Protocol Change Part 4 — Building Client Relationships

(This article is the fourth in a series about change management that is going on in real time. In addition to making smaller changes in our practices, we are working on some significant transformations right now.)

In our practices, we drive protocol change because we want to do better. Whether it's in response to emerging medical evidence, technology improvements, or economic forces, our ultimate goal is to strengthen our patient care and our client relationships.

How Protocol Change Strengthens Client Relationships

Clients have multiple options when seeking care for their four-legged family members. The competition will only become fiercer as big-box stores continue their march into the veterinary space. For our practices to survive and thrive, we need to be their first choice and remain so for their pet's lifetime.

As described in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, we're working on a process to fight team burnout and compassion fatigue by changing two protocols: Minimizing overtime and ensuring team members take a daily lunch break.

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Here's how changes like these can improve client bonds:

Improves Care: Burned-out team members have difficulty providing care and compassion to patients and clients. It's like the flight safety protocol on an airplane — you have to put your mask on first in an emergency before you tend to others. When team members put their own mask on first, clients respond to their improved level of care.

Promotes Trust: When clients perceive that your team cares about their pets, it promotes trust. With trust comes a willingness to consider veterinary recommendations. This increased compliance benefits your practice by improving the quality of preventive care that patients receive — team members would prefer to see healthy, happy pets rather than cats and dogs suffering from flea anemia, whipworm infestations, tick-borne disease, or distemper. Team members will be satisfied knowing they're doing great work to keep pets healthy day in and day out, which can then reduce team burnout, as well.

Boosts Retention: Clients who have healthy pets are likely to return. These types of long-term relationships build practices — satisfied clients tell other pet owners in the community about the excellent service they received, which helps grow the practice.

Creates a Positive Environment: Long-term personal bonds between team members, pets, and clients create a positive working environment. Team members are happier and clients are more likely to forgive the occasional "off" moment that is bound to occur. No matter how hard you try, there will be a day when a team member is overwhelmed and not able to give 100% to every client. When you've built a solid foundation of care, compassion, and trust, clients see these moments as outliers rather than the norm.

Builds Financial Prosperity: Long-term client bonds are the foundation of a practice's financial health. Constant client turnover leads to uneven economic performance and decreases your practice's value significantly. Turnover can even lead to failure if you're in a community with limited organic growth. Your practice will also be vulnerable if another practice opens in the area.

What Impacts Are We Seeing on Client Relationships?

After visits in our practice, we check in with clients using a simple email survey. We can then track results and comments over time to see how changes are perceived by clients. It's important that clients know that their feedback is important to you, so be sure to personally thank them, respond to criticisms, post reviews on your website, and let them know you're listening to both the good and the bad. Looking at these surveys provides a real-time review of clients' opinions of your practice's value. Other data we track include lapsed clients, record transfer reasons, and new client acquisition.

It's no surprise to any manager that clients' perceptions usually match our own. When teams are clicking and working together, clients feel and see it. We've seen improvement on all measures of client satisfaction over the past six months after implementing our protocol changes. It's been gratifying to hear that clients appreciate us in so many ways. Remember that negative reviews will always be a part of feedback, as well. We remain a work in progress, and sometimes we mess up. It's important to own that, apologize, and change it.

The bottom line is you need to invest time and energy into your teams, so they have time and energy to give to clients and patients. Be aware of your limitations, but do the best with what you can control. Accept that you will fail on occasion, but will win more often than not. Managing change will remain a daily focus in veterinary medicine whether you want it or not — you might as well learn how to surf the wave.

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Read the final part of this series on reflecting on the protocol change.

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Nancy Drumm
General Manager, Capital Vets

Nancy Drumm is the daughter of a veterinarian and the granddaughter of a dairy farmer. She started working at the family practice at the age of 8, helping her father see patients after dinner, and the practice has been part of her entire life. She has been a farmer for many years as well. She has a burning interest in how things work and enjoys the challenges of running a business. She combines that curiosity and a willingness to try new things with a desire to use data to help us all make better decisions for our lives and practices.

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