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What does good customer care look like?
  1. Adele Waters

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If you were asked to describe what good client care looks and feels like you’d probably trot off many of the things we all like to receive from our usual service providers.

We like to be addressed in a respectful way, listened to and feel like we are being heard, and we like the service delivered by a competent person.

Yet, when it comes to veterinary care, emerging evidence shows that while the factors that make up a high-quality service may seem pretty obvious, they are often not delivered.

Vet Louise Corah has conducted research in vet practices as part of her PhD, which is exploring the key ingredients of a good veterinary consultation.

Presenting her findings to date at last week’s Cx (veterinary customer experience) conference, she said it might all seem like common sense but the reality is that vets are not always doing the things they need to do in order to deliver a good customer experience.

Vets often think they are doing the right thing, but in reality they aren’t really paying attention

If you watch client consultations, she says, vets often think they are doing the right thing such as listening and acknowledging client concerns, but in reality they aren’t really paying attention.

So what are the obvious important factors? Clients like to be made to feel welcome, so the approach taken by the reception staff or customer service team really matters. They like to be kept informed, so if their vet is running late, they like to know why. Cleanliness is important – so a stained tunic or poor personal hygiene isn’t going to project a sense of professionalism.

Clients, too, like to be ‘heard’, so a vet asking broad open questions and acknowledging their observations about their pet is likely to win their confidence – a key ingredient when it comes to recommending a treatment approach. Clients like to have options explained but they also like to have an honest answer to the question ‘what would you do?’ Before consultation, owners like to contact their practice and be offered a choice of appointment times and vet. The overall challenge is consistency – consistent delivery, attention to detail and commitment to customer focus.

Two key themes emerged at the conference. One was that vets need to accept the fact that they are not the only source of information in the animal care space – there are multiple sources, including ‘Dr Google’.

While owners still care about what a vet thinks, they are more likely to seek their own solutions and answers before they show up for a consultation. They like to pool all their information sources together to help them make decisions.

The importance of having sophisticated and adaptable personal skills was also highlighted time and time again. Dealing with a broad range of people with different educational levels and across a range of challenging situations against the clock demands high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills. But how can you improve that?

One innovative and rather bold way is via video recording. Glenbrae Veterinary Clinic is a group practice across three sites in Glasgow and two years ago it installed CCTV cameras to monitor consultations. While staff were initially resistant, they have now been converted to the benefits. By providing a record of consultations, the footage gives staff the chance to analyse their consultation skills, reflect on feedback and learn from positive and negative exchanges (see page 703).

While not every practice may want to go to such lengths, what is clear is that staff need feedback to build confidence and the right approach to consult well.

Good customer care makes the difference between an owner staying or leaving a practice. While students quite often regard communication skills training as ‘not essential’ in their packed timetables, the clever ones will show up. These skills are likely to prove vital to the success of their future careers

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