How does your veterinary hospital stand out from the other three down the road? Clients choose among veterinary hospitals based on a variety of factors and perceive quality of care in different ways than you might expect. The reality is that, no matter how outstanding your veterinary medical skills are, clients do not fully perceive quality of services until you convey how much you care about the client and the pet.

Here are ten ways to enhance client satisfaction. If you implement these strategies, it is reasonable to expect to strengthen the hospital-client bond and increase hospital loyalty and business.

Strategy #1: Make an excellent first impression.

How do clients first interact with your hospital? Typically, on the telephone. So, be sure to train the receptionist to extend a warm welcome to new clients and find out the specific reason why a client is calling. In the following example, the receptionist politely answers the call, referring to the client and pet by name, and makes it easy for the client to provide the information the receptionist needs.

Receptionist: “Hello, this is ABC Veterinary Clinic. My name is Susanne. How may I serve you today?”

Client: “Hi, this is Peter Oswald. I’m calling to schedule an appointment for my dog, Harris.”

Receptionist: “Thanks for calling, Peter. May I ask if you or Harris has been to our clinic before?”

Client: “We haven’t.”

Receptionist: “In that case, welcome to ABC Veterinary Clinic! We’d be happy to see you and Harris for an appointment. May I ask some questions about Harris to determine how we may best meet your needs?”

Strategy #2: Offer a welcome kit to new clients.

Nothing says “thank you” to a new client more than a goodie bag with free pet-themed items. A welcome kit serves to exceed client expectations (a value-added benefit), enhance the hospital-client bond, and offer incentives. Example kit contents include:

  • A “welcome to our clinic” greeting card
  • Healthcare brochures tailored to the age and species of pet
  • Pet items with the clinic’s logo (perhaps a dog toothbrush, bandana, leash and/or pet dish placemat)
  • Helpful articles, such as “Choosing a Pet Food Diet” or “Common Household Toxins”
  • Incentives, such as a free nail trim at the next visit

Strategy #3: At the end of the initial client visit, offer an incentive to return for a second visit.

Instead of (or in addition to) a welcome kit, you can offer a free service to first-time clients. This serves as a small gift as well as an incentive for the client to return on a second visit. Examples include a free nail trim, free ear cleaning, or an item many pet owners are sure to enjoy: a pet “Driver’s License” (e.g., mypetdmv.com), which is a pet ID tag that comes with free registration on a lost dog registry.

Strategy #4: Extend the support clients need during euthanasia.

A 2004 JAVMA study asked clients to rank the most important factors in their experience of pet euthanasia. “Compassionate and caring attitude of hospital staff” ranked #1 among the clients’ list of factors. Interestingly, clients ranked logistical concerns (e.g., short waiting times and availability of grief resources) the lowest. Thus, staff euthanasia training should emphasize providing emotional support to clients. It may be helpful to supplement staff training by allowing new staff to be present during euthanasia conversations and the euthanasia itself. An empathetic and compassionate disposition is a vital component of the euthanasia experience for clients.

Strategy #5: Acknowledge the owner and pet by name.

What is a word that is music to your ears? Your own name! Greet a client as soon as he or she walks in the door with his or her own name and the pet’s name. How can your hospital accomplish this with every client? At a pet’s initial visit, take a picture of the pet and keep it in your records. When a client walks in for a scheduled appointment, the receptionist and greeter should acknowledge the client and pet by name based on skimming through that day’s medical record pictures.

Strategy #6: Send a quarterly newsletter.

A hospital newsletter – even if it’s just quarterly – personalizes the hospital and allows clients to feel as family in-the-know. Grab your audience’s attention by addressing popular owner questions such as how to choose a pet diet, grain-free pet food, dental care, or behavior (“Why does my dog/cat do that?”). In addition, be sure to introduce new staff, promote health awareness and hospital services, and demonstrate hospital strengths such as AAHA accreditation or recent awards. This is also your chance to offer incentives to current clients (e.g., a discount on your hospital’s grooming service).

Strategy #7: Outfit the reception area to suit clients’ needs.

While the waiting room may be a holding area in our eyes, clients need it to be much more. How does your reception area address their needs? Clients are burdened with hands full of pets on leashes, paperwork, coats and purses, and possibly accompanying children. To best serve your clients while they wait, provide a clean and quiet area with entertainment, a separate area for cats or exotics, a dedicated children’s table with coloring, and coat racks near benches.

Strategy #8: Send a pet birthday card.

Surprise your clients with a signed pet birthday card mailed the month of their pet’s birthday. This enhances the hospital-client bond and reminds clients of your services at a random time during the year (i.e., not in association with a vaccine reminder). Pet birthday cards do not have to be specifically ordered from a veterinary greeting card company; an ordinary birthday card with animals on the front will do!

Strategy #9: Provide a personal tour.

At a client’s first visit or at pet drop-off, offer that client a quick tour of the treatment and surgery areas or boarding facility. The dedicated attention his or her pet receives should relieve client fears of leaving the pet in an unknown setting. Furthermore, this level of transparency should strengthen the hospital-client bond. As an added benefit, a tour is a chance to ask the client for feedback and improve your practice based upon suggestions given.

Strategy #10: Text a picture of the pet to the client.

What a relief it must be for a client to view his or her pet in recovery! Send your client a photo via text of the pet after surgery to share how everything went well and to confirm the pickup time.