Connecting With Your Most Experienced Client
By Roxanne Hawn |
Creative engagement, access, and communication strategies.
Veterinary clients with more experience don’t need common educational conversations in the exam room or in marketing content. They already know and likely follow most of your recommendations. They probably ask more targeted and complicated questions. Many also know enough to try a few things at home before asking for help, which can be a plus or a minus depending on the situation.
They tend to know, however, much of what’s scary or not too scary based on experience over many years and generations of pets. They’ve likely already been through many tough cases, including:
- Common puppy or kitten troubles
- Random injuries
- Kidney disease
- Orthopedic issues
- Dental troubles
- Autoimmune scenarios
Using the same communication and marketing strategies as you do for less experienced clients likely leaves top clients feeling overlooked and less engaged. Here are some ideas on how you can build even stronger partnerships with top-notch clients.
Hint: If your additional perks and content are good enough, consider setting up a subscription service for your best, most experienced, compliant, and committed clients. Identifying top clients isn’t only about how much they spend. Consider several factors to define your most engaged clients.
Unless your patient portal or practice app already provides easy access to clinical details, always share full diagnostics reports from things like:
- Lab work
- Radiologist reviews
- Specialist consultations
Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, author and educator based in San Diego, California, would argue that all clients should have access to these details, not just your top clients. She says, “It blows my mind that in this day and age we’re still insisting on being the gatekeeper of every single piece of data. It doesn’t work anymore, not when there are so many access points to care. Even on the human side, my doctor may have to review any abnormal results with me before I can view them — which makes sense — but once she does, I have access to it any time in the patient portal.”
She knows those who object will express concerns about people turning to Google. Her response? “That's the point. We know on the human side that giving people access to their data improves outcomes, even if we don't think they understand it. Empowered clients are always a beautiful thing.”
Access to vitals and visit summaries after each appointment matter to experienced clients. While they might not understand everything you provide for their at-home charts, you can certainly coach them on where and how to look up words they don’t know and how such reports are structured.
Assign a Designated Partner
Since we’re talking about a small percentage of total clients, not the whole roster, consider which practice team members have the strongest relationships with key clients and look for ways for those staffers to provide additional points of contact, access, and information.
Ideally, you’d have a customer service leader who could handle all the top clients this way, but if not, assign a few team members to help a few top-tier clients each.
You might even consider setting up a specific email account or texting number that only select clients use to connect with their designated hospital partner, which ideally takes some of the pressure off practitioners and builds bonds people have with veterinary technicians and other team members.
Announce all promotions for products or services to your top
clients first and make sure they know that you’re giving them first chance at
discounts or appointments. You don’t need to offer them better deals, but
they’ll appreciate being the first to know.
For example, if you’ve recently added laser therapy and want to promote packages of laser appointments, give top folks a head start at getting the best appointment slots.
Call it something like priority access to increase the perceived value.
Higher Education Newsletter
Consider creating an email newsletter just for top clients. Monthly would be great, but even quarterly could make an impression:
- Recap the most important few veterinary journal articles you’ve read recently and why you think they are noteworthy. Link to at least the abstract, if you can.
- Ask for their input on things where a consumer’s viewpoint will help you make practice decisions.
- Walk through cases that show high-level partnership between the hospital team and top clients.
- Provide how-to instructions or videos for more advanced at-home care such as giving sub-q fluids or looking for signs of orthopedic pain in pets.
If it’s faster and easier for a member of your team to talk through things that would make good newsletter content, then consider recording off-the-cuff chats or webinars, if you prefer something more official — even 10-15 minutes adds big value.
To help people jump to parts most relevant to them, include notes with time markers for if / when you change topics in a longer webinar. For example, something like. In this webinar, we’ll cover:
- Minutes 1-5: Insights from a recent veterinary journal article about advancements in the treatment of parvovirus in puppies
- Minutes 6-12: Pros and cons of nail-trimming methods
- Minutes 13-20: Discussion of what to do if you find a litter of kittens
The other option is to keep the video presentations as single-topic shorts.
Think about which clients have the experience, time and personality to mentor less experienced pet owners who have the potential to become top-notch clients. If certain people simply need an ear at times of pet-related stress, that long-time client who has been through cancer with several pets or who has spent years managing an allergic pet might be just the outlet for those conversations and commiseration.
You’d likely use this option sparingly and only with your most trusted clients, but if someone is experiencing a tough case for the first time, being able to talk to a peer might help and it will likely make that experienced client feel especially valued and important.
Setting aside for a moment that top clients already contribute to a practice’s bottom line, you could certainly consider offering the types of value-added access and educational content we’re discussing on a subscription basis. $10 per month, maybe?
Think of it as your own streaming or broadcast network, specifically designed for highly engaged clients.
Other content could include:
- Product reviews (toys, foods, treats, training equipment, adventure equipment, pet tech, etc.)
- Book-club-like virtual events, where people could read a book or veterinary journal article you recommend and then ask questions — either live or submitted in advance
- Coaching input on how people can be the best possible partners to the veterinary team
- When and how to ask questions
- Where to find recommended reading for before / after appointments
- How to express themselves at times of possible disagreement or dissatisfaction
- Boundaries for the team’s availability and responsiveness
Consider which of these options to increase engagement with top clients feel doable, then set up a limited-time pilot program with as few as five to ten of your best clients. Let them know you’re testing the concept — over 1 month or maybe 3 months — to figure out:
- How much team time it takes
- How much it costs (technology, time, etc.)
- How it affects key practice metrics
- What clients think about it
- How viable it is on a larger scale
- If it improves patient outcomes or progress
Exclusive Facebook Group for Clients
Michael Shirley cofounded Family Pet Health in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with his wife two years ago. In late December 2019, he created a private Facebook group for current clients. The decision came, in part, from finding no rhyme or reason to how many people who like / follow the practice’s Facebook business page see posts. The theory is that groups experience better reach and engagement with a targeted audience.
“My message to potential clients is different than my message to clients,” he says. “I wanted to be able to reach them specifically and talk to them specifically — without all the noise and other distractions on Facebook.”
About 1,400 people like / follow the practice’s Facebook page, including many from other parts of the country who will likely never use the hospital. Nearly 200 current clients, though, have joined the private Facebook group so far. That’s about 7% of their active client roster. To join, people must answer qualifying questions before Shirley approves them for membership. In addition to signs in each exam room, Shirley includes an invitation to join the group on all emails and receipts. He is pleased with the group’s growth and success and estimates he spends an hour a week on the group.
- Shirley posts the following types of content for the group:
- Announcements such as how they’ve adjusted services during the pandemic
- Advance notice of promotions
- Community safety information, such as if there is a rash of rabies in local skunks
- Educational topics such as recognizing fear, anxiety, and stress in pets and what pheromones do — he says so that they can impress their friends with what they know about pets
- Requests for help such as reviews
“I don't ask the group [for help] very often,” Shirley says. “I give way more than I ask so that when I do ask, they're more likely to respond.”
While he may also post the same content to the Facebook page later, Shirley posts it first to the group.
Through Facebook Insights, Shirley can identify the most active and engaged group members. He sends these superfans hand-written thank you notes to let them know he genuinely appreciates their participation.
Sometimes, clients help each other, which takes pressure off him and makes the group more robust.
“Last night, somebody posted a picture of a house plant and asked, ‘Does anyone know what this plant is ? And is it toxic to pets?’ And one of the other clients goes, ‘Oh, I know what that is. It's such and such, and yes, it’s toxic to cats.’ They included a link to follow up, and I said, ‘Hey, I'll have Dr. Shirley look into this, as well.’ And so, what's great about it is that it is truly a community where they talk to each other. They have connected like, ‘Hey, my dog or my puppy needs a playdate. Would anyone be up for that?’ And, others are like, ‘Yeah, come over to my house.’ It’s fantastic when they can start talking to each other and take us out of the picture. Because the more involved they are within the group, the more likely they are to see the group posts when I post something in there.”
Shirley set up an automated reply if clients post messages to say, ‘If this is an emergency, please call the office.’”
If he had it to do over again, Shirley admits he might have spent more time in the early days of the practice’s start up on the group rather than the business page. He uses the exclusivity of the group as a selling point and key differentiator for potential clients.
Shirley explains that other practices can make their groups work any way they’d like if they are clear with clients about its purpose. The Pet Parents of Family Pet Health group description says, “We created this group as an exclusive club for clients of Family Pet Health. We will use this group as a way to provide you important information facing pets in our community, and we will use this space to update you on changes at Family Pet Health and offer specials exclusively for members of this group.”
The only caveat? Shirley says, “If you're already struggling to find time to post on your business page, then don't feel like you have to add this to your [marketing and client engagement] program.”