Romancing the client

Ways of meeting the emotional needs of today's pet owners
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Veterinary medicine has undergone a radical change and so must the delivery of service. Shawn G. McVey, chief executive officer of Innovative Veterinary Management Solutions, said today's client is no longer looking for a purchase only, but also for an experience along the lines of those provided by Nieman Marcus, Nordstrom's, and Macaroni Grill.

During the AAHA meeting, McVey facilitated a live audio conference titled "Romancing the Client—Paying Attention Means a Better Relationship." Surveys show an overwhelming number of pet owners think of their dogs and cats as children. They, therefore, have high expectations from their veterinarians.

Practices that provide quality veterinary care while also satisfying the emotional needs of their clients will thrive, McVey said.

He explained how nowadays, consumers shop not only for material goods but also to have an experience. Starbucks is a good example of a company that has tapped into this expectation, McVey said. The coffee chain has created a warm, friendly environment that "makes us feel good," he said.

Successful hotels, restaurants, and other businesses understand that one essential way of distinguishing themselves from their competitors is by providing high-quality service. It's the same for veterinary practices, McVey said, explaining that they, too, can stand apart by striving to create rapport, communication, trust, and credibility with the client.

Three approaches to providing "service magic" are R.A.T.E.R., delight management, and client trust, McVey said.

R.A.T.E.R. is short for Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy, and Responsiveness. Reliability is providing what was promised; Assurance is the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence; Tangibles are the physical facilities and equipment, and the appearance of staff; Empathy is the degree of caring and individual attention provided to clients; and Responsiveness is the willingness to help clients and provide prompt service.

Delight management, McVey continued, consists of providing good service, proactively providing information, and informing the client of advancements.

"In other words, the client is consistently delighted when we do what we say we will do, we regularly communicate, and we provide them with something new," McVey said.

That is still not enough, however. McVey said that once the client feels an emotional connection has been established with the service provider, then there is trust.

Service magic does not happen by accident; neither is it dependent on giving away services, nor is it a complex set of practices. Rather, it occurs as a result of a deliberate, thoughtful plan of action.

McVey recommended making clients part of the service by showing them around the practice, allowing them to sit in on diagnostic plans, or viewing their pet's surgery from a surgery suite. Use the names of the client and patient, and post a picture of the pet on its cage. Additionally, get to know the client and ask about their family.

Another way of adding value to a client's experience is by making the facility pleasing and comfortable. McVey noted that the practice he manages features a latte machine in the waiting room.

He also offered suggestions for recovering from major problems, such as pet loss or injury as a result of negligence. Ask the owner what it will take to keep them as a client. In McVey's experience, rarely does a client demand a full refund. Usually, it is enough that the problem was acknowledged and compensation offered, he said.

McVey recommends that each practice establish a policy dealing with client disasters before they occur.