Smiling vet and customer

Can we apply customer service principles to the vet business?

Some of the great ideas for retail businesses may be usable in your veterinary office.

Since most veterinary businesses are a combination of retail store and service center, putting emphasis on customer shopping assistance and customer service outside the exam room is a worthwhile endeavor.

Helping customers find what they need in your retail store is important, suggests Glenn Muske, rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist for North Dakota State University. Some of the great ideas for retail businesses may be usable in your veterinary office.

Muske tells people that helping a customer who walks in the door is tough without the right questions. Is the person just starting and gathering information, or down to picking between a choice of two specific products — or looking for something you don’t have?

“Perhaps the customer already knows what he or she wants and is deciding where to buy it,” he says.

“Getting answers to these and other questions about the customer’s intentions is key to a successful interaction,” he says. “Such information comes through two sources. The first source of information is asking questions and then actively listening to what the customer says. Greet your customers as they enter the store and ask if you can be of help. Listen hard to the answer for clues to guide your next action.”

It could be more important to help veterinary customers make decisions they’re pleased about than retail customers, he suggests. They often come to the office/store looking for advice. That makes it even more important to assist customers in making the best decision, because they are even more likely to give positive comments to friends and neighbors about your business.

The second source of information about customer intentions comes from body language, Muske says. Does the customer comment that he or she needs no help, but then stands there looking around? This may be a sign the person does need a little help, but doesn’t want to have someone following his or her every footstep.

“If the customer indicates a desire to be left alone, honor that wish. However, don’t abandon the person,” Muske says. “Again, watch the body language and check back. If you hear again that he or she just wants to browse, listen but be available. When a customer does determine he or she needs some help, research shows the person doesn’t want to have to run all over the store to find it.”

Muske says the top wish from customers in any business is to interact with knowledgeable staff. That means if a person needs help with something your staff is not familiar with, tell them not to try to bluff their way through. You never know the depth of the customer’s knowledge, so you or another knowledgeable staff member should be available to answer those questions.

Muske adds that retail customers want to be treated fairly, with promptness and respect.

“They also desire your time once they’ve made a decision to buy. Don’t try to handle two or three people at one time,” he adds.

8 service tips

Muske, rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist for North Dakota State University, suggests these eight components of good service:

  • Respond promptly.
  • Resolve issues quickly.
  • Listen.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Give more than expected.
  • Help, even if it does not have an immediate return for you.
  • Make sure you and all your employees offer great assistance.

Learn over time from talking to your customers about what products you should carry.

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