By W Dane Foxwell, Andrew Roark, DVM, MS
Article reprinted with the permission of the Veterinary Economics, July 2014, Pages 15 – 18. Veterinary Economics is a copyrighted publication of Advanstar. Communications inc. All rights reserved.
When was the last time you received sub-par customer service? I recently ran into trouble with an online travel-booking service and ended up spending hours on hold. I traded emails with people who weren’t willing or able to help me and ultimately swore I would drive across the country before åI used that company again. In short, my experience was so bad that I’ve sworn off that company for good, and if I could hurt their website’s feelings, I would. Did I tell my friends of my displeasure? You bet.
Now, think about the last time someone wowed you with customer service. For me, I was in a restaurant last month where the waitress treated me like I was the only person there. She explained what the restaurant was known for, shared what was popular and asked questions about the kinds of dishes I generally like. When the meal was over, I didn’t want a to-go box—I wanted a job there. I often tell friends about this restaurant and hope to get back as soon as possible. But here’s the interesting part: The food wasn’t particularly amazing. It was very good, but there are lots of restaurants with very good food. The way the staff there made me feel, however, was incredible. That’s the power of outstanding customer service. At its core, customer service is simply the pursuit of customer satisfaction. Studies have shown that a satisfied customer is more likely to become a loyal customer, which is important for two bottom-line reasons. First, the cost of attracting a new client can be as much as 10 times the cost of retaining an existing one. Second, satisfied and loyal customers are more willing to pay higher prices than neutral or dissatisfied clients. Not surprisingly, the cost of dissatisfied customers is high. While the average satisfied customer tells eight people about their experience, the average dissatisfied customer tells 222. Given this reality, it’s worth investing some time in trying to ensure that pet owners visiting your practice feel as satisfied as possible. Here are five tips, backed by customer service research, to help ensure your clinic is making a good impression on pet owners.
1. Communicate more
One study showed that the more people who positively interact and communicate with customers, the more likely it is that customers will feel satisfied with their experience. This means pet owners who have positive interactions with two front-desk staff members, three technicians and two veterinarians are more likely to become loyal clients than pet owners who interact with one front-desk staff member, one technician and one veterinarian. Simply having everyone on your staff greet each person they meet can make a difference. A smile and a “hello” is all it takes. You can get the ball moving on more and better interaction two easy ways. First, for team buy-in, explain this idea at a team meeting and ask for help. Second, simply lead by example. Greet staff members every morning with a positive attitude and encourage them to do the same to each other. This way when they interact with a customer, it will be something they automatically do, rather than something they need to think about.
2. Improve the customer experience
There are three segments of the customer experience: before the service, during the service and after the service. Before the pet owner comes to your clinic, opportunities to improve the experience include phone calls, wellness care reminders, your website and your social media interactions. During the service, you can boost client satisfaction by minimizing wait times, designing pleasant clinic aesthetics, making sure your team is professionally dressed and, most important, effectively communicating the value of goods and services. After the service, interactions such as follow-up calls and educational emails may further improve the overall pet owner experience. Always remember: The customer’s perception of experience quality is more strongly affected by how the experience was delivered than what service was delivered. (Up to a point, obviously. Friendly, timely interactions can’t make up for poor clinical care.) Attitude may not be everything, but it makes a huge difference.
3. Exceed expectations
The relationship between expectations and satisfaction is nonlinear, which means that the amount by which you exceed or fail to meet an expectation does not directly relate to how satisfied or dissatisfied a pet owner will be with your service. The fact is, even slightly exceeding a customer’s expectations can produce major increases in his or her satisfaction. On a basic level, customers coming to a veterinary hospital expect very little. They expect to come to a clean building, to be seen relatively quickly and to have their pet’s health evaluated by people who treat them and their pets with care and respect. Fortunately, this leaves a lot of room for exceeding expectations. You might do that by offering coffee for customers and snacks for pets, providing up-to-date reading material or doggy toys in the waiting room, or having receptionists greet all clients and pets by name. With that said, don’t confuse providing “little extras” with delivering a great basic service. Getting a cup of coffee is nice, but not if it’s served in a dirty waiting room 30 minutes after a client’s appointment was scheduled to begin.
4. Put clients’ minds at ease
From start to finish: Ease of access, convenience, process ease, familiarity, perception of expertise and the relationship built with the customer are some of the biggest factors in customer satisfaction. Pet owners who must struggle to find your clinic, grapple with their dog while they sign in, comprehend an incomplete explanation of their pets’ medical conditions or struggle to form a relationship with your staff won’t feel content and relaxed. You can soothe customer nerves and bolster their confidence in your service by simplifying and streamlining the check-in/out processes, clearly addressing all concerns when they come up and assisting with unloading or loading pets from vehicles. The main point here is that small efforts to make the entire process as smooth and relaxed as possible for both the pet and the pet owner can pay off in a big way.
5. Handle unhappy customers quickly and effectively.
Fact: 8 percent of unhappy customers will become loyal customers if they feel their complaint was handled quickly and effectively. That may not sound like much, but the significance becomes apparent when we consider that just a 5 percent increase in customer retention can lead to anywhere from a 25 to 85 percent increase in bottom-line production. When pet owners are unhappy, find some immediate way to show that you hear their concerns and then make things right in a way that quickly and effectively addresses their issue. Remember that people equate the speed in which we return their phone calls to how important we believe that person to be. Responding quickly, even if it’s only to let an angry pet owner know that their complaint has been heard and is being investigated, may mean the difference between having the opportunity to work through a problem and reading about the problem in a negative online review of your practice. Research on the subject of customer satisfaction has again and again come to the same conclusion: There are major economic benefits to making customers feel satisfied. Beyond the business benefits, there’s an upside that’s not so easy to measure, but which matters just the same — the pride you and your clinic staff feel in having provided the best possible service to those who came to you for help.
W. Dane Foxwell is a fourth-year DVM student at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Andy Roark also contributed to this article. He practices in Greenwill, S.C. and is the founder and managing director of veterinary consulting firm Tall Oaks Enterprises.