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Thanksgiving at Patsy’s – The Best Customer Service Story Ever!

January 11, 2015

Have you ever heard a story that just knocked you over?  I did this weekend at a dinner with new friends at Vincenzo’s, a fabulous Italian restaurant in Louisville, KY.  The dinner was hosted by Louisville business man, who also happens to be a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. In fact, Frank Sinatra inspired the menu, the music, the whole evening. And, of course, we heard memorable and entertaining stories about the crooner all night long. This is the one that knocked me over –

Frank Sinatra loved Italian food.  His most favorite Italian restaurant in New York City was Patsy, a family owned establishment that has been thriving since the 1940’s when Frank first started to frequent it.

It turns out that even the great ones have occasional lapses in their careers. This was the case with Frank way back when. It was a time when he hadn’t yet reached the music and movie stardom that he is known for today.  In addition, his marriage had just failed. One day in early November, he found himself eating dinner alone at Patsy’s in New York. As usual, the restaurant’s owner and chef, Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo came out to say hello. They got to talking and Frank mentioned that he was all alone for Thanksgiving and he had decided to spend it at his most favorite restaurant, Patsy’s. He said looked forward to seeing the chef again then.

There was only one problem. Patsy’s was not open on Thanksgiving. Chef Patsy immediately called his people together and explained the situation. Their solution was brilliant! They decided that they would be open on Thanksgiving and they would make a wonderful dinner for Frank. And to keep him from realizing his mistake, all of the employees’ families would also have their Thanksgiving dinner at Patsy’s so the restaurant would look full. Frank didn’t find out about it until years later. And he never forgot it.

The story touched me on so many levels – customer service, creative problem-solving and above all else, employee engagement! How many of us would have come up with a solution like that and work with people who would do what Patsy’s people did to avoid disappointing a customer?

Key Words:  Customer Service, Employee Engagement, Creative Solutions, Veterinary Practice Teams, Teams, Teamwork


A 5 Step Plan to Build Business Back During Slow Times in Veterinary Practice

December 9, 2014

This is an idea to use anytime it is slow in practice to reconnect with lapsed clients and help more pets


Can you identify with this situation? — It seems obvious when business is slow and team members have time on their hands that they could make phone calls to lapsed clients and invite them to make an appointment for their pets.  This helps the patients, the clients and the practice but most staff members don’t see it that way. And they don’t like making reminder calls! Veterinary team members like making clients happy. Many think that clients will see their calls as pushy or as a “telemarketing call” — not something that will make a client happy.
Practice owners and managers can always force team members to make the calls, but I guarantee they will not get good results!  For a better outcome, why not try a different approach?. Here’s a 5-Step Plan to help you and your team members feel more confident and successful making calls to lapsed clients:

5 Step Plan

1. Make the calls important. Start with your doctors. Have them affirm why they recommend the vaccinations they do and what the vaccines do for the pets.  For instance, for dogs, the doctors may say that the vaccines protect them against serious and life-threatening diseases as well as allow them to enjoy doggy parks, walks, pet play groups and more with less risk of kennel cough.

  1. Build your team’s confidence so that they know what they are talking about. Ask the doctors to share their beliefs about vaccinations with the whole team in a staff meeting.  Follow-up with a short C.E. about what each vaccine does. (This will relate vaccinating pets to your mission as well as help team members feel more confident in client conversations.)
  2. Engage your team. Meet with your CSRs/Receptionists and “re-frame” the calls:  Why not assume, for instance, that clients want to protect their pets but get busy and their good intentions unintentionally fade away? The calls are a way of holding out your hand to clients and offering to help them take care of their pets – something you both want to do.
  3. Make a plan for success. Start by making a few reminder calls yourself. This will give you credibility and your own experience to draw on. Then, meet with your CSRs/Receptionists. Ask them what happens when they make the calls?  Make a list. Brainstorm ways to overcome the negatives and work with the positives.
  4. The rest is project management:  Set goals/use spreadsheets to track the calls and results/provide feedback to your team on how they’re doing/reward and celebrate success -better care for pets because of their calls.

    It all comes down to changing their minds about the calls. Once they see that the calls are really about patient care and helping clients, it will be more comfortable for them to make the them. Some team members will get it. Others won’t.  Consider creating a small taskforce of callers from the ones that get it to increase the probability of call success and give you good call models to share with others. Finally, make sure that team members have the time to make the calls and a place to do it.

    It’s a great way to fill the appointment book during slow times, reconnect with clients and help pets who need it.

    Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM
    Practice Management Consultant

Key Words:   Veterinary practice,  Practice Management, Attracting clients, Building business in veterinary practice, Slow-day marketing opportunities, Pet health care, Marketing ideas for veterinary practices

Ask me first & Tell me why — My guess on why many leaders fail to use this simple approach to gain buy-in isn’t used

September 15, 2014
I read an article in the September 2014 Veterinary Team Brief that really struck a cord!  It was on the benefits of asking, rather than telling to lead.  Anyone who has been told to do something without understanding why or who was not asked for input first, can see the wisdom of the asking approach.  My guess is that what stops leaders from asking is not that they don’t want to; I think they don’t know how. They are used to giving orders – how else do you get things done?  I know. I used to be one of those people.
Here’s an exercise a wonderful executive coach had me try to help me make the change:
Modeling what she wanted me to do, she asked me what would happen if, when I needed someone to do something, I started the conversation with a question instead of a statement? She asked me if I would try it for a week and try to start my questions with “What” and “How.”  It turned out to be a game-changing event in my life!
In that week, I learned how people opened up and engaged when they were asked,  rather than when they were told. I learned they had great ideas and I learned a lot about myself and how to communicate  more effectively as a leader.
I think a lot of people want to change, but don’t know how. I hope this idea will help. I’d love to hear ideas from others on this new, “Ask – Don”t tell” style of leadership.

Karyn Gavzer’s 5 Top Tips for Talking with Clients about Lab Results & Diagnoses

May 19, 2014

Sharing bad news or even simple laboratory test results can be challenging because pet owners do not have the same medical training and background that veterinarians do.  Here are my 5 Top Tips to help you share results more effectively with clients:


1. Use a visual when explaining lab work and highlight irregular findings, e.g., “These are the kidney values (circle or check the ones you are talking about) and they are higher/lower than we like to see.”  Tell them the normal range – which clients always want to know — and tell them what their pet’s abnormal values mean and what the next steps are.


2. When giving clients a diagnosis, always be empathetic e.g., “This might come as a shock/be a little scary to hear …” then assess the client’s emotional state once they’ve heard the diagnosis. There may be emotional issues (such as guilt that they should have somehow known) that will need to be addressed before the client can hear the treatment recommendation and agree to the plan.


3. Once the diagnosis is given, ALWAYS ask the client what they know about it before you start explaining what the need to know. This is important because if the client already knows what you want to tell them, you’ve got something to work with; if they have misinformation, you will find out and can address it.


4. If money is the only barrier to care, offer a plan to help, such as 3rd party financing; but before you assume it is a money issue, check to see if something else is concerning them e.g., they believe that their pet will suffer or die.


5. Make sure the plan is customized and will work for the client. For instance, how can a busy mom with kids at home keep her dog quiet to recuperate? How can the owner in a multi-pet household ensure that just that one pet eats the prescription diet and nothing else?


I hope these tips will help you see your world from the client’s perspective and have better conversations when you are sharing laboratory results or a diagnosis with them!

April 23, 2014

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein

This month, I am  working on me. I want to become a better person and grow personally and professionally. My inspiration is the above quote by Albert Einstein.

Albert would know! It is hard to believe now, but people thought that he was stupid as a child because he was different than the “normal” child.

Here’s how I plan to use Albert’s quote to improve my insight into human behavior. To me, there are two applications of it:

 1.  Children, employees and others who are told by the world that their gifts are worthless will start to believe that about themselves. Both the child and the world will be short-changed as a result.


I plan to give compliments and positive reinforcement twice as often as negative comments this month.

 2.  Classifying things as “stupid” makes it so easy to be judgmental and to write-off people who have different ideas or that see things differently than I do.


I see judgments being made every day in veterinary practices. Hospital members judging clients because they “should know better” – the client didn’t bring in the pet soon enough; or failed to say yes to needed and necessary care. It’s so easy to write off clients like this by judging them as being “stupid” or “cheap” or “uncaring,” when in fact, the failing may be ours.

Did the client read something online that made them under-estimate the severity of their pet’s condition? Did they see a symptom, but fail to understand the significance of it because they are only pet owners and not veterinary-trained? Did they fear they would hear that there was nothing that could be done and delay, hoping against hope that it wasn’t so, until they could no longer deny the inevitable?

This month, I’m going to challenge myself to better understand client behavior – especially when they say “no,” so that I can help veterinary teams find better ways to connect and help these clients make better choices for their pets.

Let me know what you think. And if you should see me this month, let me know how I’m doing! – Karyn Gavzer

5 Tips on Talking to Veterinary Clients About Money

March 23, 2014

Karyn Gavzer, Veterinary Practice Management Consultant

If there’s anything in veterinary practice that most team members wished they didn’t have to do, it is talking to clients about money!  And yet, in this day and age, there’s no getting around it.  Good veterinary care is a good value, but it costs money to provide and we have to have those conversations with clients.  Here are some ideas and tips to make talking about money a little easier:

1.  Do not assume that the client will say no because of money.  If cost is the only thing stopping a client from saying yes to needed care for their pet, then work on helping them solve that problem.  Ask the doctor if the pet’s care can be staged overtime; for instance, could they do the laboratory work today, and the dental or other procedure a month from now to bifurcate the costs into two easy pieces?  If not, do you offer third party financing that the client can apply for to cover the needed care?  If you do, ask the client if they would like to do that.  Let them apply for it in your office so that you get an answer today.  Finally, if there are no other options, ask the client who could help – friends?  Their parents? Would their employer give them an advance?  Could they call their charge card company to ask if them to approve the charges?  Many clients aren’t aware these options exist and it’s always worth mentioning them when money is the barrier to the pet getting the care it needs.

2.  Studies show that clients who have pet insurance tend to spend more on their pets, probably because insurance will cover a good part of it when health problems arise.  An easy way to let pet owners know about pet insurance is to ask them when they are checking  in, if they have pet insurance, so you can put it in their pet’s record.  It is amazing how many clients do not know that there is pet insurance. Asking them when they check in gives you a way to let them know about it.  Before you do this, be sure you have a handout on pet insurance to give them because once they know about it; they are likely to want more information.  Finally, if they have pet insurance, enter it in the pet’s record so that you can print an extra copy of the bill for them to send to their insurance company.

3.  Pay-by-the-month pet health plans are used by some practices. The plans break the cost of care down into 12 easy monthly installments, making preventive care more affordable for pet owners.  If your practice offers plans like this, the easiest way to talk to clients about it is when they arrive for their pets’ appointments.  The conversation would go something like this, “Mrs. Smith we’re are doing something new here at the practice that I think would be perfect for Snuggles and a good deal for you.”  Then tell them about the plan that fits Snuggles the best and ask if they’d like to sign up today so that they can use it for today’s exam.  One other thing that is important to do is to differentiate preventive healthcare plans from pet insurance.  A good way to explain it is to say, “It’s like pet insurance only it’s to help you keep your pet healthy. One of the best things about it is that you know you will use it because it is designed to cover the preventive health care services your pet will need anyway.”

4.  It is amazing how often clients complain about their bills and just asking for payment after a pet’s appointment can be challenging.  It always a good idea to verbally review the bill before asking for payment.  Hotels do this routinely and we should, too. Reviewing the bill before you ask for payment reminds them of all that was done. It might sound like this: “It looks like Smitty had an exam, his X, Y, Z vaccinations, and a fecal test today.  And we’ve got his heartworm and flea prescriptions ready to go home for him, too.”  If there is a manufacturer’s discount for buying a year’s worth of product in advance, make sure that you tell the client they’re getting a discount:  “I’m giving you a 12-pack so you’ll have everything you need to take care of Smitty and it’ll save you money too because you get 2 dosages free when you buy the 12-pack.”  Clients appreciate getting a good deal and they appreciate that you are looking out for their interests.

Finally, is there anything more that you can do add value for the client?  Could you set them up for reminders to help them remember to give their pet its monthly preventive medication?  (Or let them know they can request reminders on your pet portal, if you have one.)  Clients aren’t going to get this kind of help from the big box stores or online pharmacies and it’s a nice way of setting yourself apart with service.

5.  Conversations about money don’t just happen in the office.  Pet owners call everyday wanting to know how much it cost for “shots” and other common services.  It’s important to handle those calls well because it may make the difference between that client choosing your practice or going someplace else.  Have you ever considered that clients might be calling about the price because they want to make sure they have enough money before they get there? I think it happens a lot.  Think about it.  When clients come to a practice it is as if they’re going to a restaurant that expects them to order from a menu without any prices.  They only find out at the end what they’ve spent when they get the bill.  It’s like that in our practices.  Clients say yes to a recommend vaccine, or procedures or lab work and too often, they only find out at the front desk, when the exam is over, what they’ve spent.

I believe that clients who are “price shopping” really are looking for a guarantee of a price they can afford.  Why not give it to them?  Let’s say a client called for “shots” for her dog.  You should, of course, ask for the dog’s name and use it and ask if there are any special health issues. This will give them a little taste of the kind of care and attention they can expect if they choose your practice.  Then, tell them that there are 1-year and 3-year rabies shots and it will be up to them and the doctor to decide what is best for Harley.  Tell them the office charge is $54 and anything else is up to them and the doctor to decide. This gives callers a guarantee that they will spend $54 if they come there, but nothing else unless they decide they want it. It puts them in control and it really is the only guarantee you can give them because only the doctor can tell them what their pet needs. The important thing from the client’s perspective is that they can now decide if they have $54 to spend on their pet (most do!) and they have the peace of mind that they won’t lose control or be surprised at the end, because whatever else they do will be up to them.

© 2014 Karyn Gavzer

Put the Veterinarian Back at the Start and Heart of the Exam to Make the Value Proposition with Clients

January 12, 2014


Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM

Veterinary Management Consultant

It appears that the 2008 recession has cast a long shadow over the economy that we are still feeling today.  Even though things seem to be slowly getting better, it is still a bumpy ride for veterinary practices.  Most appear to be experiencing growth in unpredictable fits and starts; one day they are busy, the next they are not and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  There are some blessed areas of the country where the local economy has stabilized.  There, practices are growing and doing so well that it almost feels like pre-recession times.  Most practices, however, aren’t so lucky and they will have to try harder to make the value proposition if they want to “go and grow” in the year ahead.

2014 has the potential to be a good year.  There are encouraging signs in the economy that suggest things are stabilizing across the country.  There’s also a growing optimism that the worst is over and that it is okay to spend money again.  Add to that a pent up demand, loosened credit access, and “frugality fatigue” and you’ve got a good recipe to fuel consumer expenditures in the year ahead – at least for the things they want to spend money on.

Here’s some good news:  Consumers want to spend money on their pets and they’ve proved it.  Did you know, according the American Pet Products Association, pet expenditures in every pet category have grown non-stop for the last six years?  And the pet expenditures have grown at almost twice the rate of the general economy during that period!  What this tells us is that consumers will spend money on their pets, even in a sluggish economy.  Others have noticed this phenomenon and have jumped into the pet market, triggering a firestorm of new competition for pet owners’ dollars.  Veterinary practices have seen online pharmacies attract business that used to be theirs and now, big box stores are offering private-label preventive products and retail store pharmacies are going after the pet prescription business.  Curiously, as the low cost providers entered the pet market, so did upscale service providers such as deluxe pet boarding, pet sitting and doggy day care and grooming.  Upscale services have also grown disproportionally better than the overall economy.

What does all this mean for veterinarians?  It means it would be easy to become discouraged by the new competition. It would be smarter to become a better competitor. I believe successful enterprises in the pet industry have learned to make the value proposition in a ways that make pets owners want to spend money with them.  I think it is time to fight back by making our own value proposition for veterinary care.  Let me tell you how —

Research from the 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study suggests the thing that  pet owners value the most about veterinary medicine is their relationship with their veterinarian.

Unfortunately, in the name of productivity and efficiency, we’ve unintentionally put barriers between clients and their veterinarians.  Today, it is not uncommon for clients to hear recommendations and be told what their pets need before they’ve even seen the doctor. It starts on the phone, when the receptionists says, “It looks like Daisy is due for her exam and vaccinations.  Of course, she will also need to have her heartworm test and because she’s over seven, she will need to have a senior screen, as well.”

Clients are put off by this approach.  They received a reminder card or email that said their pet was due for its vaccinations.  When the receptionists start telling them all the things that their pets need, they’re not ready to hear it and it sounds bureaucratic and impersonal.  At this point, clients may even become defensive and say, “No. I just want her shots today,” because they do not yet understand the value of the things the receptionists has told them their pets need.

When the client gets to the office, the assistant or technician usually puts them in a room, weighs their pets and take the histories.  Then, he or she starts the spiel again and says, “It looks like Daisy is due for her exam and  these vaccinations.  Of course, the doctor will want a heartworm test and, at Daisy’s age, a senior screen as well.  I’ll just take her to the back for the blood draw so that we can get those tests started for you before the doctor comes in.”  Then the pet is taken away to the treatment area for the blood draw, something the client doesn’t yet understand the value of, since the doctor hasn’t even seen their pet yet.  This cascades into further misunderstandings at the front desk, when the client is finding out for the first time what the heartworm and senior screen cost.  Now the problem is compounded: You’ve broken trust with the client by surprising them with unanticipated expense and your receptionist has to divert her time and attention to calming the client instead taking care of others.

Client visits from the phone call through discharge need to be handled differently to make the value proposition and give pet owners something they see the value of:  the doctor’s time and advice.  To make the value proposition, change the order of clients’ experience when they are in the practice. Keep in mind that clients aren’t ready to value what their pet needs until they hear it from the veterinarian in the exam room after he or she has examined their pet. That’s when and where the value proposition is made.

Our challenge in practice today is to revisit and re-order the client’s experience when they are in our offices for their pets’ exams.  Think of it as putting the doctor back at the start and at the heart of the exam:  Clients need to hear what their pet needs from the doctor before they hear it from anyone else on the practice team.  This means using our support team members effectively, but differently, to ensure that clients hear the right message from the right person at the right time to make the value proposition and give them what they can’t get from anyone but the veterinarian.