It pays to keep in touch

Sparkline Scorecard founder and CEO Greg Robinson argues that marketing to your existing client base, while frequently overlooked, is the key to maintaining revenue growth if customer numbers are in decline.

In a career spanning over 30 years, Greg has a vast knowledge of veterinary software and an intuitive grasp of what it takes to improve business effectiveness within vet practices. His development of Sparkline – a series of key metrics or KPIs against which a business can measure performance – now has over 500 customers in eight countries worldwide. The industry is fast warming to the concept that the metrics which drive large organisations and encourage growth are now within its grasp and equally relevant to the veterinary world.

Last time, Greg explained how to grow revenue without raising prices. In this issue of Insight, he turns his attention to existing customers and the role effective marketing can play in increasing transaction value.

Let’s begin with a quick reminder. Sparkline is a very clever software tool. It’s ability to interpret data and develop key metrics from which a business can improve service provision and increase practice revenue has won it many friends within the industry in a very short time. Among other things, it helps to identify missed charges and the number of clients without a reminder on file. Greg recognises that running a veterinary practice, like any business, can be fraught with problems: How does it operate to its full potential when resources are stretched, time is precious and its command of IT and digital technology is limited? In this environment, Sparkline identifies and prioritises areas of service that could – and should – be improved. Also, it ensures that practices are better placed to charge for all the services they provide to a customer – it’s detailed analysis of the individual process elements from patient treatments sees to that. Crucially, Sparkline software also helps practices come to terms with declining client numbers, as Greg explains.

‘If client numbers are falling – and let’s face it, this can happen – then you need to retain the loyalty of your existing clients and persuade them to visit your practice and spend more with you. Contacting a client once a year is not the way to tell them that you value their business and this is a problem I encounter in many smaller veterinary practices. Marketing is neglected simply because Directors or Practice Managers say they don’t have the time to do it. There’s more to it than that, of course. Many people do not associate marketing and client communications with revenue growth and as a result, it gets little priority within the practice. This doesn’t make sense – if you don’t give clients a compelling reason to come back to you, they’ll go elsewhere.

‘Look, I know markets are tough out there, but in the face of increased competition and the economic realities facing many families, it is essential that existing client business is protected at all costs. We know that pet welfare is important to customers and with RoboVet a Practice Manager can pinpoint the treatments that are most relevant to each patient and tailor the marketing message accordingly.’

‘If client numbers are falling then you need to retain the loyalty of your existing customers and persuade them to visit your practice and spend more with you.’

Interestingly, this sentiment is echoed by management guru Peter Drucker who famously commented that ‘ the aim of marketing is to understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him/her and sells itself’. Most vet practices have a wealth of valuable data at their disposal which often plays no part in business development and client retention – it’s an untapped resource. Many practices struggle to use their data effectively. However, with RoboVet, the software simplifies the process and provides the practice with accurate customer profiles and patient treatment records. Sparkline then measures the effectiveness of the marketing activity. Greg explains how these metrics, coupled with a smarter approach to marketing, can increase revenue growth from clients.

‘RoboVet provides a list of those clients who have not been seen in, say, six months. So, there’s your starter – you get in touch with the customer and invite them to make a health check-up appointment for their pet. Okay, what if the customer doesn’t reply, what do you do? RoboVet has multiple trigger points that remind you to make contact with that client again. The process is robust and thorough. Marketing is not just about having a nice website; in our industry, it’s got much more to do with day-to-day communications, be it by letter, email or SMS.

‘Every time a new patient is seen, client details should be logged for reminders and future communications. You’d be surprised at the number of practices who fail to do this and as a result, miss out on the chance to charge for other services.’

In fact, when Greg first engages a practice with Sparkline usually around 30% of clients do not have any reminders going forward. For new patients added last year, this can be as high as 50%.

Back in 1996, Bill Gates said that ‘content is king’ and he was right. The ability to communicate a message that is relevant
and meaningful is vital if customers are to be retained and revenues increased as Greg explains. ‘If you try to sell something that customers don’t need, there’s every likelihood they’ll switch off. However, there’s a flip side to this. A practice team needs to be capable of marketing their expertise and services to customers. The chances are that these customers may not know what treatments their pet needs, so it’s up to vets to make this clear – during a consultation and in their marketing literature. If you explain the benefits and value of the treatment, the costs involved become less important.

‘Here’s a couple of examples for you. In the UK, Government legislation comes into force from April 2016 which means that all pet dogs must be fitted with a microchip. With data from RoboVet, Sparkline can produce a detailed analysis of all practice revenue relating to this service and, of course, the PMS identifies those clients whose animals need to have a microchip fitted. A vet practice is immediately in charge of the situation and can then contact the customers with the precise objective of selling this service. The message is clear – if you don’t get this done, you could face a £500.00 fine.

‘Good marketing is about understanding your customers. Some could afford to spend more with you, while for others, their personal circumstances would make this difficult. Converting clients to a Healthcare Plan for their pet is on the face of it a very good idea. It’s a higher value service, encouraging customers to make more repeat appointments, which in turn helps to boost your revenue. However, you could take this a stage further by customising the Healthcare Plan to suit a particular group of customers, for example, senior citizens. If you know what they might be willing to spend with you, then tailor the plan to suit their requirements and budgets.

‘If client numbers are falling, then there’s just one solution: Find new ones or sell other services more often to your existing customers. This could be as simple as selling a full dental check-up rather than a scale and polish. And while I’m on the subject, take National Pet Dental Health Month. A great idea for sure, but why restrict this promotion to a four week period?! What about the other 11 months – isn’t every month dental month?

‘This is all about maximising the valuable customer data that exists in most vet practices but is not utilised. Actually, there are some basic things a practice could do to introduce immediate improvements. The customer database, for example. When was it last checked and updated? So, a data cleansing exercise before your next mailing would ensure it’s accurate.

‘I know that many vets find selling difficult. It doesn’t come naturally to some people and within a veterinary practice, there’s a lot to remember during a client consultation. We have found that a simple checklist of treatments and services that could be offered to a client acts as a very useful guide and is a sure fire way of increasing revenue. In fact, a Patient Visit Checklist is key to getting the data correctly from the outset, allowing the practice to compile a pet’s full medical history from the day they come through the door. In addition, using a checklist at every visit ensures a consistent delivery process from all your staff.’

‘Many customers do not know what treatment their pet needs. It’s up to vets to make this clear.’ It is clear from Greg that a decline in client numbers while unsettling for the practice, does not necessarily equate to a reduction in revenue. We’ll let Greg have the final word on the matter. ‘If you inform and educate your customers on the benefits of your services, then they will trust you and buy them from you more often. For me, that’s what marketing is all about.’

 

Talk to an expert to learn more about Sparkline Scorecard.


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