Old MacDonald had a Veterinary Clinic

The EIEI-O Approach to Experience Engineering

We all know he didn’t. Old MacDonald had a farm with more than enough going on to keep him busy. But if he had been tasked with veterinary practice management I feel certain he would have deployed the same famed mantra: EIEI-O.

No, seriously. As my brain began to melt under the burden of nursery rhymes on repeat with my one year old son, I think I may have stumbled upon an incredibly useful framework for optimizing touchpoints along your veterinary group's customer corridor. I have yet to unlock the unique insights that 3am wake-ups and dirty diapers might provide. Give me time.

E is for Explore

What does your customer journey look like?

Think of the customer experience your business provides as a corridor that you are asking each customer to walk down. Along the corridor are a number of interactions or touchpoints that together form the customer experience. In the “explore” phase we are seeking to map those touchpoints.

You need to start at the start. The very start. The customer journey begins before your client walks through the doors of your clinic. How did the client find you in the first place?* Through your website? How did they get to your website? Google? Paid or organic?

Already we have multiple touchpoints from discovery (how easy is it to find your business online) to the website (how much thought have you put into your user-interface?) to booking the appointment (making this as effortless as possible, e.g. through webchat, is a very effective way to convert shoppers into buyers). And the corridor has not yet even reached your clinic.

This is all about establishing empathy with your clients and the experience you are providing for them. A great way to achieve this is to put yourself through the customer journey, this can be in the form of mock-consults and roll-play scenarios with your team. Consider deploying mystery shoppers - there are opportunities for charity partnerships here: free consults in exchange for candid feedback sounds like a fair deal to me! And, of course, collect client feedback. Yes, NPS and Customer Effort Score are great metrics at scale and should be deployed, but well led customer interviews also help. Finally, don't forget to step outside your bubble - competitor shops can provide huge learning opportunities.

I is for Initiate

Now you have the touchpoints mapped along the customer corridor it’s time to zoom out and ask yourself a simple question. What’s missing? Are there touchpoints that should exist but don't? Are there areas of your business that could be brought into a more complete customer experience?

The latest in pet tech allows the client experience to extend beyond the veterinary consultation and into the client's home, as well as out into the dog park and beyond. Get creative about how you are going to design your high touch service experience.

On which note, are you engaging fully with existing and potential clients online, for example, through social media? Many pet owners start their search for help for their pet online. If you are not engaged in those conversations you are missing key client acquisition and, more importantly, patient advocacy opportunities.

Are you unlocking the expertise of every member of your carefully selected, professional team? Do you offer nurse consults? Have you trained your front-of-house staff to follow-up with relevant and appropriate product recommendations that supplement the efforts of your veterinarians? These are exactly the sort of touchpoints you should think seriously about initiating.

Do you ask clients for their feedback? Do you make it effortless for them to share positive feedback online? If not, remember, I is for initiate!

E is also for Eliminate

While we’re zoomed out let’s now think about cutting fat. Are there touchpoints that should not be there?

You want to do everything possible to make transacting with your business frictionless. Filling your customer corridor with touchpoints that exist only for their own sake can make for a tedious client experience. There is a fine line between high touch and high effort.

Do you require new customers to provide the same information multiple times to multiple people? What’s your first call resolution rate for things like booking an appointment? In a veterinary specific context, the Wellness Plan/Pet Health Club sign-up process can often be far more involved than is strictly necessary, and it’s amazing what happens to penetration/uptake when this is streamlined.

Are you still sending hard copy vaccination reminders despite deploying highly effective ESPN (email, SMS and push-notifications) marketing? Are any incremental gains worth the time, effort and cost (including opportunity costs)? If not, eliminate!

I is also for Improve

Having introduced missing touchpoints and eliminated redundant steps along the customer corridor, what does this leave you with? How can you optimize the remaining touchpoints?

Are there pages on your website that act as key entry points for the initial client interaction in a way of which you were not previously aware. If so, this is great news. Now you know, you can take steps to optimize this page, ensuring that you include a clear but non-intrusive call-to-action.

On the flipside, what are the pain points on your website? On which pages do people tend to leave? What can be done to improve these pages, assuming they still exist after you have gone through the “elimination” phase.

Back in your clinic, what have your mock-consults, mystery shops, customer interviews/feedback and competitor shops taught you about the way your team communicates with clients? How could these avenues of communication be improved?

I find design thinking to be an incredibly powerful tool in the “optimize” phase. In short, design thinking is a solutions-oriented approach that involves establishing empathy, defining the problem, coming up with ideas, prototyping and then testing.

O is for Outcomes

“O” comes at the end but, while it’s not as catchy, maybe we should really start with it too. It’s important that we continuously re-evaluate what success looks like, and deploy the correct metrics to be able to recognize success when we see it. We’re shooting for a moving target but we need to know when we’re getting hotter and when we’re getting colder on our mission towards that target. How will you measure the impact of your experience engineering efforts?

The best advice I can give here is to construct a balanced scorecard of KPIs that will act as the compass for you business. The balanced scorecard concept is worthy of a whole other post (whole books have been written on it – see further reading) but, in general, for most practices you’ll want some mix of financial, clinical/patient, team and client metrics.

Rinse and Repeat

At risk of sounding like a Wheel of Fortune contestant – I feel I need to buy one more vowel. To cap this whole thing off we need another “I”. The third “I” is for iterate! And that’s because the work of an experience engineer is never done.

To quote Amazon Founder & CEO, Jeff Bezos:

“One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discount. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes todays ‘ordinary’.”

You need to constantly loop through the EIEI-O cycle of continuous improvement. In this way you will improve your practice’s chances of capturing tomorrow’s wow.

*If you are not collecting "How did your hear about us?" data in your client registration form to help map the earliest touchpoint in your customer corridor, then please start now!

Further Reading

  • The Ultimate Question 2.0: How New Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World by F Reichheld with R Markey
  • The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by M Dixon, N Woman & R DeLisi
  • The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action by R Kaplan & D Norton
  • This one's not strictly a business book but it's still the best book on the principles of design thinking that I've come across: Designing Your Life by B Burnett & D Evans

Thom Jenkins is Founder & CEO of PetsApp, a veterinary telemedicine platform.

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