Innovate or die. Creating the perfect customer experience

At Onswitch we work every day with practices large and small; mixed, equine and small animal; at home and abroad. We see first hand the business challenges thrown up by the changing marketplace (more practices, animal care services increasingly available online and outside the veterinary sector, fewer opportunities for practice ownership and increased team turnover). Consumer expectations and behaviours are changing too, and with more choice the customer experience becomes increasingly important to commercial success – a proven fact that it appears many veterinary businesses either do not believe or are not willing to be influenced by.

Times they are a changin’, and so must we.

But real and positive change involves more than just doing things differently, it requires us to do things better. For me, the innovation required in the veterinary customer experience is simple but fundamental – we need to make a seismic shift in our attitude to service delivery. We must accept as normal the many aspects of modern life that consumers take for granted when buying goods and services elsewhere:

  • Very few people carry cash now – contactless payments, in-app purchases, card swipes to secure bookings are all commonplace everywhere else except the veterinary practice
  • Tracking parcels, rescheduling deliveries and use of secure lockers at train stations and in shopping malls allow seamless integration into the busy working week. Yet owners leaving their pets for surgery are told to ring in at 4pm for a progress report – imagine if they could log onto their practice account and see regular updates? This will become increasingly important to all those Millennials and GenZers who don’t like talking on the phone – why can’t we just send updates via text?
  • And why are we still dropping pets off at 8am when the surgery won’t begin until mid-afternoon?

In fact, the true innovation we need to make in veterinary customer care is actually not really innovative at all, it’s obvious – make it easy for clients to use your services, or watch them go elsewhere. But there’s more – because in a sector with so much available choice, access to great clinical care doesn’t just need to be easy, it needs to be enjoyable too. Sure, we can introduce technology to enable client contact quickly and easily, but in a service sector driven massively by emotion (it’s not just a dog, it’s a much-loved member of the family) we must always maintain human warmth. Online appointment booking and texting booster reminders deliver convenience; eye contact and remembering the dog’s name when he comes in show that you care and help bond the client to your practice.

Technology enables contact, but people enhance it.

Invest in processes and people that will deliver a truly outstanding customer experience – do what’s best for the client rather than what’s easiest for the practice, and success will follow.

For too long, the veterinary sector has seen change as a threat – innovators see change as an opportunity. Yet change is the new normal in every other sector, let’s make it so in ours.

Alison Lambert BVSc CMRS MRCVS, Managing Director of Onswitch, Associate Professor in Business, Nottingham Vet School. 

Alison is from Yorkshire and her family come from East Yorkshire where they have worked the land, raised pigs and wasted lots of money on horses.

Following qualification as a vet from Liverpool University in 1989, Alison worked in practice for several years before pursuing a business career with Hills Pet Nutrition and MARS, where she discovered the passion for the customer experience that her award-winning company, Onswitch, is renowned for today. Established in 2001, Onswitch promotes customer-centred practice so pets, horses and livestock receive best care; providing research, marketing, CPD and business consultancy with an effective, innovative, straight-talking and client-led approach.

Alison is Associate Professor in Business at The University of Nottingham Vet School, teaching Business skills. She is published widely and regularly speaks at key international veterinary congresses and events.

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