3 questions to help you discover (or rediscover) the road to success

3 questions to help you discover (or rediscover) the road to success

No surprise: Your team will help you find your way
Apr 01, 2010

"The day you stop learning is the day you begin decaying, and then you are no longer a human being."
— Isaac Asimov

Sometimes we forget what made us successful. The Toyota crisis of mass auto recalls has been coming for a long time. The symptoms were there for years as Toyota outgrew its base. Could this happen to your practice?

Even the successes of today endure pendulum swings. McDonald's has had its ups and down. So have Intel, Microsoft and GE. But there are success stories, too — business leaders who anticipated the market, prepared for it and were ready when change happened.

Business success is really pretty simple. Give the consumers what they want at a price that is reasonable, and you'll be successful. But do you know what your clients want?

When we're successful, it's easy to relax and slip into complacency. To refresh your knowledge of your clientele and the keys to your success, ask your support staff three questions.

1 Can you name three reasons clients like us?

Here are examples I've seen from veterinary team members:

We're friendly, welcoming and compassionate.

We're helpful.

We're knowledgeable.

We're nice.

They like the chocolate we offer in the waiting area.

We provide tailored care to each pet and family.

We help financially strapped clients with their pets.

Our high standard of medicine.

Great written and oral communication.

Personal attention from entire staff.

Ability to solve cases — not reliance on "rote" treatments.

Prompt, timely care.

Exceptional care.

Knowledgeable doctors.

Clean hospital and grounds; nice bathroom.

We board pets.

Off-hours communication available.

We're conscientious.

Great diagnostic tools.

We like our jobs.

We like the animals.

Happy, fun-loving, sensitive, caring front-office staff.

2 Can you name three things clients would like the practice to do?

Veterinary team members have told me their clients would like to see:

Decreased prices.

Less time in the waiting area.

Doctors on time for appointments.

More time with clients.

Paying better attention to details: dates, information, medications and requests.

Longer hours.

Weekend hours.

Better preparation before appointments.

Overnight care.

A full candy bowl.

Up-to-date and on-time appointment schedule.

More appointment slots for their favorite doctor.

Seeing pets as soon as possible, even if the client is late.

Improved nursing care.

Improved in-patient client updates on medical and financial status.

Reminder calls.

Better listening to client concerns and questions.

Discounts for seniors and active military.

Payment plans.

3 What's your top suggestion to improve patient and client service?

Almost every team member has an idea to improve your practice. Open up to their advice. Examples may include:

Everybody should share responsibility.

On complex cases, start and end with a single doctor.

Stick to the appointment schedule.

Be more organized and use the team more effectively.

Implement and follow current organization systems.

Offer more training.

Be on time for appointments.

Hire more staff.


Treat clients as individuals.

Maintain good communication between the reception team and the patient-care team.

Make sure clients are matched with doctors who get along with them.

Offer animals water as needed in exam rooms and the waiting area.

Put it all together

Any practice manager will look at this list and shriek, "Of course!" But remember that asking team members the questions — even if you've thought of their answers before — sensitizes everyone to the issues and the possible solutions. And jotting down the issues goes a long way to the implementation and correction of problems.

But don't stop there. Here's how to put it all together and put your team's ideas to work in a three-step process.

Step 1: Get the information. Ask the three important questions above. Since we've already completed this step, it's time to organize the discussion points with your staff.

Step 2: Conduct a discussion. Assemble your team and look through the list of answers. It will take time, but it's worth the effort to go through the entire inventory of answers and concerns.

As you look at each one, ask more questions. For instance, for the client kudos "We're friendly, welcoming and compassionate," ask: What is it that you do that makes the practice and its team so friendly, welcoming and compassionate? And what can you do to maintain and nurture this skill? Start a list.

For the client suggestion to improve the practice's attention to details — dates, information, medications, requests — what can you do to improve? Start a list.

For the suggestion to stay on time with appointments, how can you fix the problem? Find the weak points in your daily scheduling and brainstorm solutions.

For the team member suggestion to listen, what can you and your staff do to improve everyone's attention to clients' questions and concerns? And do you also need to improve listening skills within the team?

Step 3: Build a plan of action. Using a flip chart, gather and collate the ideas. Schedule deadlines to implement actions, and then set a specific date to return as a team to revisit the issues.

Because people change, so does your road to success. Keep reinventing and improving yourself and your practice, and turn to your team for their ideas from the trenches. You'll experience more ups than downs.

Dr. Riegger, Dipl. ABVP, is the chief medical officer at Northwest Animal Clinic Hospital and Specialty Practice. Contact him by telephone or fax at (505) 898-0407 or by e-mail at
or http://northwestanimalclinic.com/. Find him on AVMA's NOAH as the practice management moderator. Order his books Management for Results and More Management for Results by calling (505) 898-1491.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Riegger, visit http://dvm360.com/riegger/