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Steal these 3 secrets from the tech industry, and take your veterinary practice to the next level

Devin Elston's Profile Photo

It’s tough out there in this digital world.

Every other day there seems to be a new tool, app, or service promising to connect you with your clients in brand new ways. And just as often, there’s another expert popping up to preach (in a scary ghost story voice) “if you’re not using this new app, your practice is going to faaaiiiiil”.

I get it. It’s overwhelming.

After years working at some of the biggest tech companies on the planet, I’ve learned tons of secrets, strategies, and tactics that I believe can help veterinarians take their practices to the next level.

Here are three of my favorites.

Secret 1: The experience someone has with any part of your brand influences how they feel about all of it.

I grew up in the veterinary industry (both literally and figuratively) as my parents founded one of the first cat-only practices back in the early 80’s. In between memories like scooping litter boxes (on Christmas morning) and picking up my prom date (in a car with cats painted down the side), I learned valuable lessons from my parents. About hard work, dedication, and the joy animals can bring to someone’s life.

But when it came time to choose a career path, I went a very different direction than them. Or so I thought.

After earning degrees in Psychology and Advertising, I spent nearly a decade working at some of the top technology brands on the planet.

At Apple, I learned about the magical connections you can create by delivering phenomenal in-person experiences. While running the entire customer support department at Hulu, I learned about the customer loyalty you can foster when you hire the right team – and give them the freedom to talk to customers like human beings. While designing (and patenting) the kinds of user experiences that millions of people loved at both Hulu and CBSi, I learned about the importance of focusing on the digital user experience. And at all of them, I learned how effective branding can tie everything together.

I was incredibly lucky.

At these billion dollar companies, we had the kinds of budgets that let us hire some of the most talented people in the world. The kinds of people who understood it wasn’t just one thing that would make or break an experience – but an interplay between all the elements.

That’s the thing about Secret 1 –your brand is not just your logo, but a collection of all the experiences a client has with you.

Clients may interact with your practice in any number of ways. They may see a cute video you shared on Facebook. They may search for advice on Dr. Google. They may stumble across a deal you posted on Yelp or Groupon. Or they may like a “first appointment selfie” one of their friends shared. The list goes on and on. And then on some more.

And that’s why everything you do has to feel like part of a whole. And consistency matters.

Because even if they found your practice on Facebook, customers will research you in all sorts of ways before they decide to trust you with their pet’s care. And while they’re browsing through your website, seeing how you respond to reviews on Yelp, or flipping through your posts on Facebook – if they run into enough things that feel “off”, they’ll just start looking for another vet.

Because – let’s face it – their phones give them access to dozens of other clinics within a few minutes’ drive.

So it matters that the experience a client has with your Facebook page feels similar to your website – which feels similar to the forms they fill out on their first visit – which feels similar to how you talk to them in the exam room – which feels similar to the email they get reminding them to come back after 6 months.

They don’t have to be exactly the same, but the details matter. And the decisions you actively make (or don’t) about your brand image? They matter too.

Secret 2: Fall in love with the problem. Don’t lust after solutions.

(This is my absolute favorite saying. I hope you’ll find ways to apply it to your work and life.)

With so many online tools and social media platforms out there, each offering flashier solutions than the last, it can paralyze you trying to figure out where to start.

The same is true for tech companies. Get enough smart people in a room, and you’ll have no shortage of ideas for things you could do at any given point. But starting with solutions is not how the best tech companies build their brands and companies.

Instead, they spend time falling in love with their customers’ problems before they worry too much about building solutions. This is basically taking the time to understand why, before worrying about how.

They do this by getting out and talking to their customers. They start with some questions. Then they ask some more. They probe. They take a step back. They take the time to evaluate their competitors, as well as the current state of their brand and market.

Of course this can’t go on forever, and they’ll time-box themselves. But the best tech companies know that once you have a deeper understanding of both your customers’ problems and the problems in your business, you get a clearer idea of what actually needs to be done to address them.

Not seeing enough new clients? It might be your advertising isn’t set up right (or – gasp – not at all). Clients are writing negative reviews that say your practice only cares about money? Might be a doctor isn’t taking the time to explain their estimates. Clients aren’t engaging with your Facebook posts? Might be that rather than worrying about posting 3 times a day, you need figure out what clients actually care about.

Once you have a better understanding of the problems – everything else becomes more clear.

Secret 3: Experiment. Constantly.

So, you’ve taken a look at the different parts of your brand experience, you’ve fallen in love with your problems, and you’ve come up with a couple ways to address them. Fantastic!

Maybe you’ve decided to start sending an appointment followup survey so you can handle any negative feedback before it ends up in a public review. Maybe you’ve decided your website needs an update because people aren’t calling after they check it out. Or maybe you’ve decided to start running some ads on Facebook or Google in order to get your name out there.

But how will you know what works?

Well, just like you’d run lab tests to better diagnose a patient, you can run tests on just about everything digital too.

Take Netflix. They’re famous within the tech community for running hundreds of experiments in order to fine-tune their user experience. And while a lot of people assume these experiments are with major overhauls, most of them are actually on smaller pieces of the user interface.

As an example, you know how when you open the Netflix app, you’re presented with row after row of shows and movies? Well, in one experiment, all Netflix did was test different versions of the artwork they display in the tiny thumbnails in those rows. And just by making subtle changes, they were able to increase viewing time by 20 – 30% for some content.

Think about that.

They didn’t introduce some crazy overhaul. All they did was test variations to small images, and people watched significantly more of those shows and movies.

So how can you apply this to what you’re doing in your practice?

Start by getting familiar with the terminology. There are all sorts of different testing methodologies out there, but you should really focus your early efforts on what’s called an A/B Test (also commonly called a Split Test). The concept of these tests is pretty simple – you come up with a hypothesis, you split your audience into different groups, you show each group a different test variant, and you measure your results.

For example, let’s say you were working on a new ad campaign and wanted to figure out which of two tag lines resonated with more people. You could set up a test where half the people see one, and the other half sees the other. Then, you measure to see which gets the most clicks.

What’s great is that most of the major platforms you already use for your online efforts have ways of running A/B tests built in. Facebook and Google both give you ways of testing different versions of ads. Many of the email platforms (like MailChimp) give you ways to test subject lines and email content. There are even tools you can integrate with your website that will let you A/B test buttons, images, or even show people two totally different versions of the same page.

When first getting started though, it’s best to focus on small changes. Believe me, it can be reeeeeeeeally tempting to test lots of things at once – but doing so makes it more likely you’ll muddy your results and learn less than you’d like.

Instead, do yourself a favor and start small. Pick one hypothesis and test it. It’s fine if the results don’t work out the way you thought – as long as you learn from it. Then, try again.

The results may surprise you.

Next steps

Are you curious whether your website, brand experience, or online reputation is holding your practice back?

You’re not alone. If you’d like help getting to the next level, get in touch.