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The Experience of Being a Client: 5 Specialists Later

By Robin Brogdon, MA

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There are few people who know more about specialty medicine from the perspective of a client. After all, it’s how I started my journey into veterinary medicine 15 years ago, with a trip to the veterinary oncologist.

I recently took my 14 year-old mixed breed, Maddie, a 60# Chow/Golden cross to her primary care vet for a biannual exam (long-term NSAID use), and I was not completely surprised to see changes in her liver values and the discovery of a broken tooth. Off we went to the dentist (#1), who recommended extraction, but discovered a heart murmur during exam, so then, off to the internist (#2) for a complete workup. Ultrasound and chest x-rays showed a liver mass and a small chest nodule. CT was recommended to determine if the mass could be removed. The cardiologist (#3) cleared her for anesthesia, the radiologist (#4) performed a CT scan revealing a mass that could be surgically removed, but found two more small spots in her chest. After consulting with the surgeon (#5), due to Maddie’s age and our inability to determine the origin and status of the chest nodules, we decided on no surgery and to spoil her for as long as we can and simply keep her happy and comfortable.

Fortunately, there are many great specialists to choose from in my area. My experience at each practice varied, however in general, I have to say they are doing a good job. I trust their medicine and expertise. This article is written, not to call out any one particular person or practice, but merely to illuminate how a client perceives things that we in the business can overlook or take for granted. I am convinced that with a more thoughtful and personal approach, you can win over almost anyone reluctant to refer a case or recommend your practice through word-of-mouth.

What worked:

  • All but one consultation was on time.
  • Great professional photography of the doctors and their pets on the walls in exam rooms.
  • Good explanation of Maddie’s condition, what could be done about it and the potential risks/benefits.
  • CSR wrote the phonetic pronunciation of the doctor’s last name on her card because it is difficult to pronounce.
  • CSR took a towel and small pad out of a basked on the floor and laid them out nicely for my pet to sit on. Pointed out a blanket was on a chair for me if I got cold.
  • Doctor was willing to tell me what she would do if it was her pet since there is no “right answer” and she shared a personal experience to illustrate why.
  • Specialist #2 (Internist) coordinated the care provided by specialist #4 (Diagnostic Imaging) and maintained control of the case, giving me peace of mind that someone was taking ownership of my dog’s care while seeing more than one independently owned practice.
  • Doctor introduced me to her assistant and a technician by first name and explained what they were going to do for me.
  • Doctor’s assistant called a week later to see how Maddie was doing.
  • At one practice, New Client paperwork was provided to me prior to the consult for convenience.

What could have been better:

  • New Client materials could have been provided prior to the appointment and/or made available on the website to save me time.
  • A handout on Maddie’s condition(s) would have been nice to take with me, especially so I could explain it to my husband since he did not accompany me to the appointment.
  • CSR greeted me and had me fill out a Drop Off form but did not offer to explain anything on the form regarding DNR or other requested authorizations.
  • CSR stated “the tech” will be up in a moment to take Maddie. Who is “the tech” and what will they do with my dog?
  • The tech came up with a smile but no introduction, and provided no real information on what will happen other than the doctor will call you after the procedure (no time given).
  • Technician entered exam room first for preliminary info and asked all kinds of questions about why we were there and what work up had been done (it was in the referral materials!).
  • Technician did not explain her role, never touched my dog.
  • Not one practice ever mentioned my primary care veterinarian.

Summary of observations

Overall, each specialist and practice provided relatively good service and quality medical care. There were still plenty of opportunities to improve the delivery of an experience I am going to tell others about. In fact, I spent approximately $5000 for these services collectively and understand the expertise involved in the delivery of care. By doing the following, I’d be more apt to vouch for the fees as well as the expertise:

  • Tell me your name, and what you do – wear a name tag because I may forget.
  • Refer to your colleagues by name and what they are going to do as I may not know what “the tech” does.
  • What will you do to/for my dog “in the back?” Can I see it? Offer me a tour, please.
  • Explain the process – what will happen during the course of my appointment/visit.
  • Call my dog and me by name – attempt to make a connection and demonstrate you care.
  • Read my pet’s chart and be familiar with her medical record before you speak with me – validate the information if you like but don’t make me feel like you have no idea who I am or why my dog is there.
  • Despite a coffee bar in the lobby, no one pointed it out or offered a beverage.
  • Provide written information to go home at check out.
  • Help me prepare for the visit and save time by providing me with your website address and forms to fill out (some sites had the forms, but no one suggested I go look).

The difference between good service and word-of-mouth-worthy service can be subtle, but it may just make the difference between succeeding wildly or being mediocre. You are too good at what you do to not show it in every way possible, especially as lay people perceive it. Most pet owners don’t know much about the medicine, but they do know how you make them feel and how you interact with their pet. Kibble for thought…

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Categories: Practice Management, Reputation Management Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2015