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A veterinary hospital on the mid-north coast of NSW is bursting at the seams with clients. So, what’s its secret? By Kerryn Ramsey
The success of any veterinary practice is not just reliant on how many clients walk through the door, but how many keep coming back. Different people are won over by different things—reputation, ease of access, cost, friendliness—but a positive customer experience is the best way to keep clients returning.
In the town of Forster, on the mid-north coast of NSW, is a veterinary hospital that’s busy, successful and has a client base of rusted-on locals. Windan’Sea Veterinary Hospital is run and owned by Dr Amanda Wood. Originally from California, she moved to Australia to join her Australian husband.
Dr Wood drew on her experience of working in more than 40 practices when she built Windan’Sea Veterinary Hospital from scratch. She opened the practice in 2014 and immediately started expanding her client base.
“I had worked as a mobile vet and a lot of those clients joined the practice,” she says. “We also did a good old-fashioned letterbox drop that was very effective. Many of my clients today still have that magnet on their fridge.”
The business has grown exponentially since opening, and to say the practice is busy is a major understatement.
When clients enter the reception area, they are met with a new, stylish interior. Staff members are welcoming, always showing empathy and understanding.
“Clients want to feel like their pet is the most important animal you see that day,” says Dr Claire Stevens, founding director of Global Vet Solutions, a company that offers help and guidance to grow veterinary businesses.
Windan’Sea Veterinary Hospital offers a full suite of veterinary services—everything from endoscopies to micro-surgery. Clients also appreciate the various options available to them and their pets. There are separate cat and dog wards, and separate species consulting rooms. Hitching posts are available for dogs that get anxious in cages. The entire hospital is under camera surveillance and all staff utilise low-stress handling.
The client’s experience
Dr Wood is known as a passionate vet who’s committed to investigating cases thoroughly until real answers are found. When asked why they have won over so many clients, she has a simple answer: “Our clients are our family and I treat them as such. Part of that is being as transparent as possible, especially about costs.”
Prior to any action being taken, each client is given an estimate that lists where costs could increase if complications were to occur. Dr Wood listens to each client’s concerns and discusses all the pros and cons of each case. She clearly explains the risks and if there’s a different practice or practitioner better suited to the case, she will offer that information freely.
“I will do everything to ensure my clients get the best possible outcome,” she says. Dr Wood has a reputation as a fierce advocate for animals and a believer in evidence-based medicine.
“Listening is essential,” says Dr Stevens. “Just pause for a few moments, make eye contact and listen to your client’s concerns. Nothing beats connection.”
The hospital offers advanced surgical procedures using the latest technology, along with alternative medicine such as acupuncture and herbal therapies. By offering both, there was a chance some clients might be put off, but this has not eventuated.
“I wear a different hat depending on the client,” says Dr Wood. “I’ll inform them that they’re going to get a better outcome from Western medicine or vice versa. I never do anything I don’t believe is the right solution. If somebody wants euthanasia for an old dog with no medical issues, they’ve come to the wrong practice.”
Treating the client
Dr Wood credits her staff as being instrumental to the positive experience clients receive. Staff training, education and improving skill levels are key priorities. She employs people for ability and attitude, and the positive feedback has been overwhelming.
“I tell my staff to offer no judgement on clients,” says Dr Wood. “Everyone is doing their best and the way that people take care of animals is often cultural. I believe you can get much more accomplished if you genuinely don’t judge.”
The practice also flags the records of any client who has lost a pet. This allows staff and vets to give those clients a little more care and understanding. A quick text if things are running late or a call once a pet is out of surgery is well appreciated. A little extra love can go a long way.
“Know that when the client leaves the practice, they won’t remember everything you said, but they will remember how you made them feel,” says Dr Stevens.
By the same token, Dr Wood is not a believer in ‘the customer is always right’. “If a client is rude, aggressive or abusive to me or my staff, they are no longer my client,” she says. “There are no second chances.”
Strive for excellence
Windan’Sea Veterinary Hospital has built a reputation on dogged persistence to achieve solutions and positive outcomes. Dr Wood and her staff strive for excellence with every case.
The outcome of all this hard work at Windan’Sea Veterinary Hospital is a large client base that continues to grow. “At present, I’m knocking back 30 per cent of the work,” says Dr Wood. “I’m actively seeking to employ another vet who’s willing to adopt our practice ethos. We leave nothing to chance.”