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Like with every profession, the question continues to be posed: “just how do clients ultimately choose their veterinary clinic?”. While there are of course a number of routes they can travel along, we as practitioners always have a niggling sense that what was the case in the past actually continues to hold true – that pet owners must choose their veterinarians largely based on word of mouth. Right?
In pursuit of some empirical data to clarify the subject, I broached this subject recently with a veterinary economist who actively surveys hundreds of practices. His estimate for referral sources is that pet owners make it through a practice door the following ways: roughly 50% through word of mouth recommendations, 25% via the Internet, and 25% from other sources.
While these stats certainly look logical enough, we at DVMelite have started to look closer at these numbers given the impact our websites are having on our clients (practice owners) ability to gain new clients and grow their practices. Practices who implement a beautiful veterinary website are attracting new clients at unprecedented rates, and we wanted to figure out why, and how this fits with the numbers above. Especially wondering “why would word of mouth referrals in addition to online referrals suddenly change so dramatically?”
In the course of exploring this further, we are arriving at some interesting insights. Firstly, for our clients who have been live with their new website for only a few months are seeing the number of new inbound clients referred from the Internet alone increase significantly (as much as 50% for many clients). This is of course a direct result of the practice having both a beautiful website and one which has increased online visibility. So that’s the half of the increase of referrals my colleague cites – but why are referrals increasing SO much more?.
Well, we believe a second interesting phenomenon is also happening in tandem. We are now realizing that the remaining half of referrals that come from so called ‘word of mouth’ recommendations may ALSO be internet related. The reality is that word of mouth referrals are never in isolation – these days almost no one does anything anymore until they run it quickly by the ubiquitous Google! People rarely walk out their doors to join a new service or purchase something important until they have ‘googled’ it and have some idea what to expect.
For example, what happens when someone tells a new pet owner that there is a great veterinarian around the corner and that they should really check out them out? In our modern era, their first step would invariably be to go to their computer and search the clinic name, at the very least so they can find their phone number to book an appointment, but also to find their address to see how to get there, check out the photos to see what the vet looks like, etc.
And if your clinic has an especially beautiful website? Even when the prospective client is just casually dropping by your website to see out of interest where you are located, or just leisurely browses to see what your vets look like, if your website is beautiful and compelling they are intuitively impressed by the presentation of the team and the service, and become convinced that this is somewhere they should choose to take their pet.
But guess what happens when your practice has a lackluster website and someone goes there following a word of mouth referral? Meh… basically nothing. A client may still go ahead and visit the practice because of how strong the word of mouth recommendation was, or they will be underwhelmed and unimpressed and decide it’s not worth the effort to change veterinarians (or select your clinic in the first place as the place to go).
The answer to the puzzle of where the other 50% of new client referrals came from is based on the obvious – PRESENTATION. The difference is that previously a veterinary clinic’s presentation involved your practice’s physical structure and staff, but now your prospective client’s first impression is made through the presentation of your veterinary website, whether they deliberately go looking for you online or whether it’s part of their follow up on a word of mouth recommendation!