How do we convey that we are a specialty clinic with excellent client service before the client has arrived and interacted with staff (i.e., how do we market excellent client service)?

The best way to market client service is to be known for it. Anyone can say they take excellent care of clients and pets, but actually establishing that as your reputation is another matter. Of course, this takes time, but once you become known for it, other people will do some of your marketing for you. For instance, when a general practitioner refers a client to you, if the GP knows you are excellent at taking care of clients' needs, he or she may convey this as the main reason for the referral. Likewise, it is validating to have testimonials on your website and perhaps even printed materials that demonstrate clients' positive experiences at your referral practice. Keep in mind that if excellent client service is something you want to be known for, everything related to your brand needs to convey this message, from design to copy, photography, facility décor, and communication style.

The challenge is consistency. To be known for something, it must happen consistently with the entire team. Think of Nordstrom department store, which is known for its service. Service is part of the Nordstrom company's core values, and great time and effort are put into training their teams to deliver on this core promise. You must be ready to employ the same level of commitment and keep training, revisiting the concept, finding new ways to evolve, and getting even better. Reputations take time to build, but only a nanosecond to destroy. Guard yours carefully.

How do I best approach (if at all) that veterinarian who hasn't referred a case?

Relationships are complicated, be they marriage or business relationships. The direct, respectful approach works best in this scenario, as it does in personal relationships. An invitation to visit with you at your practice and meet your colleagues might be a good place to start. Remember that relationships take time to build and happen step by step. Express an interest in working together. Be genuinely interested in learning about the doctor and his or her practice.

If a veterinarian calls you periodically for advice or to discuss a case but does not refer any clients, then a different conversation is needed. You might say something like "Jim, I enjoy talking with you and you obviously feel we have something of value to offer in the way of expertise since you call periodically. But I'm curious to know why you never refer any cases. It sure sounds like some of your patients would benefit by our expertise (or technology, etc.). Could you share your thoughts about this?" Broach the subject. You have nothing to lose and potentially a referral source and health care partner to gain.

How do we compete against general practitioners without formal advanced training who advertise specialized services at lower prices than our referral hospital does?

There will always be clients who base decisions about their pet's care solely on price. If the risk is worth the savings to these individuals, you will be unlikely to persuade them to choose the superior care your practice offers. However, the way to be competitive is to clearly communicate the quality of care that pets receive from board-certified specialists formally trained in a particular procedure and who have successfully performed it hundreds of times. Be sure to focus on the positive attributes of the specialized training that diplomates have completed, the level of expertise they have achieved, and how rare it is to be one of a few hundred veterinarians to have this credential. Avoid mentioning credentials other doctors do not have. This is about what makes you and your practice most qualified to care for pets with specialized needs.

Include information on your website about your specialized training and anything else that sets your care and services apart from those of a practice that offers general wellness care. Help visitors to your site understand the benefits of higher-quality training, experience, expertise, facilities, equipment, technologies, and resources of board-certified specialists. This approach to your website establishes a platform for discussion, educates pet owners, and makes quality of care a tipping point for clients choosing a veterinarian to deal with their pet's special need.

If you are communicating with general practitioners, particularly those who receive formal schooling decades ago, it is important to provide information about your qualifications in a way that helps advance their level of understanding and familiarity with current best practices for specific conditions. Better yet, invite them to your practice to see and learn more about appropriate equipment and procedures. This will increase their base of knowledge and enable good discussion with their clients about the pros and cons of a service and help them make the best referral.

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