Bringing your clients onboard
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1/ A new service at the veterinary practice –How can I bring my clients onboard?
When a practice develops a new service for its clients, there are three key elements to consider, in addition to the service itself, and its marketing:
• Clients must understand the service and appreciate how both they and their pet will benefit from it; they should feel that they are actively contributing to the health of their beloved pet.
• The practice team, including all the veterinary and non-veterinary employees who come into contact with the client, must be familiar with the new service and understand it sufficiently to enable them to offer it to the clients in a convincing manner (see Chapter 2).
• In addition, it is essential that the entire team fully supports the new service.
Provided we achieve the above and there is an agreed routine that sets out who will communicate the new service to the client, and the manner in which it is to be done, it will usually not be difficult to bring clients onboard.
2/ Bringing clients onboard – specific methods
In general, there are two methods available for communicating with clients and if they are combined in a balanced manner, they can be used to reach every client:
• Media communication, which covers all communication routes apart from direct dialogue with the client.
• Interpersonal communication, which covers all methods used in direct dialogue.
With both communication methods (media and dialogue), the message to the client must be presented in such a fashion that the information is formulated in a language the client understands, with both methods conveying the same message and complementing each other.
A) Media communication
Media communication and target marketing are the best ways to reach a large number of clients with details of a new service or product. It provides the client with new information that can then be addressed by the veterinary surgeon and/or the practice team who can detail the benefits through the medium of direct dialogue. If the client has heard about a ‘Senior Care Programme’, for example, from reading about it in a flyer, the team already has an entree for direct dialogue.
Media communication aims to raise clients’ awareness of certain topics and aims to educate them, using specific information thereby making them aware of aspects of pet health they had not been previously conscious of.
Clients who receive in-depth information from their practice that is interesting, and ideally targeted at their specific needs, are much less likely to get their information from less reliable sources, such as certain Internet sites or non-professional healthcare providers. In addition, surveys in which clients are asked whom they would like to get information on their pet from, repeatedly report that they definitely prefer their veterinary practice as the source of information.
1) The media
The following media can be used that have an impact both within (internal marketing) and outside (external marketing) the practice (see Table):
• Posters, freestanding displays and interactive material
• Flat-screen display in the waiting-room
• Flyers (also as aids during consultation)
• Targeted mailing (regular mail, e-mail) with for instance a response element such as, an invitation to an evening, featuring a specific topic, a lecture or an open day.
• Articles in the public media, such as the local press
Please note: The legal aspects of external marketing must be clarified for the particular country in which this type of marketing is to be used. For example, in some countries, veterinary surgeons are not allowed to advertise their services.
All media should contain clear, precise and concise information on the service. It should be presented as a set of core statements, using between three and a maximum of five points. Too much information, or information that is incomprehensible to clients, makes them feel overwhelmed and confused. Ultimately it causes them to reject the information and thereby refrain from buying the service.
This brings us to the key specifics that you need to keep in mind when designing successful promotional material:
• What emotional impact will this have on the client? What should the client feel, learn and do as a result of the information?
• What specific actions do I want the client to take? How can I involve and stimulate the client into action?
• What are the core messages I want to convey? What is the real essence of the topic?
2) Organising media communication
Once these questions have been answered, the various media can be designed and used in different formats. Ideally, the practice will initiate a campaign of specific services offered by the practice at regular intervals, employing a mix of various media. Each campaign should be like a guided path that starts outside the practice, leading through the reception area and consulting-room and ending up at the cash desk. That journey should be supplemented by active discussion, appropriate to each specific individual.
Here is an example of how a campaign could be run:
• The service is introduced and detailed in a targeted mailing campaign using regular mail or e-mail sent to a group of clients who potentially might be interested in the service. To this end, the salient information can be contained in the letter/e-mail itself, or an additional flyer could be enclosed or attached.
• At the same time, an article is published in the local press. This article could, for example, report on the new service at the practice or feature an interview with a veterinary surgeon on the topic. However, the legal aspects must be clarified for the particular country in which this type of external marketing is to be used. In some countries, veterinary surgeons are not allowed to advertise their services.
• During the same period, the new service is added to the Website of the practice and, if possible, to the Websites of linked businesses such as dog trainers, groomers and kennels. The information should be supplemented with, for example, an interactive element such as a quiz or an online survey to engage the client with the new topic in a light-hearted and informal way. Survey feedback will indicate the extent of interest in using the service.
• At the entrance of the practice, the client’s eye should be drawn to a poster or free-standing display promoting the new service, and this should be followed up by further information on the service in the waiting-room. Useful materials for the waiting-room include posters, as well as information screens, a flatscreen display and interactive displays.
• At this point, close cooperation between the veterinary surgeon and the team is especially important. For instance, the veterinary surgeon should make certain notes on the client´s record for the receptionists, so that they will be aware of the best way to discuss the service with the client, encouraging them to use it. The reception and the consultation are the two interfaces at which passive and active promotion, internal and external marketing, intersect and overlap. These are the principal ‘hubs’, at which it is vital to ensure that everything comes together, enabling all the information to be both available and utilised. At the end of the visit to the practice, when making follow-up appointments and issuing the invoice, the team may want to provide certain clients with additional take-home materials about the new service on offer, even if the veterinary surgeon has already spoken about it with the client during the consultation.
B) Active promotion – direct dialogue with the client
In order to present a new service in an optimal manner, in addition to passive promotion, directly addressing and advising the client on that service is extremely important. The purpose of media communication is to reach a larger number of clients than is possible with one-to-one dialogues and to help prepare clients for the consultation. If clients have already been informed about certain services, there is even a possibility they may actively approach the veterinary surgeon and ask whether the new service might be appropriate for their pet!
In order to optimise one-to-one dialogue, it is a good idea to first of all clarify who within the practice will broach the subject with the client, and at what point during the visit. It should therefore be decided when the veterinary surgeon will become involved and when the practice staff should speak to the client.
It must be kept in mind that a vet’s express recommendation carries a great deal of weight in the client’s eyes. As another point of contact for the client, the practice staff can and should, of course, actively support and reinforce the sales of new services to the extent that they are qualified to do so.
Communication is most successful when the ‘choreography’ of the dialogue has been planned, meaning that the individual steps have been defined and assigned in advance. Planning the dialogue and recording it in writing like a protocol or SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) has the advantage that in addition to making it clear who says what and when, all team members can understand and appreciate the content of the programme. Based on this protocol, targeted training of the practice team members can be undertaken in order to ensure that each relevant client receives the same message regarding the new service.
1) When planning the ‘choreography’, the following questions should be clarified in advance
• Who will offer the new service?
All veterinary surgeons, or only specialists for whose discipline the service is relevant? If only specialists are to promote certain services, it must be determined how the other team members will ‘refer’ the appropriate clients, so that this potential is not lost.
• How can the team support the veterinary surgeon promoting the service in their work?
What should and may individual team members do?
Of course, it is most effective if there is an agreement between the veterinary surgeon and the practice staff, whereby the practice team provides optimal support for the work of the veterinary surgeon by doing the following:
- Once the client has decided to use the service, the practice team reassures the client that they have made the right decision.
- If the client decides not to avail themselves of the service, the team can double check and discuss any concerns the client may have regarding the new service with the client.
2) The dialogue between the vet and the client consists of the following steps
• Preparation on the part of the veterinary surgeon
The veterinary surgeon checks the client’s records and refreshes his memory of the client and the pet, with a particular view to the transactions of the current year. This not only the veterinary consultations for which the pet has been presented in the recent past, but also which non-medical services and products were purchased. This indicates the level of commitment of the client to his pet, the preferred products and services, and which (new) offers might suit this client. Based on the information in the client’s and pet’s records it is often obvious what benefits both would derive from any special offer. This information can also be used to, perhaps pleasantly surprise the client by demonstrating just how much their veterinary surgeon is in the picture regarding their pet. However, the veterinary surgeon should never let the information in the client’s record prejudice his preconceived notions about the client. Just because the record shows that a client has purchased very few services from the practice in the past does not mean that this will always be the case. Perhaps the client was simply never presented with an attractive proposition in the past.
Of course, there is an ideal point during the consultation to present advice on the new service offered at the practice. The best time is when the pet owner is as relaxed as possible, i.e. the actual consultation is over and the animal is healthy, cured or stable. This is the case, for instance, when a health check-up or a follow-up has been carried out and everything is okay.
• Initiating the conversation
Ideally, you should create a positive atmosphere in order to initiate a dialogue. One way to do this is for the veterinary surgeon to compliment the client on how well he has taken care of the pet or by recalling an illness that was overcome in the past through the joint efforts of the practice and the client. Afterwards, the veterinary surgeon can present the new service. To make the most effective use of one-to-one dialogue it is sensible to ask the client, what he already knows about a certain topic and which information he already has. This allows the vet to adapt the message that will fit the precise needs of his client, thereby providing the right amount of information in a way the client can ideally understand and assimilate. If the level of communication is too high, the client gets overburdened and stops listening. If the level is too low, which can be the case if the vet is talking to a fellow professional, the result is the same – the client stops listening because “he already knows it all”. When presenting a new service it is very important that the client should be able to immediately recognise the benefits the service will provide for both themselves and their pet, and how they can profit from them. The benefits a buyer perceives from a purchase are critical for a successful sale, and for establishing a long-lasting client relationship. At a veterinary practice in particular, the notion of ‘sales’ is a highly sensitive topic that must be dealt with carefully. In most cases, the relationship between the client, the veterinary surgeon and the practice team is particularly characterised by trust and this relationship can be jeopardised very easily if the client has the feeling he is being forced into a purchase. This pressure may arise from the veterinary surgeon’s high level of enthusiasm and commitment, but may nonetheless be uncomfortable for the client. The client must never feel he has been pressured into doing something. Instead, he should always feel relaxed during the consultation and feel that he has been given sound advice.
• Guiding the conversation and presenting benefits
The benefits should be presented in a number of ways as opposed to simply providing a list of medical and professional facts. Here, care must be taken that the client does not feel that he is just a passive element and that the dialogue has turned into a mini-lecture. In order for the consultation to become a positive experience for the client, the following points need to be considered:
- Reduce the medical facts to a minimum, using the maxim, ‘As much as necessary, but as little as possible’. Keep the following question in mind at all times: What does the client really need to know in order to understand the new service?
- Reduce the use of medical jargon and translate the information into language that the client can readily understand.
Use aids (media) during the conversation in order to support and illustrate your words. People can learn significantly better if they are provided with an image to look at and/or something to handle and experience, rather than simply written text. Suitable aids may include pictures and models that complement the particular service on offer and materials that can be taken home to reflect on information provided in the clinic and which can be shared with and explained to the rest of the family. For a successful relationship between the practice and the client it can be crucial that the whole family living with a pet understand what has happened during the consultation, what services have been offered and which benefits can be enjoyed.
• Obtaining feedback and concluding the consultation
In order for the team member to obtain a sense of how the proposal and discussion is coming across to the client during the sales pitch, it makes sense to observe the client’s body language during and towards the end of the dialogue, getting feedback from the client as to their opinion of the service.
- Body language expresses what a person is feeling inside, even if they are saying something different. Positive body language signals during the conversation include eye contact and the way the body is turned. If eye contact is averted and the person’s body is turned away, these are signals that the service is not (no longer) interesting or that the listener is overwhelmed by the length and type of conversation. If this should occur, the consultation must be concluded and a transition into the feedback phase must take place.
- In concluding the dialogue, it is a good idea to ask the client for verbal feedback, for instance, by asking: “So what do you think about this service?” This gives the client the opportunity to express how and what they think and to give positive feedback or alternatively to express their reservations. If the client responds positively to the new service, the veterinary surgeon can ask whether the client would like to take it up now or make an appointment for the new service. If there are reservations, now is the time to address them, mitigate them and convince the client otherwise. If this does not work, it is a good idea to agree on a time with the client when you can contact him again in order to discuss the service at a later date.
- Depending on the situation, be sure to thank the client for his purchase, and most importantly, for the time he has taken and to say goodbye in a warm and friendly manner.
Last but not least, the practice staff should make a note in the appointment schedule to remind clients who have taken up a new service to return, and to represent the service to clients who have not yet purchased it.