Asking For Client Feedback
The most successful veterinary practices realize that to keep customers coming back, they have to ensure that their services are being provided consistently and successfully.
Historically, veterinarians have been extremely passive when it comes to soliciting client feedback; only 20% of veterinarians surveyed agreed that they solicit client feedback through after-service questionnaires.1
In short, we tend to run our practices based on the assumption that no news is good news.
When we do hear from clients, it is more often than not when something has gone very wrong, and unless this is a frequent occurrence, we tend not to give these complaints much credence. According to studies done by the Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP), though, for every irritated customer who complains, 26 do not, although they still have grievances, and 6 of them have serious problems2. The reality is that you probably don’t know how many dissatisfied patients you have because most people don’t complain in person.
While passive about soliciting feedback, veterinarians still feel very strongly about the client experience. According to the 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, 81% of veterinarians surveyed indicated that they would change how their practice operated if they knew it would increase client satisfaction3. These numbers highlight the dichotomy between the desire to do something and the reality of actually making it happen.
Perhaps veterinarians don’t request customer feedback because they fear criticism or the work it will take to implement change.
However, it is far more expensive to attract new clients than it is to retain current ones. Consider the time and money spent on marketing initiatives to acquire new clients, all of which could potentially be worthless if they do not return based on a less than stellar experience. Add to that the increased value of client-to-client referrals, and it is obvious that allowing ego or fear of change to get in the way of soliciting feedback can be highly detrimental to the long-term health of a practice.
Soliciting client feedback is as much about finding out what you are doing right, as it is about what needs to be improved upon.
The most important thing about positive feedback is that it should be openly shared with the entire team as frequently as possible. When clients take the time to tell you how you’ve exceeded their expectations, or if you consistently earn top-rated scores, the entire team should celebrate and receive praise for a job well done.
Acknowledging and thanking staff for jobs well done can be accomplished by:
• posting positive comments where they can be read by the whole team
• congratulating and rewarding by name those recognized individuals
The methods above can be a powerful incentive for others to rise to the occasion and increase their level of performance. There’s not much that makes an employee feel more appreciated than being recognized for outstanding service, especially in front of peers and co-workers.
Types of Client Questionnaires
It is critical to be pro-active in seeking client feedback, which means your survey cannot just sit on your website waiting for someone to find it and take the time to complete it.
Email is definitely the most successful method of distribution (just one more reason to collect email addresses if you aren’t already doing so!); not only can email be delivered more quickly than stamped mail, but it has a greater chance of being opened and completed in one step, and timeliness is very important both in reaching the client and obtaining their response.
…For New Clients
The most obvious purpose of questionnaires is to ensure a stellar new client experience, which is why it is beneficial that these surveys be sent within 24 hours of the patient visit. This promptness allows the opportunity to evaluate and fix any problems that are brought to your attention before they affect others. It also decreases the time that an unhappy client will have to turn to the Internet as a way to broadcast their dissatisfaction. Often just the fact that you made the effort to follow-up and took the time to listen can turn a not so happy customer into a raving fan. Even if they have no intention of giving you a second chance, the fact that someone reached out directly is often enough to keep their need to go public with their opinion to a minimum, thus halting the damage to a practice’s reputation.
…For Current Clients
As important as new business is, it is just as important to gauge the satisfaction level of current clients on a regular basis. This can be done all at once on an annual or semi-annual basis, or an appointment can trigger that a survey be sent. These surveys are also a great way to ask clients whether or not they would be interested in a new service or product before making any type of investment, financial or otherwise.
In an effort to better meet the needs of cat owners, a practice might consider reserving a certain day of the week for cat-only appointments. The best way to anticipate the success of such a program would be to actually ask cat owning clients if this would truly encourage them to bring their cats in more often.
…For Clients “Missing In Action”
Another group that is important to survey is clients that have not been seen in at least a year. While the response rate will most likely be low, those that complete the questionnaire present an opportunity to regain their business. If someone provides a reason for not returning to your practice, and you are confident that this issue has been resolved, take the initiative to let them know and offer them an incentive to see for themselves!
Types of Questions
When it comes to questionnaires, the key is to ask enough questions to get “useful” feedback, but not so many that it becomes arduous to complete.
Four Rules to Client Questionnaires:
1. If it takes more than 5-10 minutes, it’s too long
2. Make most of the questions simple (with multiple choice answers)
3. Include questions specific to your practice’s protocols
4. Ask new clients if they remember the veterinarian they saw
Lastly, before concluding a questionnaire it can be useful to ask for an overall experience rating based on a numerical scale (1-10 being most common). Don’t hesitate to be direct—go ahead and ask new clients whether or not they intend to return to your practice.
The statement that “knowledge is power” is as true in business as it is elsewhere. The more information you have, from as many sources as possible, the more impactful and accurate the decisions regarding the future direction of your practice.
Share and celebrate the good, and use whatever criticism is offered as a means to improve and grow. Doing this regularly provides the best opportunity to build a loyal fan base and decreases the chances of your practice becoming a victim of outside social and economic forces.
So go ahead…ask away!
12011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study
2The Importance of Patient Satisfaction, www.PressGaney.com
32011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study