In search of the new normal

In search of the new normal

Exceptional client service paramount in downsized economy; take extra steps to ensure satisfaction
Jan 01, 2010

Since the stock market fell off a cliff in October 2008, it has made a steady climb back. Is it time to buy? Or is the stock market again scaling another wall of worry?

In the years prior to the market meltdown, a real-estate bubble had been slowly building. When it finally blew, it had swollen beyond recovery, fueled by easy credit and creative financing available to any creature with a pulse. In the United States, the cumulative result has been a large drop in personal wealth. Americans collectively lost some 12 trillion dollars in assets. This loss over a short period approximates the annual GDP (gross domestic product) for this country ($14 trillion; see Suggested Reading 1). The numbers are incomprehensible.

What are the concerns?

  • Accelerating personal and public debt
  • The shrinking value of the U.S. dollar
  • Constipated consumer spending (which accounts for 70 percent of our national economy)
  • Tightening credit for small business and startups
  • Overall drop in real-estate values for businesses and consumers
  • The average American household losing 22.8 percent of personal wealth over the past 18 months (as of November 2009; see Suggested Reading 2)
  • Ongoing mortgage defaults
  • In the last year, 17 trillion dollars or its equivalent being spent to prop up the global economy (Bloomberg News, Nov. 2009)
  • Loss of 3.6 million U.S. jobs over the past 12 months.

Questions everywhere you look

What does this mean for veterinary practitioners? Will the value of our homes and business real estate return to pre-2008 levels? Is it time to sell or buy? Will we ever get back to normal? Can we ever agree on a new normal? What's the answer? Well, no one knows. Welcome to uncharted waters. After all, negotiating through the current economy is akin to driving through fog (without a GPS, compass, sextant, crystal ball ... just instinct).

If there are no answers to the aforementioned questions, then should we freeze up and do nothing? No, we cannot freeze up. And something certainly can be done.

Paralysis with analysis

We must shore up our ability to provide exceptional service. Veterinary medicine is a service business, and exceptional service will win out over income reports and financial trend analysis any day. That is not to say that a little financial analysis won't be of help. After all, business analysis serves a crucial role, but its exclusive use in the current economic climate is like looking in a rear-view mirror while driving into a long, dark tunnel. Trend analysis and computer modeling didn't help the banks, Wall Street or Washington. In fact, they didn't see it coming.

Facing reality

We are facing the twin realities of high unemployment and consumer nervousness. It is time for everyone to take a deep breath and look for ways to improve relationships with existing clients in order to provide some of that old "mom-and-pop" service from the olden days.

These include:

  • Being more available to clients
  • Not putting customers on hold for longer than two minutes
  • Making sure that clients do not have to wait for long periods of time to see the doctor
  • Making that extra phone call
  • Fixing communication issues with clients early on
  • Learning to admit mistakes to clients when you err. (Most lawsuits are communication breakdowns.)
  • Providing more flexible hours
  • Hiring people-oriented staff with talent
  • Remembering the names of clients and their pets
  • Getting more involved in the community
  • Not letting technology come between you and your client. (E-mails will never replace a personal conversation.)