Rebranding Your Practice: Going from Cow to Wow (Part 1)

By: Byron S. Farquer, DVM, AVA – Simmons & Associates Pacific, Inc., Oakdale, CA pacific@simmonsinc.com

There are 3 components to a successful practice.   Success being defined as that magical continuum where doctors get to practice the best medicine possible, can afford to, and the practice grows and grows as a result of clients expressing to others their joy and pleasure of using this particular practice.  The senses are delighted, the trust level is strong, behind-the-scenes attributes strengthen the client-practice bond, and word of mouth advocacy is high.  These three components are simple to identify, but difficult to define.  The more one tries, the deeper one needs to go to adequately grasp their importance.  These three components are:

Consumer Experience, Customer Service, Perception of Value

Consumers (your clients) chose to do business with providers that can make the experience pleasurable even in the worst of times, provide exemplary customer service, and convey the true value in relation to price.  Give a customer a $10 hamburger that they feel is worth $5 and they go away mad, often never returning.  Provide that same customer with a $10 hamburger that, in part due to the whole customer experience, creates a value proposition that the hamburger “dining experience” exceeded expectations and you have a have a happy customer.  This isn’t something that can be achieved by having a clean restaurant (clinic), polite waiter (your staff) and good pricing.  It isn’t quite that simple.  There is a dynamic psychological interplay between the senses in all aspects beyond the tastebuds and assessment of the waiter’s manners and efficiency.  The building, the ambiance, the location, the food, the music, the smells, the “everything” all helps shape the customer’s perception of value.  Those same forces exist when a client comes into a veterinary hospital for services.  This whole package effect is representative of the ‘atmospherics’ a term used to describe the combined ambiance/atmosphere etc… experienced when visiting a location.  Its goes beyond paint and politeness, it’s everything all working together that creates a hard to define but easily identified “package” that creates a very positive consumer experience.  Disneyland is a good example.  At its core, we have amusement rides, not un-like other parks or on a smaller scale, county fairs.  BUT, and this is a big “but”, anyone that has been to Disneyland knows that it’s so very different.  Everything about the place harmonizes to create an unforgettable experience.  And it isn’t cheap either, so price alone (being very competitive in pricing veterinary services for example) isn’t enough to win the hearts of consumers/clients.  Being clean, alone isn’t enough, nor is having high quality (high quality rides or high quality medicine).  It requires “everything” to be cohesive.  Cohesion is partly what creates high quality consumer experiences, whether it be Disneyland, your practice or the restaurant.  Provide a great tasting hamburger in a less than pleasing facility or with marginal wait staff and the experience just isn’t the same.

Gone are the days when the veterinarian would come to a town that had no doctor, buy an old two story house, tack a shingle to the front of the house that read “Veterinarian” and set up shop on the main floor. There was the doctor and his wife. He did the medicine. She was receptionist, bookkeeper, animal handler and practice manager–a perfect manifestation of the nineteenth century American Mom & Pop small business model. There was a lot to envy in this style of life for the “Doc” and his family. He could take a two hour lunch at home and hang out a gone fishin’ sign when trout season hit.

Competition drives change

The day a second veterinarian moved into town, things changed. The needs of the clients would begin to become more important than those of the doctor. Now the pet owners could choose. What would they base their choice on? Both men were doctors–from the consumer’s point of view both were qualified. Convenience became a big issue. Doctor “x” might be open during the lunch hour or after work. Doctor “y” might be closer to the house or easier for driving and parking (location, location, location). After issues of convenience, the consumer had to rely on her senses: which hospital “looked” the best? To the consumer, you are as good as you look.

Your building is your best billboard

As a small business, veterinary hospitals have limited funds for advertising. For the most part, advertising is restricted to the yellow pages, some direct mail, the internet, word of mouth, perhaps some occasional radio and newspaper and, rarely, television. The biggest, most important advertising is the practice building and sign. Location, architecture and design can have a huge impact on the success of the practice. If you are as good as you look, it is very important to not only look your best, but to also look better than the competition.

Our choices are irrational

What happens when a potential client drives by or walks into your hospital? The psychological effect of this experience can be tremendous. The client is a walking litmus test of sensory input. Unconsciously the hospital layout, design, colors, noises and odors make their mark. As humans, we decide whether we like something or someone in one fifth of a second! Many of the factors in this decision are invisible to the conscious mind. In other words, they are irrational. People should choose doctors and hospitals based on a careful examination of their success rates, medical protocols, pain management programs, diagnostic skills, etc. Unfortunately, human beings are human and base their retail choices on their feelings.  Over the last fifteen years we have heard countless veterinarians complain that they practice the best medicine in town and still are barely scraping by economically. As if proof were needed, this was a clear demonstration that a medical degree is no guarantee of business and financial success! Business administration is a different skill set. Success in the retail world depends on our ability to please and delight the consumer.

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