Clients determine the quality and value of your veterinary practice based on what they see and observe – and it can happen in just minutes of entering your practice. This is known as Perception of Value. To evaluate a practice’s Perception of Value, we need to put ourselves in our client’s shoes and look at things from their perspective.

Understanding Perception of Value

How do your clients determine the quality and value of your veterinary hospital?  We would like to believe that they do this based on the quality of medical and surgical care that you offer. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Let me give you an example. Ask yourself these questions: Do you know from which school your medical doctor received his or her degree? Do you know what grade point average your physician attained? Do you know where he or she ranked in their class? When was the last time they attended continuing education? I would hope you do know the answer to these questions, but the likelihood is that you do not – most people don’t. Yet if I asked you if you believe your doctor to be competent, I would hope you would say, “yes”. In human medicine, our doctors are working on us and we can, to some extent, evaluate their competency.

In veterinary medicine, many times the client is not present when their pet receives treatment, but the client still is going to attempt to determine the competency of their veterinarian. Clients will make this determination based on what they see and observe and here is the scary part: this determination is made in the first few minutes when they meet your healthcare team. How many clients get into the exam room and see the doctor in the first few minutes of entering the practice? None! Clients determine the quality and value of our veterinary practice based on what they see and observe upon entering our practice. This is what is known as perception of value, defined as “the determination made by clients regarding the quality and value of services rendered to them and their pets”.

Your Online Presence

My hope is that practices do render a high quality of medicine and surgery and that this will be matched by their client’s perception of value. So, to evaluate a practice’s perception of value, we need to put ourselves in our client’s shoes and look at our practice from their perspective.  This used to start with a telephone call but now it’s often an internet search.

Online reviews can have a big impact on a practice’s perception of value. According to a recent study, 93% of customers read online reviews for local businesses and 87% of potential clients won’t consider a business with online ratings of less than 3 of 5 stars1. Add to these facts another study that found 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations2!  

With this information in mind, we really need to be aware of our online reviews and what our clients are saying about us. I highly recommend that you place a Google Alert on Google. Make sure you use your practice name and your doctor’s names. The Google Alert will help keep you informed when someone posts something about you or your practice on the Internet. I also recommend that you encourage your clients to post positive reviews about you and your practice. When you hear a client make a positive comment about your practice, simply ask them, “Would you mind posting your comment on our Facebook page?” You can even have a card printed that you can give to your clients to help them find you on various review sites. Recent studies have also found that it is imperative that you respond to all online reviews.

The recommendation concerning online reviews used to be that you only needed to respond to negative reviews. That recommendation has changed and now experts say that clients want to know that you are listening to them and that their voice is being heard. So, you need to respond to all online reviews and in a timely manner. With that said, a negative online review with no response will seriously impact a practice’s perception of value.

Your Signage

Many other things affect your practice’s perception of value. One of the first things potential clients may see is your signage. Think about your practice sign. Does it look professional? Does it convey the quality and excellence of your practice or detract from it? What are two of the most eye-catching colors for signs? Red and yellow – think about Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell or Texaco. They all use those colors in their signs for a reason. Choosing high contract colors improves legibility and the letter size should be optimized for readability. Do you want your practice phone number or website on your sign?  Think about the client and how quickly they will be passing your sign. At 40 or 50 miles an hour, it’s unlikely they will be writing down a number or web address. Sign experts agree that information isn’t very effective.

What you should include is, of course, your practice name (making sure “Animal Hospital” or “Veterinary Hospital” stands out), a short list of the services you provide, and your hours of operation. Highlight services such as boarding, grooming, dental, exotic pet care, etc. Clients want to know what services you offer and the hours you are open to provide those services. Make sure your sign is effective.

Your Receptionists

The next touchpoint a client may have is your receptionist. A client might call or walk in the front door of your practice. If the client calls, how is that phone answered? When we consult with veterinary practices, we teach receptionists to answer their phones with a consistent greeting, “Good morning! Thank you for calling ABC Veterinary Clinic. This is Susan, how may I help you?” There are four components to that communication:

  • First, a greeting, “good morning, or good afternoon”;
  • Second, the name of the practice, “ABC Veterinary Clinic”;
  • Third, the receptionist’s name, “This is Susan”, and finally;
  • A call to action, “How may I help you?” or “How may I be of assistance to you?”

I think all four parts of that communication need to occur every time the telephone is answered in your practice, no matter who answers it. It is a critical first impression of your practice.

Next, the client might visit your practice. My question is, “What is the client experience like when they enter your practice?” You need to think about this from the client’s perspective. When they enter your practice, how are they and their pet greeted, what is that experience like?  My philosophy is simple but powerful and that is – “Love your clients so much and care for them and their pets so well, that they will not wish to leave your practice for fear of a harsher world outside your doors.” Think about this for a minute. Have you ever been anywhere, any business or place, where you felt so loved and cared for that you did not want to leave that place because you knew you would not get treated that well anywhere else? I and many people I have spoken to have experienced this and when you ask them about it, you do not hear stories about the technical expertise of the dentist or the car mechanic or the quality of the food in the restaurant. What you do hear about is how they were greeted when they entered the business, how they were made to feel special, the amenities the business offered them, a cup of coffee or a freshly baked cookie.

Clients expect competency, they assume the veterinarian and veterinary practice know what they are doing – what is going to impress them is the way in which they and their pet are treated. What things can you do in your practice that might exceed their expectations?  

Let me give you some examples:  When a client comes into your practice does your receptionist greet that client by name? Do they use the pets name? In fact, which do you think clients are more impressed by, your receptionist using their name or their pet’s name? The answer is their pet’s name. In fact, in veterinary medicine the sweetest words to your client’s ears, are not their own name but their pet’s name. So, what can we do to facilitate this in your practice?

One idea is that when a client comes in for the first time, make sure your team takes a picture of the pet and enters it into your computer. It only takes a minute, but it makes a world of difference. I also suggest that when they take that picture, include the client, as well. The beauty of doing this is that even if your receptionist has never seen a client before, when that client enters, the receptionist can look at the computer and say, “Good morning Mr. Opperman, I see that Casey is here for her comprehensive physical exam and vaccinations today.” Your receptionist will rise from good to amazing, in your client’s eyes. I think that one of the things that can negatively impact a client’s perception of value is a client sign-in sheet. I hate the concept of asking a client to sign in and sit down without even being greeted by the receptionist. I find it unacceptable. We are a personal service business and clients deserve that personal touch.

In our next newsletter, we’ll take a look at your facility and how it impacts your clients’ Perception of Value. Until then, why not review your online presence, your signage, and hospital reception through the perspective of your clients – and note any changes you could make that would help clients perceive your value in the most positive light.

Mark Opperman, CVPM
Connect on LinkedIn