Get to know how your veterinary clinic staff members operate to better serve their needs
Change and innovation have always been major components of the animal health field and a big part of what makes it so interesting, but lately those changes seem to be coming on fast and furious. News of Amazon’s ever-growing presence in pet care and vet clinics opening in Walmart have many of us speculating on the changing face of animal health and wellness. One thing that remains a constant is your ability to offer the best in service and care to your customers – providing them not just with products, but suggestions and solutions to help them succeed in an increasingly competitive market.
Much of that competition may not come just from retail giants like those above, but from local pet specialty retailers. A recent editorial in Pet Business magazine’s “The Healthcare Issue” discussed how a pet’s well-being is an important draw for consumers and recommends “…positioning your store as a key healthcare provider … (with) a well-curated lineup of key health and wellness products and … great wellness-oriented services and events.” Sounds like excellent advice – and a wake-up call – for every companion animal practice!
While pet ownership and spending continues to grow, veterinary visits are trending down, with projections for routine appointments this year at 73 percent for dog owners and 55 percent for cat owners. According to Packaged Facts market research, most pet owners somewhat (34 percent) or strongly agree (35 percent) that veterinarians are the most qualified source to obtain pet medications, and 54 percent want a veterinarian’s advice when it comes to pet food and nutrition. With both specialty pet retailers and internet giants vying to fill that role, every member of the clinic staff should make the most of every patient visit, to increase client loyalty and grow their business. Your knowledge of both the practice and the roles of the team members you interact with regularly give you a great opportunity to provide them with the information and tools to strengthen relationships with their customers.
Get to know the gatekeeper
Making outbound sales calls, you obviously talk to dozens of clinic receptionists during the year. Though often the most undervalued and underpaid member of the team, the front desk staffer is – as my husband’s (non-veterinary) company refers to their receptionist – The Director of First Impressions. That first impression may be the only impression a prospective client will have of the clinic, so a knowledgeable, personable front desk staff should never be overlooked. As receptionist-turned-practice owner, Veronica Hanley, says “Receptionists need to be just as passionate about the field and their jobs as technicians, doctors and practice managers are … Treat it as a career.”
While answering phones, scheduling appointments and checking out customers may not give them much time to talk with you, growing and building a relationship with the clinic “gatekeeper” will benefit you both. Although it may often be an entry-level position in the veterinary practice, the receptionist is typically the one staff member who has the chance to talk with pet owners before and after the appointment – and can use that time to mention products, promotions and services as part of the clinic’s overall wellness message. Ask front desk staff the times – and methods – they prefer for you to get in touch and then use that opportunity to share product information, client handouts, and cross-selling or upselling ideas.
Since it’s likely you don’t visit the clinic “in person”, partner with your outside rep on suggestions for the clinic’s waiting area. Are patients literally just “waiting” to go into an exam room, or is the practice using this space to promote services, wellness plans and products? Are there inviting merchandise displays, samples or product brochures? Is the front desk staff actively discussing or suggesting these items to customers? Help your clinics make the most of these marketing and sales opportunities and ways to build stronger relationships with pet owners.
Your relationship to practice or office managers, technicians and veterinarians often depends on the size of the practice and staff, and their roles may differ – or even overlap – with regards to inventory and ordering. Recognizing the responsibilities of the various individuals you work with and what they value most will help you become a trusted partner in growing their business.
You can be a valuable asset to a practice manager by knowing the clinic’s purchase history and buying trends, recommending promotions and savings opportunities, helping establish re-order points and making sure buyers are aware of new products, possible product shortages and unique items that will set them apart from retailers. Discussing online ordering options for their customers, and offering suggestions for enhancing their social media presence are other ways to help increase business or regain lost sales.
If the technical staff places an order with you, recognize that there’s a good chance that they’re multi-tasking and probably short on time. When that’s the case, being prepared for every call, knowing the products and promotions they need when they need it, and suggesting items or ordering methods that can save them time will be much appreciated.
With the increased competition in the animal health market, your role as a valued resource to your customers, rather than being just another “sales rep” becomes more important than ever. Continue to expand your product and industry knowledge and keep on top of changing trends among pet owners. Help your clinics focus on the exceptional customer service and medical expertise that sets them apart.