Use Incentives to Build Client Loyalty
Michael LeBoeuf says in How to Win Customers and Keep Them For Life, “You get more of the behavior you reward. You don’t get what you hope for, ask for, wish for, or beg for.”1
Today’s client is more savvy and demanding than before. Depending on your geographic location, competition may be fierce. The economy has interrupted our relationships with our clients as they refrain from buying services or shop around for the best deal.
Therefore, when we talk about adding value by creating client incentives, we’re talking about programs that need to offer a reward that clients view as relevant and which retains value in an uncertain marketplace. The offering needs to be related to our services for the benefit to be truly worthwhile to our clients.
According to Ross Shafer, author of The Customer Shouts Back!, marketing efforts are about creating an emotional connection between the client and the company.2 Client loyalty is the connection that can be built when value is added to your practice.
Help Your Client Do the Right Thing
As LeBoeuf states in his book, “People love to buy, but hate to be sold.”3
These tendencies are why a customer service incentive must be more about helping your client do the right thing rather than giving your client your latest sales pitch. Take care of customers, and they will take care of you. When you focus on what your client needs, you help them take the best care of their pet while you simultaneously and positively impact revenue growth. Your revenue isn’t built solely on attracting new customers, but on keeping them as well.
Customer incentives need to accomplish a number of objectives:
1. Acquire and retain customers: the most important aspect of our jobs is to create and keep clients. People brought in by clients who have an emotional connection to your clinic will already come in with their own sense of emotional engagement to you before their first visit. Trust is a cornerstone to developing a committed business relationship. Incentives foster emotional connection.
2. Build loyalty: Customer satisfaction without emotional allegiance won’t retain your clients. In a Gallup survey, as reported by Fox News, the organization compared customer loyalty of extremely satisfied customers, unsatisfied customers, and satisfied emotionally engaged customers. The survey’s results demonstrated that emotionally connected customers outspent and outlasted extremely satisfied customers. Incentives reward loyalty.
3. Encourage service utilization: Clients need to feel good about what they purchase or the service has to resolve a problem. Emotions drive behavior. We not only have to be able to address the clinical needs of our patients, but the emotional experience of the patient’s owner if we want to tap into the client’s ability to understand the value of our recommendations. Understand what they care about and then give them what they need. Your incentives should evolve from customer feedback.
4. Create a competitive edge: How you manage your business is an important source of differentiation. Sometimes, clients can’t discriminate between the quality of services from one veterinary practice to another. Thus, it may not be in what you do, as much as making a competitive edge by how you do it. That is not to suggest that service offerings don’t matter because they do. Read professional articles and journals to stay on top of trends. For example, AAHA is promoting the value of preventive examinations.Offer an incentive that’s a little bit different.
We know why client incentives are an important part of marketing strategy, but what are some incentives you can provide?
Incentives Your Clinic Can Provide
Some of the more commonly used incentives include “buy two—get one free,” rebate programs, and new client referral programs.
People intrinsically like to share value with their friends. So building the right approach will enhance customer loyalty and create a new stream of client referrals. If you give a referral incentive only to the client who is referring the new client to your clinic, you haven’t given your client the ability to share a tangible value. Basically, you are only giving an incentive to a client who already pays for your services.
If you reward both the client and the referral, you connect into that intrinsic value helping to create a stronger bond with your current client and giving your new client a reason to like you right from the beginning. The investment is very small compared to the profitability outcome.
An Example of a Referral Incentive:
Natick Animal Clinic in Massachusetts changed its approach to capitalize on this idea. When an existing client refers a new client, the existing client gets a credit on their account and the new client gets a matching credit to use towards their first visit to our clinic.
It is important that you empower your clients with an incentive for those they want to send to you. We also send a thank-you note to the existing client and include personalized cards for them to hand out to their friends and family. Be sure that you send your thanks in a very timely manner as this is yet another form of recognizing your clients’ value to your business. Incentives coupled with a personal note of appreciation give your clients an enhanced reason to keep referring to your clinic as well as to remain loyal to your practice!
New Service or Product:
If clients are apprehensive about trying a new service or a new product, consider offering an introductory price or give away a sample size. If you have a slow season, offer an off-season incentive. Natick’s grooming salon will take five dollars off the cost of a regular groom if clients book their next grooming appointments before they leave the salon during the months of January and February.
An Example of New Service or Product:
When we added a day care program to our boarding services, we heard from clients that they wanted to use our services regularly, but not necessarily every day. We created day care packages in which a client could buy eight visits per month or 12 or 20; the more days per month they bought, the greater the savings. We gave the packages cute, pet related names: Casual Canine, Regular Romper and Frequent Fido. Our daycare program grew exponentially and we now are submitting a proposal for expansion after only two and half years of growing the program through word of mouth!
Achieving Added Value and Client Loyalty
It is possible—more than that, likely—to generate new services and products if ideas like these are put to use. In these ways, you can increase your practice’s value and help build client loyalty.
1. Smith, Carin. Client Satisfaction Pays. Colorado American Hospital Association Press 2009 p.171
2. Shafer, Ross. The Customer Shouts Back! Indianapolis Dog Ear Publishing 2005, pages 74, 139, 149
3. LeBoeuf, Michael. How To Win Customers and Keep Them For Life. New York, Berkely Publishing Group 2000 p. 14