The brave new world of customer acquisition
Attracting new customers may not feel like an immediate priority when running a busy veterinary practice, yet new clients are vital to a practice’s health; they replace natural attrition caused by relocation, lack of motivation or death and breathe new life into a practice.
New patients often also require more veterinary attention than those who attend regularly and are already on an annual checkup schedule. However, new customers with patients who require little immediate treatment also have a role to play, as contributors to a steady and reliable client base.
Having a planned and ongoing new customer acquisition strategy is essential for your business growth and profitability. Key to this is understanding what makes your customers tick and investing in the right channels so you can communicate with them in a way that works for them.
Word of mouth not enough to grow your business
Veterinary clinics traditionally rely on word of mouth for referrals to grow their business. While this remains an effective growth tool, increasing competition and corporatisation now means you need to consider inbound marketing, as well as easy-to-manage business software that allows you to reach out to new clients and stay in touch with your existing client base to prevent churn.
Websites are one of the first ports of call for a patient searching for a new practice, and it’s essential that it reflects a professional image, is easy-to-use and is not only a source of information but also a platform for generating new client enquiries and bookings. Research by Henry Schein Veterinary Solutions shows that nearly a quarter of top performing practices report that their website was their most significant source of new customers.
And, if your website appears on the first page of Google search results, you’re almost guaranteed more customers. In fact, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is so integral to modern website marketing that research suggests it delivers a better return on investment than print and TV advertising. The numbers reinforce these claims. According to MineWhat Analytics, 81% of consumers conduct research online before deciding on a purchase or service. And over 75% of users never go past the first results page of search results, making a strong ranking for your web pages crucial.
For maximum SEO impact, ensure your website is mobile responsive, create a business account for Google maps and include the location of your practice in your web page code. It’s also worth producing regular, optimised content for your website. Every blog post you create is a new avenue for potential customers to find your practice, so it will be well worth the investment of time and energy.
Online appointment booking now expected
Another important way to acquire new clients is to remove any obstacles to the relationship. A key way to do this is to allow them to book appointments at a time and place that’s convenient for them. The current pace of technology means that customers expect to have access to information and services at a time that fits around their busy lives – often outside standard veterinary clinic operating hours.
This includes being able to make a booking at any time and receive an immediate confirmation – a practice now widely adopted throughout service industries, with customers now expecting it. Like dentists and doctors, veterinary professionals should be aware that if they don’t provide such a facility, their potential and current clients may look elsewhere for a practice that does.
There are many factors that go into the decision to use a new veterinary practice, and one of these is cost. It’s not uncommon for customers to respond to promotions, so offering a discounted rate on a first visit is a great way to encourage new clients. If you then give client retention the attention it deserves, subsequent visits should make up for any shortfall created by the initial discounted rate.
Once you have decided on your incentive, it’s important to market it to the right people. Use a boosted Facebook post to specifically target local pet owners that haven’t engaged with your practice yet. Alternatively, you could partner with a ‘deal’ website like Groupon so your discount can be advertised to their large database of customers. Online advertising provides easy, targeted access to a wide range of potential clients, so make use of as many platforms as possible.
Trust is crucial in every industry, but it is especially important in the field of care. Owners rightly want to be confident that their pet is in good hands, particularly when considering a new practice. This is where word of mouth counts in attracting new clients.
Incentivise referrals to build loyalty
While word of mouth is a successful and organic way to grow your business, there are ways you can incentivise it, such as by rewarding referrals with a thank you letter, voucher or gift. This not only helps track referrals and builds loyalty with existing customers; it’s also an effective way to convince new clients to try your practice ahead of others.
As a veterinary professional, you don’t just want to show that you can do the job – you also want to demonstrate that you care about and are genuinely invested in the animals you treat. Partnering with, or publicly supporting, your local animal shelter or community group signals to new clients that your clinic has these values and gives you an avenue to engage with other animal lovers that may be interested in using your clinic.
Animal shelters and community groups are great connection points the community and can provide powerful referrals, so it’s worth investigating if such a relationship could work with an organisation near you.
And, while online marketing has opened up new opportunities for gaining new clients, this doesn’t mean your practice should abandon offline engagement. Many of your clients will be local, making it relatively easy to make connections through print advertising and events. In addition, a proportion of your clientele may be elderly, some of who may not use email or social media. It’s important that this market isn’t neglected.
With this in mind, head along to a community event, meet locals and put your name out there. Sponsoring a local community event is another effective way to increase your exposure. Put a face to your name, position yourself as a key figure in your local community and make memorable (and hopefully profitable) new connections.