Most veterinary practices are like fishermen, out there to lure in and catch all the new fish (clients) that they possibly can. They spend endless hours and waste countless flies (dollars) on catching those fishes’ attention and trying to get them to bite on their line (business). That’s all great; there’s nothing wrong with that. We all want to bring in some fresh meat. But what if you’re so focused on catching new fish that you don’t notice there’s a hole in your creel and all those previously caught fish are getting away? All that time you spent and all those flies you lost are for nothing. Now you’re forced to put even more into attracting new fish so that you don’t show up for dinner empty-handed.
A lot of focus is put on attracting new veterinary clients to grow your business, and reasonably so. After all, at some point every client is a new client, and you need a certain number in your client base in order to run your veterinary business properly. You need to also pay attention to your creel, those clients that are repeat customers, loyal to you pet after pet. Make those clients the base of your practice, the center of your focus, and the money will follow.
A Quick By-the-Numbers
Before we really get started, I’m going to throw some numbers at you.
Getting a new client on board costs on average five times more than keeping an existing one.
Increasing your client retention by just 5 percent can lead to a profit increase of 25–95 percent.
How can this be? Shouldn’t all clients affect your profits the same? Where does the increased cost come in? Let’s explore the answer to all those questions.
Save Money on Setup
While it may not seem like a lot, there is definitely money invested every time you or your staff has to set up a new client chart. There’s usually some paperwork involved, meaning time and effort by your staff to get everything in order. New patient visits are almost always longer than established patient appointments. Spending more time on one appointment means fewer appointments for the day and less profit. Some clinics offer a discount on that initial visit as a way of snagging more new clients, so there’s some money lost there if you don’t see those clients for a second appointment.
If you’re looking for cost-effective advertising, look to word of mouth. While word-of-mouth advertising won’t reach as many people as social media, it can still be very effective, and it won’t cost you a dime. Who do you get to do all that talking? Satisfied customers, of course. Online reviews and testimonials are great ways of spreading the value of your services, but think about this: Who do you trust more to give you advice, a friend or family member, or some random person on the internet? I know I value my friends’ and family’s opinions above all, and I am more likely to use a service that someone I know has had a positive experience with. If you provide your clients with a useful service and a positive experience, they’re going to tell others about your veterinary practice, saving you valuable marketing bucks.
Reverence Ramps Revenue
You’re feeling sick—just a little under the weather, not an emergency. You think about getting checked out by your doctor, the one that you have frequented since graduating from veterinary school, but he’s not in the office today. However, there is an opening with another doctor, one whom you haven’t seen before. You politely say, “No thank you” and hang up the phone. You’ll probably feel better tomorrow anyway. Sound familiar? Don’t think that veterinary clients don’t do this as well. Pet owners are far more likely to bring in their beloved pooch, after only one sneeze, to a veterinarian that they have an established and trusting relationship with. Prospective new clients may decide to wait it out and only see a vet if the situation turns dire. More visits, even if they’re just for the small stuff, always mean money in the bank.
More Purchases = More Money
If your client knows and trusts you, they’re more likely to buy from you now and in the future. Not only can you expect more visits from established clients, but you can expect them to buy more during those visits. Let’s look at it this way: You take your feline friend to a new veterinarian for vaccinations. That vet recommends three different vaccinations, flea treatment, a heartworm preventative, and a different brand of food. Most of us would think that vet’s crazy, say “No, thank you” to all that, and just get the basic shots. Now let’s say that you take your kitty to a veterinarian whom you’ve known for years—your kitty has never been to anyone else. That veterinarian recommends the proper vaccinations and a heartworm preventative. She knows your kitty doesn’t have fleas and that he’s on the right food to help with hairballs. I’ll bet you buy everything she recommends and may even think about throwing some kitty treats in there as well. This vet gets an increase in the sale of a heartworm preventative over what the other veterinarian would have received.
More Premium Purchases
If you build a long-lasting and trusting relationship with your clients, they’re more likely to pay a premium price for your recommendations than new clients. What if a pup needed surgery to fix his torn CCL and your long-time client has the choice of having you perform the fix or having the corporate discount clinic in the next town do it? If you’ve consistently delivered quality service and advice to this client he’ll probably want to choose you even though it may take more from his pocketbook. Most clients want to stick with a tried and true service they trust rather than a cheaper, unknown clinic, thus putting that money right into your clinic’s pocket.
As you can see, client retention is an important way to earn more money. Once you’ve established a successful client base, you need to focus on keeping those clients and building a working relationship that spans the lifetime of many pet patients. Before you tie on that fly and wet another line, check to be sure your creel is satisfied and in working order.