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Sow's Ear to Silk Purse Episode 4: Welcoming change for both your veterinary team & clients!

Posted in Sows Ear to Silk Purse Challenge @ Oct 18th 2018 - By Dr Diederik Gelderman, Turbo Charge Your Practice
Sows Ear To Silk Purse Episode 4 Accepting Change 4

Welcome to the 4th episode in our series: Turning a veterinary practice from a sow's ear into a silk purse.

With overall growth at Highlands Veterinary Hospital, sitting at 45% (& 76% in September!) I had some questions to ask Dr Diederik Gelderman about how such massive changes had been accepted by existing staff (& clients!) and what he felt were the key components to achieving such success...

Q: How have the existing staff managed all the changes?

The two staff I retained were/are very devoted to the practice. They could see that it needed to be upgraded and updated and were very keen to be involved in this exciting (to them) project.

The 2 others who came on board at the beginning (middle May) and the other 1 new person, who came on board last week, were hired because of their people personalities and their friendliness. They also wanted to be part of something modern and changing and fresh and vibrant.

However, our growth rate has been so extreme (45% all up and 76% in September!), that for one person, this month, some cracks have started to appear. Due to the hectic days and the loss of some of the ‘structure’ that she was used to and needs, she is now struggling. 

However, she (as are all the team) is an integral and important part of the team and we are putting in strategies to help us all manage and cope with the growth that we are experiencing.

Last year, even though there was only one person on at a time, the staff had to find things to do to get them through the day and stop them getting bored. This year we have two people on every day and on some days they struggle to get everything done and completed.

On the 25th of September, we put in a full in-house lab system and the following week we introduced a digital dental system. This means that things are just going to get busier for the team with more to do and also new skills and procedures to learn.

Over two weeks ago we also started to implement our Client Guarantees. First up is our Client Satisfaction Guarantee, then comes our Communication Guarantee and there are more Guarantees to follow soon after. This will further increase our workload and business. 

Basically, our Client Satisfaction Guarantee states that all of our clients will be happy with the care that they and their pet receives. And, if not, they will get their money back. Next will be our Client Communication Guarantee which will guarantee that we will communicate with our clients on a regular basis.

So – in answer to your question. They are handling the changes superbly! But as expected, not perfectly – and we’re working on that.

Highlands Veterinary Hospital

Q: What change management strategies did you use? Where there any hiccoughs or issues when introducing so many changes?

The strategies I used are the ‘classic’ ones; get them to agree that the changes are needed and beneficial to patients and clients. Then involve the team in developing and implementing the strategies. Have them 'In Charge' if you will of all the changes.

Then test, measure, receive feedback and amend! Then rinse and repeat

Realistically the hiccoughs have been minimal, just minimal. Except for one person in team, everyone else has LOVED the changes.

From a client perspective… Yes – we’ve had TWO client complaints about the changes, but this is balanced off by at least 250 positive comments. A fair trade I think!!

Q: How is the online booking option going?

The online bookings are going very well. We had 2 in the first week – even before we had advertised it, Now, however, it’s now on the website on both the home and Contact Us pages and we regularly get three to four per week without a great degree of advertising.

On-line bookings will now also be mentioned in our monthly newsletter (both hard copy and email) and have also been incorporated into our annual health check/vaccination recall sequence.

I expect that very soon we’ll get a steady flow of online bookings and at $100 a month it’s a good investment.

One note: our client demographics are more Baby Boomers and Gen X who are generally more reluctant to use technology and as yet, not too many Gen X or Millennials.

As our online marketing starts to gain traction and garner results and we get more of these ‘younger’ clients so I expect on-line bookings to become even more popular.

Highlands Veterinary Hospital

Q: How did you decide to introduce wellness plans?

Firstly, I think our plans should be called ‘Value Plans’ and not ‘Wellness Plans’ – because they are definitely different to the classic Wellness Plan as used by many practices like; Greencross, VCA, etc.

And one of those BIG differences is that there are almost no discounts on ‘procedures’ and ‘food’, etc. as is the case with many Wellness plans. 

At this time in the World, I see us as moving from the Technology age into the Subscription Age – the age during which we buy very little ‘outright’ but gets lots of things via regular monthly payments; think Spotify, Amazon, Marley Spoon and other food delivery companies, Zero and Quickbooks (accounting software), Office, even think Vision, Bee Free and Rx Works.

I also see our clients as being time poor and becoming more so, but they still want to do whatever they can to have a healthy, long-lived cat or dog. So I want to make their life easier and I also want to help them to afford to do all the preventative and routine healthcare that they want/need for their pet.

So we’ve designed a program which delivers all their monthly pet care preventative needs directly to their mailbox every month and they also have that investment debited from their credit card monthly.

Included in our Program are: an annual health check, vaccination and a few other things.

As the pet gets older, they can upgrade their subscription to included: extras visits, blood tests, tonometry, BP measurement, nail trims, etc.

For clients with puppies and kittens, this model also allows them to pay for their vaccination, microchipping, worming, desexing, etc. over an extended 6-month period thereby defraying their costs into multiple smaller payments.

Effectively, we’ve also locked them into being a ‘forever’ client of the practice!

The program is NOT discounted and the value to them is to be able to fit their pet care costs into a monthly payment program, rather than one huge payment once a year. And the other benefit is that clients know that ALL of their pet’s preventatives are taken care of. They just open the mail and use/apply the products when they are delivered – a big convenience benefit to the busy working family.

Highlands Veterinary Hospital - Life Stages Boards

Q: What do you consider are the top 3 things you did that made the most difference?

1. Updating the building and the people (paint and freshen the building inside and out), repair the garden (it now pops when they drive in), new lighting in every room (downlights, removed the old fluoros). All torn old posters were removed and replaced with original artworks. We also have a new logo, business cards and a website - all with the same brand - and staff also received new uniforms.

2. Pre-book the next visit before they walk out (every time). Many practice owners believe this can't happen because the staff don't like it and it's just too hard to pre-book. However, I've only had the practice for four months and now all clients leave with their next appointment booked. It's not that hard to achieve and if it's not happening in your practice then it's due to your mindset, or the team's mindset - it's not the client'ds challenge.

3. But, most importantly - hire the right people to come on board to be part of the team. I hired people who want to smile, who want to serve and help people and who are committed to the practices core values, THEN I trained them to be receptionists and nurses – not the other way around.

Highlands Veterinary Hospital - new gardens

Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?

 Yes – most definitely.

The main one being that in spite of working at slowly implementing changes and slowly working on growing the practice…..

…. My target growth rate was between 25% and 30% and it’s currently over 45% which is hard to cope with. We’ve grown too quickly and this has caused some stress.

But that’s okay and we’re working on managing that stress and already things are better.

Also because of the extreme growth, we’ve (for example) not worked on ‘selling’ our Value Plans as we should have. Once we have the in-house lab and the digital dental radiography sorted, we can then circle back to properly implementing those plans. 

BTW – these strategies all come from and are documented in my Veterinary Business Academy – please go and help yourself and ‘plagiarize shamelessly’.

If you have ANY questions – I’m happy to make time for a chat. Contact me and we’ll set a time on Skype or Zoom or the phone.

Click here to find out more about the Veterinary Business Academy



You can also click here to read the previous posts in the series: The Sow's Ear to Silk Purse Challenge

About Diederik

Diederik Gelderman BVSc, MVS graduated from the University of Sydney with First Class Honours in 1977.

Besides his veterinary work, Dr Gelderman is also a certified NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer and world-renowned coach to veterinarians wanting to improve their profitability. He has coached and consulted with more than 350 small to medium enterprises in a diverse range of industries, and has also held workshops/seminars around the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, USA, South Africa and around Europe, both for smaller organisations and through his Turbo Charge Your Practice Workshops.


Alex @ Oct 19th 2018 10:05am
What a great series this is. I am working through the options of different wellness plans and we have just had a dental radiology unit installed so super relevant for me currently
Judy @ Oct 19th 2018 2:39pm
Thanks Alex - great to hear that you're enjoying the series. Let me know if you have any questions for Diederik. Judy

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