our businesses economically viable? There is likely something to that last statement. Many equine vets spend half their day just driving, while our companion animal colleagues have their patients come to them, or food animal vets deal with herds. In both cases there are efficiencies in that they can see a large amount of animals in a day, while the horse vet drives, and drives, and drives some more.
In any case we decided to buck the status quo and introduce a 4 day 40-hour work weeks for our equine vets. How can we afford to do this? First of all, we are tired of developing amazing young vets and then have them flirt with burning out after a few years. Ethically, we were disgusted to see bright and enthusiastic young vets begin to hate their jobs. Not all of them of course, but enough that it worried us. Most of our vets have been with us for many years, but there have been some that explored other options. We don’t want to be a business that does that to people so we need to adjust our working hours’ expectations.
There is also the cost of replacing vets that leave for greener pastures. One survey states that the cost to replace a highly trained person could be as high as 213% of their annual salary. For every vet we lose we could take 2 years of their pay to replace them. That is a huge amount of money that we are throwing away if we don’t make a better work environment.
Finally, we can do a better job of scheduling our vets on the road. Our goal is to see a steady reduction of travel time over the next couple of years. We are analyzing our scheduling processes at this time so this is still a work in progress.
We may find that the business model of mobile equine vets is not appropriate for 4-day work weeks, but we have to challenge the model before accepting the business norm. If we can have happier vets, that treat their clients better, and provide better patient care because they aren’t tired, or burnt out that in itself will benefit our business. If we can then add up the cost savings of replacing vets, we may even be further ahead. Finally, if we can service the same amount of horses we do now in less time then we have an unqualified success.
Business as usual should be questioned. The world has changed so much in recent years with technology and demographic changes that what we once assumed was the way to run a business may have changed. The first step in questioning your business is simple – look at what causes the most pain to you and your staff. Determine the source of the pain and simply ask, is there a better way to do what we are doing. Take comfort that a huge grocery chain in a highly competitive industry where they make 1 or 2 cents
on a dollar has stopped and decided to turn back on an industry norm. If a big cumbersome corporation like Tesco can do it, why can’t a small nimble business like yours do the same?
Do you have anything to say about this? Please leave a comment.
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