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Being in charge is great… until things start to go wrong.  

And things can go very wrong in a veterinary practice. Whether it’s unruly clients, cases going awry, or ‘challenging’ employees, when things go south, the responsibility falls on managers and owners to get the ship back in shape. 

In this article, we break down the nine most common vet practice management problems, helping you approach them like a management pro.

The Top Veterinary Management Problems & How to Fix Them

1. Unpaid Fees

Unpaid fees can be a huge problem for practice managers. According to the British Veterinary Association (BVA), 98% of vets have felt pressured by clients to waiver fees or accept late payments at one point or the other [1].

But how can managers deal with this problem sensitively and effectively? Offering and talking about estimates (specifically breaking down why certain treatments cost what) with clients can be one easy way to close communication gaps and provide clarity. 

You can also set up payment plans (with credit providers like Care Credit) allowing clients with cash flow issues to pay in installments. 

It also cannot be said enough- encourage your clients to get insurance! Provide resources to ensure that every client leaves the clinic with a full understanding of their options. Many pet owners do not fully grasp the benefits of having pet insurance. With the majority of pet owners not taking this option up, there are many animals missing out.

2. Clients Missing Appointments

Clients who regularly miss appointments cost time, and hence money, which you will never recover.

Getting permission from clients to send appointment reminders via text or email, for example, can be a great way of preventing no-shows or latecomers. If this is a common occurrence in your practice, it also may be worth asking clients who don’t attend appointments as to why, so you can diagnose and address the issue properly. 

It’s easy to overlook common causes of tardiness (like bad directions) which could be resolved by better communication. Clients who are regular abusers of this should be charged in advance with no refund offered for non-attendance.

3. Forgetful Team Members

Not many people are switched on after an eight/ten-hour shift. But if you’re constantly having to stay late because your team is making errors (like messing up the banking, leaving fridges open, or not completing cleaning duties as required), this needs to be addressed. 

Creating an opening and closing checklist can be a useful way to tackle this. Having a tick list where employees can check important tasks can assist with both training and accountability.

4. Bad Reviews & Client Complaints

With one in five vets experiencing abuse online, more and more veterinary managers are having to get tech-savvy with how they respond to complaints. After all, bad reviews can be a big problem for business. Nine out of ten customers check reviews before making a purchasing decision, so keeping them in tip-top shape is essential.

Having preventive strategies, such as a client survey system (which stops bad reviews from being posted online), and social media moderation systems (to censor hateful content) can be very useful. 

Also having a clear procedure on how to deal with bad reviews is great. Not responding immediately (as to allow you and the client to cool off) or trying to resolve the issue offline (and even better, in person) are advisable. 

Finally, implementing a good review harvesting system that guarantees 5-10 good reviews each month will help bury any bad news that occasionally crops up. Keeping your Google rating north of 4.5/5 is a good way to measure the success of your efforts.

5. Task Prioritization

Many practice managers who are also former nurses or vets (or have shared responsibility for leadership and clinical duties) are guilty of allowing clinical work to dominate their agenda to the detriment of high importance leadership activities. Doing so is damaging to practice growth, as it leaves your future plans incomplete. 

Instilling strict boundaries, prioritizing tasks based on importance, not urgency, and staying accountable to quarterly goals will help you keep pushing the practice forward in the right manner.

6. Poor Retention Rates

Veterinary medicine has one of the worst retention rates in the healthcare field, which can cause cultural havoc for managers. 

To improve this, first diagnose whether there is a problem or not by calculating how high your practice retention rate is…

How to Calculate Your Retention Rate

  1. Record how many people have left your practice over the last 12-months. 
  2. Calculate the average number of employees you have had in the last 12-months. 
  3. Divide the total number of people who have left your practice by your average employee number and multiply it by 100 to convert it into a percentage. 
  4. If your turnover is above the industry average (23%) then you have a retention problem.

If you have a high turnover rate, there are several strategies you can use to address this. Exit interviews, for example, can pinpoint exactly why people don’t stay at your practice long. Mentoring schemes, employee incentives, and better utilization of support staff can also take pressure off vets and improve work quality for support staff. 

For more ways on how to improve your retention rate, click here.

7. Team Conflict

A large part of being a manager is looking after the people on your team. But what happens when team relations are not going as smoothly as you like? 

Common causes of conflict, like value clashes, miscommunications, and clinical mistakes are all areas that can be worked upon. Dealing with conflict directly, finding common ground between others, and laying down boundaries can all be ways to de-escalate tension. 

For more tips, click here.

8. Charging Appropriately

How much is too much? Are your rates competitive? Could you be earning more? These are all key questions that should be asked when it comes to treatment costs. 

When calculating veterinary fees, there are numerous things to be considered. How much cash flow do you need to ‘keep the lights on?’ How much do you need to cover wages? Do you have to purchase new equipment, or pay back a loan?  What will your clients be able to afford? What are the price points in your local market?

Examining these areas and keeping a tab on market trends can keep you competitive without it being to the detriment of your team. We are entering a higher inflation market in 2022, so keeping pace with pricing will help you to offer salary increments. but we return to the original question- how much is too much? Your clients will ultimately be the judge.

9. Retaining Clients

Attracting new clients is fantastic, but how good are you at retaining them? Client retention is an important figure to look at, and a clear indicator of the quality of service you are providing. 

According to research by Bain & Company, increasing customer retention by 5% can lead to an increase in profits by 25%- 95% [2]. That’s because it costs so much more to acquire a customer than retain one. 

So what can you do to improve client retentions? Most often, it boils down to the client experience and the efficiency of your recall systems. If your team’s soft skills are lacking, you risk disillusioning clients. Dedicating more time to professional skills training can aid this problem.

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Automating appointment reminders (aka, for vaccination boosters), can get previous clients back through the doors and one step closer to building a good rapport with their vet. The more personalizable the experience, the better. Clients always feel good when they feel valued. 

Summary: 

  • Unpaid fees, client tardiness, and team conflict are all problems that can impact veterinary practice managers. 
  • Thankfully, there are several things managers can do to aid these problems, and improve the quality of service and culture at their workplaces. 

Before You Go...

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References

1-  ‘UK veterinarians regularly threatened by clients over pet care costs.’ 9 Oct. 2017, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/uk-veterinarians-regularly-threatened-pet-owners-care-costs/. Accessed 3 Feb. 2022.

2-  ‘Client Retention for Veterinary Practice – Ultimate Guide – VETport.’ https://www.vetport.com/Client-Retention-Key-to-Profit. Accessed 3 Feb. 2022.

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