Taking Time to Find Perspective: A Veterinary Client’s Point of View

by Hunter Little

Back in April of 2015, the periodical Veterinary Economics ran a survey asking pet owners why they left their former veterinary practice for a new one. The responses covered a wide range of topics, from post-euthanasia horror stories to rambunctious dogs running loose through the hallways of an undisclosed practice. As I read these reader responses, I was left with the impression that these seemed rather far-fetched stories. What I mean by ‘far-fetched’ is, if I were reading these as a veterinarian, my thoughts after reading might best be summed up as, “Those stories could never happen in my practice!” And sure, it’s only natural to assume that your practice is a well-oiled machine, efficient in treatment and outstanding in customer service. But then I got to thinking: how often does one consider their practice from a client’s perspective?

Now, you may think this is a ridiculous question. “Of course I do”, you might say. “Customer service is of the utmost priority at my practice.” But that’s not really the focus, at least not directly. Taking a moment to step back and consider your practice from the client’s perspective means taking stock in both the macro and the micro; seeing both the big picture and the minutiae. From this perspective, you must go beyond the basics – like greeting clients as they walk in the door (although that is nevertheless important) – and try to see what the client sees. For instance, what is your post-euthanasia protocol? If it’s anything like one client had to experience before they left their old practice – “One morning I sat next to a couple and their dog in the waiting room. They were called into an exam room, then emerged several minutes later crying and carrying the euthanized dog in a black garbage bag.” 1– then you have clearly not taken the time to consider things from the client perspective. Another example might be cleaning stray hairs off the exam table in-between exams, or knowing when to bend the rules to accommodate potential special needs for clients.

Another way of understanding this may be to consider tapping into the client perspective as a way of redefining customer service. We look to customer service as a means of understanding how we actively shape a client’s experience into a positive one. But that understanding places the emphasis solely on the caregiver-to-client relationship. What about the client-to-caregiver or client-to-practice relationship? What about the protocols and routines you currently have in place within your practice that don’t necessarily take the client into account, yet may directly or indirectly affect them? I’m not suggesting some radical shift in how we look at or define customer service within the veterinary realm. Rather, I’m suggesting we take time to gain a little perspective, step into the client’s shoes and see how they view your practice. Raise these questions at your next staff meeting and see where the dialogue goes. Perhaps previously unforeseen problems or challenges will arise, or, at the very least, your employees and co-workers will gain a fresh, nuanced perspective on how they interact with clients. At the end of the day, engaging with the client perspective –  trying to see what the client sees – is a lesson in the little things, the subtle nuances that make your practice unique. Your client may never notice these little things, but it can mean all the difference when it comes to making your practice a comfortable space for your clients and their pets.
1 Veterinary Economics. April, 2015

Millennials and Veterinary Care: Learn to Grow as Generations Shift

by Hunter Little

It may seem easy to brush off Millennials as the ‘selfish’ generation, occupying a universe in which they are at its social center and where everyone gets a trophy just for participating. Yet, millennials are now the largest living generation- totaling 84.3 million according to the US Census Bureau- and are coming into their marketplace prime, both in terms of earning and spending. They are also entering the civilian workforce in greater numbers, too. So, given their growing demographic presence, is it really smart to continue brushing off millennials? While it is very natural for different generations- i.e. baby boomers, Gen X’ers, etc. – to have difficulties when it comes to productive socialization and interaction, especially in the workplace, bridging the generational gap can be vital to a healthy and productive environment.

Perhaps more important than any particular generational trait, millennials are not to be confused with younger versions of baby boomers or Gen Xers. It is a losing battle to assume that millennials will grow up to fit within the mold you, as a member of a different generation,  have constructed for yourself. With each generation comes new and unique external influences and environments that shape the way we develop and interact with the world. Millennials, in particular, are growing up in much more prosperous and affluent era than previous generations. Due to this rise in affluence, people are transitioning to adulthood later than previous generations. According to Generational Insights, a business firm that studies and consults on generational traits and trends, as well as recent statistics on marriage and birth rates*, the mean age of first marriage and the mean age of first-time mothers are all increasing. This means that while millennials do experience the same life stages and milestones as, let’s say, baby boomers,  they are experiencing these stages later in life.

There is, however, more to it than simply delayed maturity. How does one, particularly within veterinary medicine, go about meaningfully interacting and engaging with millennials both in the workplace and as customers? The key is to understand the generational traits millennials identify with.1 While past generations may measure the value of work by the number of hours put in, millennials base their work ethic on the completion of tasks. As research from firms like Generational Insights indicates, millennials don’t enjoy being in the office longer than they have to. The number of hours spent on the job is not the focus, but rather how efficiently one has spent their time and how many tasks or assignments one has completed.

Millennials also like to connect socially with people and seek input from everyone around them. This is a kind of misnomer, however, as many misconstrue this desire for socialization and input as a need for constant positive reinforcement and hand-holding. On the contrary, millennials want to feel needed and be impactful, thus they enjoy learning and developing relevant skills that are valuable to their job. Because of their desire to learn and develop, millennials seek constant communication and feedback that is not only positive but constructive. The importance of communication can also be a two-way street. As much as millennials want to be taught, you can also take the time to learn from them, making the focus on building knowledge collectively rather than viewing the effort of communication and training as a chore.

These generational traits also apply to engaging with millennials as customers. Millennials care about how things will impact their lives on an individual level, both now and in the future. They are also concerned with how you and your services might make them stand out and be more distinct within the world. Thus, your marketing tools, online platforms, etc., must function as educational tools, making them feel like a more educated participant and consumer. This also means that two-way communication and transparency are important. The less automated and more human you appear, the more authentic and distinctive your product becomes in eyes of a millennial. This, of course, has ties back to millennials’ need for social platforms and communication. It’s not just having the ability to stand out and be authentic, but how something stands out and why it becomes distinctive.

So what, then, can be gained from this? Perhaps the most important lesson from all of this is the ever-present value of communication. Take the time to have discussions with your employees and co-workers about these generational differences and learn from these discussions. Such communication can flesh out differences between generations and construct a more cohesive environment for both employees and customers. More often than not, it is the company that is willing to learn and adapt to change that ultimately survives and thrives as time progresses.

1Generational Insights

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The Do’s And Don’ts of Writing Veterinary Sympathy Cards

by Hunter Little

Differentiation within the veterinary industry can be seemingly hard to come by. Besides the traditional aesthetic indicators, like a unique interior/exterior design for your practice or a website that really stands out, veterinarians are all looking to provide the same kind of invaluable medical care for pets of all shapes and sizes. But finding a way to really stand out in the industry in an impactful manner without relying purely on those formerly-mentioned aesthetics is easier than you might think.

Veterinary sympathy cards, also known as condolence cards, are a uniquely personal aspect of veterinary customer service that can be easily overlooked but invaluable if done right and respectfully. Not only does it bring comfort to a grieving client, but sympathy cards have the potential to build customer loyalty by showing that your practice cares about the client as a person throughout the arc of veterinary care, even when there may no longer be a pet to care for. By sending a client a sympathy card, you- as a veterinarian- are recognizing and validating the unique and special bond shared between the client and their pet.

As positive and powerful as veterinary sympathy cards can be, there are a few steadfast do’s and don’ts you should be aware of that can make the difference between a personalized and heartfelt note of sympathy and a mechanical, almost-automated response.

The Do’s

  1. Always use the pet’s name.
  2. Be brief. A few meaningful, heartfelt sentences can make a world of difference.
  3. If possible, include a favorite personal memory of the pet. This reinforces the personal nature of the message and lets the client know that you and your staff cared for/remember the pet as a part of the family.
  4. Similarly, try to reference a positive trait about the pet. This, like a personal memory, demonstrates a personal relationship with the pet that a client might relate to.
  5. If possible, include a picture of the pet. This is another special touch that can further personalize the card.
  6. Make sure that each and every vet and staff member signs the sympathy card before it is sent. This is often an overlooked detail that helps a grieving client know that the entire practice shares in their grief and cares deeply about their pet.

The Don’ts

  1. Do not be long winded in your condolences. A grieving client simply wants to be comforted and know that you care.
  2. Never refer to the client’s pet as “your cat”, “your dog”, or “your pet”.
  3. Do your best to avoid using one phrase or message for every card. Sympathy cards can be easily found and purchased online, but try to avoid those that contain the same pre-written response for every card.
  4. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an important reminder nevertheless. Do not send the sympathy card attached to any kind of advertisement, invoice, etc. Even though sympathy cards help to build client loyalty, they are not a business opportunity.

If you’re having trouble finding inspiration or the right words to say, here are a few phrasing suggestions that might help:

  • “Best friends come in all breeds. (Pet’s Name) energy lit up any room he/she entered. May (Pet’s Name) memory continue to light up your heart with love and joy during this difficult time.”
  • “We are all so sorry for the loss of your sweet boy/girl, (Pet’s Name). He/she was a beautiful (species) and clearly a much-loved member of your family; we know he/she will be forever missed.”
  • “As you grieve, know that we are remembering you and your family and honoring the memory of (Pet’s Name). Sent with love and remembrance, our hearts go out to you and your family in this time of sorrow.”
  • “Losing a true friend is never easy. (Pet’s name) brought such joy and happiness to our staff, as we know he/she did to your family. Our sincerest condolences are with you and your family.”