A lot has changed in veterinary medicine since the days of James Herriot. One thing that hasn’t is customer loyalty. Loyalty is much harder to receive these days because clients have more choices than ever before. Finding new ways to engage clients is imperative if we want to build sustainable businesses in this modern time of service and information overload.
Here are the key factors that drive client loyalty in veterinary medicine:
Empathy and Support
Some of my most loyal client relationships were carved out during an end-of-life illness with a pet, or a critical emergency situation. It wasn’t even dependent on if the patient lived or died (although we prefer the former). The key was simply being there together at a junction where pain and love intersect. These moments, when you see another human at their worst, and you step in to hold their hand with kindness and compassion, is sacred ground and a privileged opportunity to build the bond with your clients. It is the crux of the veterinary profession and something Walmart won’t ever be able to offer.
Surprise and Delight
Clients will become die-hard loyal from “surprise and delight” gestures, i.e. delivering the unexpected, going the extra mile, and showing effort that most people don’t do these days. This might mean taking a post-op spay home to monitor a little more closely since she seemed more uncomfortable than you expected, taking flowers to a client when their spouse dies, or sending a “get well soon” bone to your patient in the mail after a big surgery or illness. These are business builders and although they take effort, it is minimal in exchange for the amount of loyalty you can create.
Value for Services
Value is the client’s evaluation of the costs vs. benefits of your services. Many clients don’t know why your services are twice as expensive as the bargain vet down the street, unless you educate them on the differences. For example, they probably don’t know that the upcharge you have on a spay is because each surgery patient gets a stuffed toy to cuddle, pain management before they wake up, and a soft bed to sleep on in recovery.
With the advent of some of the new software tools like a practice branded mobile app, we now have an opportunity to use technology to help communicate the value of our services in a new and more modern way. Mobile apps allow your clients to stay connected to their pet inside your hospital environment. Instead of just calling after the surgery is over, nurses can fire off push notifications with the pet’s picture for pre-op, intra-op, and post-op updates, along with “I went to the bathroom outside” and “I ate all my dinner” updates. This will elevate your game to assure and validate to clients that the care they receive through you is best.
Belonging to a Community
People have a desire to belong to a larger group that shares an emotional connection. When businesses can provide that sense of being part of a “tribe,” clients can plug in to a bigger community, which fuels loyalty and bonding.
One way staff and clients can connect in a veterinary practice is through the human-animal bond. Since most pet owners have more photos of their pet on their phone than their family members, celebrating pet selfies is an easy and fun way to build your own community around your practice. With your own mobile app for your practice, clients can share a pet selfie with a few clicks from their phone. With this content, you can brag about how cute your patients are on social media and display a selfie screensaver in the exam room. Pet owners love to see their Fido getting likes and compliments from fellow clients. This is a great way to help clients know they belong to a community centered around your vet practice.
There is no doubt that appreciation is the ultimate client retention strategy. By offering an in-house loyalty program, you can show the love to your top clients by allowing them to unlock rewards at the practice as they follow your recommendations and make your practice be the one-stop shop for all their pet’s needs. Reward programs can inspire client retention but when they are designed strategically, they can also make a big impact on your revenue growth. In our 2017 Annual Loyalty Program Report for veterinary medicine, we found that when clients participate in our strategically designed reward program, they visited three additional times that year and spent over $620 more that year than the prior year, resulting in an average revenue gain of $91,000 per practice.
I’m not sure what James Herriot would think about the world we live in today filled with swiping and selfies, but I bet he would be a fan of embracing anything that would strengthen the bond between veterinarians and pet owners.
Blog post written by Stacee Santi - DVM, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet App Builders.