ABSTRACT: In the midst of the current economic downturn, we all know how important it is to ensure that both new and existing clients continue to flow through the waiting room doors. But what makes them choose your practice and how can you keep them coming back?

Think back to an occasion you received exceptional treatment from a company or individual, so much so that it crossed your mind to write a note of thanks or tell your friends about your experience. Now cast your mind back to an unhappy episode you have undergone as a consumer.

This latter may well be easier to do, as perhaps it has stayed with you – the annoyance, anger and unfairness of it all. Did you complain, receive a fair hearing and pursue the matter to a satisfactory outcome? Or did you walk away feeling dissatisfied yet powerless and recount the episode to friends, family and anyone else who crossed your path?

Many of our clients who are dissatisfied with small issues do just that, they walk! The ones we should treasure, the ones who don’t shout and complain; these well- mannered quiet receptive clients will not say what has upset them – they don’t complain, they just go somewhere else! So, for that reason it is vitally important to put yourself in your clients place and to see what it feels like to be the customer experiencing your service then you can set about improving it.

First impressions

Your priority at the reception desk is to give the client in front of you your undivided attention. No one wants to wait around whilst private conversations are finished off, no matter how important or amusing you may believe them to be. Listen to any question fully and don’t interrupt the client. He or she has something important to say and you should respect their situation and their feelings, and not jump in with assumptions.

Don’t bombard the clients with your own stories and experiences. Whilst it may at first appear friendly, giving too much personal information can be unprofessional, as is chatting about practice business. Always make the effort to appear smart and professional. A neat, well-pressed uniform will give a good impression and the addition of a name badge conveys approachability and trust.

Equally, the reception area should be as pleasant and accommodating as possible. Keep it clean, and make sure it smells fresh. Change posters and information boards regularly and update newsletters and magazines. All practices need to be welcoming and clients will respond to friendly faces that they can identify. Develop a staff board with pictures and a short resume for each staff member and display it in the waiting room, on the website and in the practice brochure.


All our lives are based around expectations. We build them and rely on them subconsciously. We expect to outlive our parents, we imagine that if we work hard and do well, we will be able to support ourselves and widen our horizons, and we expect to be seen in turn if we are in a queue. If life falls short of our expectations, we feel cheated and let down, and may well look around for someone or something to blame. This is human nature.

So, what are our clients’ expectations? Your practice will have no doubt gone to great lengths and expense to advertise and market your products and services. Do you know what you are promising your clients?

The practice ‘vision’ should be on display to staff and clients and be the founding principle upon which your facility is based. Caring and dependable? Friendly and established? Fairly priced or maybe just cheaper than the competition? Educate your clients so they know what to expect.

Try to make your practice pricing policy as transparent as possible by advertising basic costs within the surgery and giving written estimates. Communication both within the practice team and externally to all clients is a key factor here. Everyone needs to be up to date on offers, policies and protocols to ensure the flow of information to the client remains reliable and professional.

To ensure you are maintaining a professional image, take responsibility for your own training needs. For example, if you are regularly expected to deal with bereaved clients but don’t feel you have sufficient skills, talk to your head nurse or practice manager and arrange some relevant training.

What clients want

Each practice will have its own unique selling points (USPs) which differentiate it from other local surgeries. Are your clients aware that you have extra services or talents? Maybe you offer acupuncture or physiotherapy, or you have someone in-house who could offer bereavement support? Publicise these extra services, on waiting room displays, at outdoor events, in the local paper and on your website – wherever local pet owners will take notice. And don’t stop there – make sure you monitor your promotions. To find out whether your messages are getting through and what further services your clients expect from you – ask them!

Simple surveys are excellent, as long as you keep them brief, focussed and limited to a definite time frame. The survey should reflect the important issues that can help the practice move forward; so don’t ask the owners to comment on the usefulness of a service you would find it impossible to provide. Offer an incentive too – a draw for a bottle of wine or box of chocolates will encourage clients to complete the form and give their details, thus enabling future communication.

Take time out to discover your clients' views in the waiting room

Another way to canvass client opinion is by making time to talk to them in the waiting room. This can be both fun and enlightening for you and conveys caring and warmth to the pet owner who will revel in the interest you show in their views and the attention you show their pet! If you can get a mini-group discussion going, so much the better!

Clients deserve your undivided attention

Remember not to promise anything the practice would not feel happy to deliver. There may be some very good ideas out there, but agreeing to set up a grooming parlour in the laundry room may not be what the partners had in mind! Promise to pass on the client’s ideas and thank them for their input.

If your partners are happy to take client ideas and opinions on board and invest a bit more time in listening to their views, you may be able to set up a group of your most intuitive and forward- thinking clients as a ‘focus group’ in your practice. This association can help the business as a whole to hear and understand the voices and opinions of its clients and pet owners in the local community. These thoughts and suggestions can be invaluable in moving the practice forward, but not something to try if your practice is not open to change.

Finally, ensure that you are giving your clients the right message as they need to be reassured that however well trained the staff and well equipped the practice the one thing you will excel in is caring for their pet as much as they do. 


Gill Gadd rvn vpac

Gill Gadd is an experienced veterinary nurse who has a passion for client support and a special interest in the human- animal bond. She gained an OCN qualification in pet bereavement in 2006, having also trained and worked in the field of human bereavement counselling. She works full time as practice administrator for a small animal practice in Reading and is currently studying towards the ILM Disploma in Leadership and Management.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2010.00028.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 98-99

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 26 • March 2011 •