A couple of years ago I was hired by a veterinary practice to help them with their social media efforts. At the time I was trying hard to break into the veterinary market as a digital marketing advisor, so I was all ready to jump in and help this business out. This was a decent sized practice in a large market, and I hoped that if I did a good job for them that it would lead to other work.
During my initial visits with a business that wants to hire me I ask several questions to determine what their goals are. Typically, they want to increase their online exposure and grow their business, but I try to dig deeper and find out why they think social media is going to do a better job than word of mouth, or referrals from current clients. A sign of a healthy business is strong business growth from the recommendations from happy satisfied clients, we all know that.
It didn’t take too long to figure out that the reason why this practice wanted to use social media to grow their business was because they were losing so many clients. When I pointed out to them that maybe it would be a good idea to figure out why clients weren’t coming back their response was that they were working on it, but in the meantime they needed to keep their business growing. Ok, I’ll buy that and besides, I thought with just a hint of arrogance, that if I could help this struggling business I could help anyone. Not so quick. As we put a digital marketing plan together I realized that this business suffered from some significant issues, including a toxic work environment and inconsistent patient and client care. I soon realized that I was caught up in a losing situation. There was nothing that social media was going to do to help them. My arrogance was quickly humbled as I told them that I quit. My parting words were “The last thing you need is social media. You need to fix your business first.”
I realized that unless they fixed the significant challenges facing them that all social media would do is increase the amount of clients who would be pissed off from their visit. Many of them would go online and complain about the poor patient care and miserable environment. Why would this business want to promote that they are a bad veterinary clinic? Once these new clients left they would never come back.
As I left the hospital I realized I had learned a huge lesson: Social media, or any other type of marketing, is only effective if the business is based upon a solid and strong business foundation. What does this mean to the average veterinary small business? There is not a quick answer to this question – that is why there are business courses and degrees, but there are a few simple things to consider before hoping for a simple fix from social media.
Are the staff happy?
Clients can tell when there is tension in the air at a business. I remember once being in a dentist chair getting a cavity filled when the dentist and his assistant had a minor domestic. It made for a very uncomfortable experience. I never went back to that dentist.
Are clients treated like they are wanted?
The most misused phrase in most businesses is along the lines that “We are for the customer”, or “Customer Service is our bread and butter”. We have all seen those meaningless signs in stores as we wait for someone to serve us as they scurry by with their heads down. Mean it, or don’t promise it.
Is someone leading the business?
In my experience the biggest reason that social media efforts fail in any type of business is that there is no leadership to drive change in the business. Social media is so new to most businesses that having a champion to drive this change is essential. If there isn’t a leader pushing and encouraging for its success staff will lose interest. They rightfully think that if the leader of the business doesn’t care about this, why should I.
I could go on and on about the key pillars of a strong business but the three I mentioned are indicative that something isn’t right. It doesn’t matter if you are a Wal-Mart or a 4 employee vet business staff have to get along, the client has to feel valued and their needs to be a leader. Sounds simple, but getting there and being consistent is hard, but incredibly satisfying for any business. Who doesn’t want to enjoy their co-workers, their clients, and feel motivated and respected by their boss. Until these three key things are in place hold off on promoting your business with social media. There are other more important things to deal with first.
If you identify one or more of these warning signs you might be interested in improving your business skills. Oculus Insights has several business education programs geared towards working veterinarians, practice managers and other support staff. Check out www.OculusInsights.net for more information.
I’m always interested in your comments. Please drop me a line below.
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Excellent advice Mike – social media is an essential marketing tool but it can’t fix everything. “Are the staff happy” is such an important question for any business to ask!