ABSTRACT: Most of us like to talk, especially if it's to like-minded people who are good fun and share the same interests as we do. Every one of your clients does the same – they may not be continuously going on about the fabulous nurse at her local vets (here's hoping!), but you've no doubt featured in one of her conversations at some point.

Matter of opinion

Chatting to fellow dog owners on the morning walk, sharing customer service stories with friends, giving an opinion to the new mum in the playground who wants to know what the village vet is really like. Your clients all have opinions, and are usually not afraid to share them with anyone who will listen. So we’re going to look at how you can harness these powerful opinions and bring new clients in to your practice, as well as encouraging your existing clients to come in more often.

And all you have to do is talk!

Start with the basics

There are three main routes for a new client to come to your practice:

Responding to advertising

Potential clients might just pick a name out of the Yellow Pages, search online, or see a flyer in the local pet store.

They may have walked past and been impressed by your bright, modern premises and groovy signage. OK, maybe not. Either way, they’ve made their own choice to come to your practice.

Recommendation by key opinion leaders

This is also known, slightly less scientifically, as ‘people who work with animals whose opinion I value’ – the lady at the cattery, the dog groomer, the stable owner and so on. You may not think they are ‘key’, but how many times have you heard “the breeder said…”? How great it would be to hear them say “the breeder said you were a great practice”!

Word of mouth from a friend

One of their friends has been to see you and was so impressed by the service she received that she has told her friend to come and see you too.

By far the most powerful of these routes is the last one, ‘Friend Get Friend’ as it’s rather catchily known. Someone with no vested interest in selling your practice has actively recommended you. It counts for an awful lot. Think about your own life outside of work, remember that?

I’ll bet when you’re researching new products or services, you’ll ask around amongst family and friends who have experience of them, and see what they think? We all do it. So do your clients. And you are in the best position to make sure that they are saying only good things about you and your practice. 

Simple principles

It’s actually really easy. All you have to do is to keep doing what you do really well – care for the pets that come to see you.

You almost certainly went into nursing to care for animals; Lord knows it certainly wasn’t to get rich! When someone loves his or her job, and is friendly, helpful and caring in carrying it out, it shines through.

The vet might do all the nitty-gritty serious stuff, but who is it that gives Mrs Jones a hug when her cat is badly injured? Who makes a cuppa and finds a quiet room for Miss Smith after her terrier is put to sleep? Who helps Mr Brown wade through the many options for worming control to find the one that works for him and his cat? Could it be you? Could it be that you are customer care at your practice, and didn’t even know it? Pretty damn right it could!

Every time you interact with a client, as well as doing your job, you’re also doing a bit of PR for your practice. Not every practice offers friendly, personal service, so when faced with a choice, the research that Onswitch carry out every week tells us loud and clear that pet owners make choices based on the level of care they receive.

And they help their friends make choices too. Every time you do that little bit extra for a client, or indeed every day you just do your job, but do it with a warm smile, you’re increasing the chances of your clients recommending you. It may be common sense, but it’s the most powerful marketing tool your practice can employ.

So far, so good. Just keep being the lovely, caring person you are, and encourage other team members to do the same! But there’s something else you can do to really increase the numbers of pets coming into your practice every day. Because even if you think you are busy, and your vet is excellent, each pet will only live for so long.

You have to make a bit of an effort to remember something, but it’s a simple something. Make an appointment.

Make an appointment

That’s it. Told you it was simple.

At Onswitch, we send mystery shoppers

into practices up and down the country every day, and it never ceases to amaze me how few clients are offered appointments when they want help. Advice is free, and like we said at the beginning, you like to talk, so giving someone your thoughts on the best flea control for their cat is not tricky.

So when Mrs James calls up:

   you could provide lots of help and advice, and she will be impressed.

She will probably tell a friend how impressed she was, and then if you’re lucky, one of them might come and see you next time they need the vet. Which probably won’t be any time soon.

   or you can ask for her pet’s name, and suggest that Mrs James comes in with her pet for a free consultation with you so that you can go through all the options with her and administer her chosen product for free too. How about 10am tomorrow?

In both scenarios, the owner gets advice and goes away feeling that your practice knows its stuff. However, it’s only in the second instance that your practice makes any money. And whilst Mrs James is in, you could sign her up to annual health checks, find out that the dog’s vaccinations have lapsed, and sell her some food for good measure. It needn’t be a hard sell – these are all things that she and her pet need anyway. All you are doing is helping her sort them out in one easy trip (whilst making sure that her spend comes to your practice too!)

This is called boosting footfall – bringing more people in to your practice, more often. But really it comes down to some simple actions. So if you remember only two things from this article, let them be:

1.   make friends with your clients, then they will bring their friends along too

2.   make an appointment for every client.

You can find out more online at www.onswitch.co.uk, where you can also read case studies of practices that have actively developed a ‘Friend Get Friend’ programme. Onswitch can help you make lots of new friends, so why not give us a call on 01992 531789 or e-mail us at info@onswitch.co.uk


Wendy Miller-Smith


Wendy Miller-Smith, VN CertEd CMS, has gathered extensive experience through her work in referral practice, as head of departmen
t for animal care and veterinary nursing for a large agricultural college and as education officer for the BVNA. Wendy is currently an examiner for the RCVS VN qualification, an examiner for the Animal Nursing Assistant Qualification and tutor for a range of animal care and veterinary nursing correspondence courses. Her preoccupation is to improve the reception skills of all staff within veterinary practices.

Page 30 • VOL 25 • No3 • March 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal