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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Why Vets Lose Clients, and What We Can Do To Change It

This week, I sent someone a flower arrangement. I looked up a suitable one online, pressed “order,” and somewhere a little form popped up in a local affiliate shop with the address for delivery and, one would assume, the instructions for the requested arrangement.

 

Yesterday I received a thank-you text from the recipient, along with a photo of some flowers which, while all right I suppose, were nothing like what I had ordered. Basically it was some flowers stuffed in a vase which, while technically fulfilling the basics of the order and not terrible in and of itself, was completely underwhelming and was a major disappointment.

 

Had I known the florist reserved the right to provide a cut rate, sloppy version of what I had requested, I could have made the choice to research other florists and found one with better reviews and happy customers (lesson learned). If the poor service came along with a discounted price tag, that would be one thing, but I was charged top notch prices. Now I’m stuck dealing with customer service and they are probably going to lose money on the transaction, and neither of us is happy. 

 

I think there’s a lot veterinarians can take from that. How many times do we lose clients because we’ve failed to live up to their expectations? We fulfill the basics of the appointment: the doctor comes in, performs an exam, and provides a medical service. So what’s the problem?

 

The client experience encompasses so much more than getting from point a to point b, which, while that is the general purpose of the interaction, is only a part of it. Maybe the receptionist was cold, or called the dog a “he” instead of a “she.” Perhaps there was a long wait in the lobby, or the cost was more than the client expected. All of these things can sink a visit.

 

Most of the time these problems can be anticipated and avoided with the simple act of better communication: Instructing the front desk staff on expectations for a friendly reception, letting clients know when emergencies are going to cause a delay and offering them a drop off or the opportunity to reschedule, providing a written estimate before providing any services. Managing a client’s expectations goes a long way toward avoiding disappointment down the road.

 

Smart veterinarians are starting to recognize that the quality of the client experience encompasses so much more than just the quality of the medicine provided. From the ability to schedule appointments online to fear-free providers who go out of their way to make pets comfortable in a scary environment, there are so many clinics out there going out of their way to provide a client-centered service, why waste time with those places that don’t care?

 

What are some of your most impressive (or disappointing) veterinary service experiences? Would managing expectations have helped at all?

 

 

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Comments  5

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  • Expectations
    01/21/2016 06:09pm

    While I've never been disappointed with my current vet, I can sure identify with your flower-ordering disappointment.

    I wired flowers to a funeral several states away. I can only assume that the florist assumed I'd never know the difference. However, I went to the funeral and the flowers weren't at all what I ordered.

    Another example is when I received a notification that a delivery attempt was made. Imagine my frustration when I had to drive a long, long way to pick them up myself. It was mostly plants so I asked the gal if any were poisonous to cats. She told me I had to look it up myself. (I don't know plants so looking them up was beyond my comprehension.) I took a picture of the arrangement and sent it with a "Thank You" text. I could hear my friend's head explode from many states away. She said she had an extended conversation with the florist about greenery and ordered white roses only. No greenery. That's not at all what I got. I think the florist didn't think my friend would ever find out.

    I've learned to look up a local florist on the web and call them directly. For some reason, that seems to encourage pride in a local establishment and you get what you ordered.

  • 01/29/2016 08:35am

    I have switched vets because of rude front staff experience...this was a single vet practice, with an office manager who had been with the vet for many years, so he was probably used to her brusque behavior- I didn't have to put up with it and left- and before leaving I told him my reasons, but it seems that he needed her more than he needed clients. Too bad, because I did like him as did my 4 dogs..
    My present practice has multiple vets working and a lovely front staff...

  • Vet disappointment
    01/29/2016 10:07am

    I've been going to the same vet for 12 years because I liked him and he is the only cat only practice in my area. This is crucial because my cats and I are not comfortable around dogs. Too often these dogs are not restrained in any way and there seems to be no enforcement of safety rules. My vet is anti vax which I appreciate due to health risks associated with over vaccination. But, even though I visit multiple times a year he doesn't know my name or my cats' names and doesn't bother to take good notes on lifestyle information. All he has to do is glance over the file to be reminded of these things but he doesn't take the time. I appreciate that he does not push for tests or automatically prescribe meds for every health concern, but he treats me as though I am a hypochondriac about my cats. He also neglected to send a condolence card for my cat that was euthanized. Now all of these things are minor compared to the greatest betrayal of misdiagnosis. He took one Xray of my soulcat who had labored breathing and said she had a diaphragmatic hernia and likely had only months to live. I was told there was nothing I could do and took her home to watch her die. I still had to take her in for regular depo shots for allergies and after months passed, my questions were met with speculation of luck. She was guessed to be 11 and had suffered no trauma, so congenital was oddly suspected. Finally after 10 months I asked the covering vet for another Xray. She said it wasn't a hernia at all, instead it was a mass. I was referred to the specialty clinic and after two months of more misdiagnoses I lost the love of my life to probable Thymic Carcinoma. Oddly enough I received I condolence card for her even though she did not die under their care. But at no time has he addressed his grievous error or amended the chart notes. I don't have the nerve to confront him but feel that he failed us monumentally. But because there are no other cat only clinics, I still bring my cats there.

  • Staff Turnover
    01/29/2016 01:45pm

    What is a reasonable amount of staff turnover? My dog sees the owner of a small practice and has received excellent care over the past 12 years. However, I've lost count of the other vets and vet techs that have come and gone over the years. Some were not surprising departures, but others seemed to be excellent. Are the underpaid or overworked, or not treated well, or fired for minor issues? Is the owner just not treating his staff well? I know some of the former staff are working in other local vet practices, so it's not that they moved away or left the profession.

  • Lies destroy trust
    02/15/2016 06:47pm

    I am sure she thought it was a harmless lie, after all it didn't affect my cats' care (kind of), they are healthy and young. But it was also a stupid, easily verifiable and completely unnecessary lie that insulted my intelligence. I've been going to the practice for years, although I've been with this vet for around 3 years since my previous vet (who was wonderful) left the practice and moved to warmer climates. Overall, I've been in this practice - a state of the art 24-hour hospital with specialists, etc. - for over 15 years (though the owner who founded it has long left).

    The lie was about the new 3-year Purevax Rabies which Merial announced in summer of 2014. I know it's expensive, and that many clinics don't offer it for that reason. I can easily afford 3-times the price of current one-year Purevax, but I do understand that the clinic might think that people may not be willing to pay 3-times the current price of 42 (an expensive clinic in an expensive area) for a vaccine. I understand that some vets cite the newness of the vaccine and say they want to wait a few years before they offer it. The latter was the reason the director of the clinic cited a year ago when I asked her about it in an email though she mentioned that the first reviews were positive.

    Almost a year passed since then, and so during the last routine visit I asked my vet if they still don't have it.

    It would've been perfectly fine if she said the clinic still doesn't have plans to offer it and cited cost or desire to wait. But she didn't. Instead she told me how this particular vaccine makes cats very sick (I know vets on the web who offer it, none of them mentioned it, including the clinic that was involved in clinical trials), and how she met a Merial rep at a conference and he told her that this vaccine isn't meant for routine use, maybe only for barn cats (right - as if people who own barn cats don't have a much cheaper adjuvanted vaccine and are going to pay the cost of this one). I knew it wasn't true, and the comment about barn cats really insulted my intelligence, but was too shocked to respond. I came for a checkup and vaccine, and I didn't want to cause a scene. She did mention she could get the vaccine for me if I wanted it in spite of it, but it really didn't matter anyway: this was the last day of the 1-year interval, so I couldn't have gotten legally a 3-year one if I waited. At any rate, the offer didn't negate the fact that she lied. I cannot even explain it away as an honest mistake - how can you really make an honest mistake here?

    So now I am at crossroads. I am thinking of switching, but I haven't decided yet. I like the practice, I used to like this vet, maybe not as much as a previous vet, but I thought she was good. But I am not sure how I can trust her. I switched vets once before, over 16 years ago, because of the first vet's inability to diagnose my previous cat's nasal polyp, but this was a long time ago and I had only had that first vet for a few month. Now it's different. I've been with this clinic for many years, it's a 24-hour clinic with specialists which is also within 5 minutes drive from my home. Even if I switch to another clinic, I'd have to come to this clinic in case of an after hours emergency since another 24-hour hospital is 40 minutes away, and most local vets refer their patients to this clinic. I could switch to another vet in this same practice, but this may prove awkward. I'll probably switch, but I still have time to decide my cats are young and aren't due for another checkup for almost a year.

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