This information was provided by Pfizer Animal Health.

When it comes to the services and solutions you provide, how would your producer clients rate your performance? Performance evaluations are a great tool that can help point out areas of development, as well as provide feedback on job effectiveness. This sort of 360° evaluation is an invaluable assessment for veterinarians, leading to improved efficiencies and higher customer satisfaction.

Pfizer Animal Health conducted a survey of 2,912 dairy producers and 302 U.S. dairy veterinarians (representing 115 practices). The survey identified clinic strengths and opportunities that can develop performance areas to drive customer satisfaction. Through its “Planning Producer Partnerships” research program, Pfizer Animal Health’s goal was to provide veterinarians with data that can help them improve producer relationships and business practices.

Key drivers of satisfaction

Performance attributes that rated highest among dairy producers included clinic staff personality and the veterinarian’s general commitment to providing care for animals, indicating that small measures taken by veterinarians and their staff go a long way.

Commitment The ability for veterinarians to provide service upon arrival proved to be the No. 1 driver of satisfaction with producers, with more than 91% giving it an average ranking of 6.45 (see Survey Methodology sidebar). When problems arise on the dairy, addressing the issue immediately can make the difference between enhancing the bottom line or a costly problem. The survey also confirmed that a veterinarian’s genuine concern for a producer’s animals and operation is a key driver of satisfaction. With 84% of producers ranking their satisfaction with their veterinarian’s dedication to their business at 6.24, veterinarians must take it upon themselves to ensure that the health of the animals, economic health of the operation and the appropriate use of animal health products all contribute to the viability of the industry. 

A smile goes a long way First-rate customer service is the livelihood of any successful business, and it involves selling products and/or services to new and existing customers. The survey results showed that the friendliness of both the veterinarian and clinic staff ranked high among producers, with 88% giving an average rating of 6.43 and 86% giving a 6.35 average rating, respectively. Exploring customer service training for employees by enlisting the help of third-party professionals would be beneficial to any practice. A happy customer is a repeat customer. 

Looks are everything Clinic and company characteristics, including the cleanliness and organization of the clinic and the appearance of the veterinarian’s vehicle, were factors that attributed to producers’ contentment with their veterinary services. Producers see the value in a clean work environment at their job, and they expect the same of their veterinary staff.

Technical support Enlisting the help of knowledgeable veterinary technicians and staff is critical to providing clients with the utmost in technical support. Producers were very satisfied with their veterinarian’s expertise and ability to explain disease conditions and treatment options, with 83% ranking their level of satisfaction at 6.21. Staying abreast of industry issues and new developments by engaging staff in continuing education courses or creating dialogue among veterinary colleagues by attending veterinary conferences is important. Peer-reviewed journals and industry publications are also a great source of information and make for conversation fodder with clients.

One clinic’s opportunities

Greg Edwards, DVM, participated in the survey when he was practicing at Napoleon Veterinary Clinic in Napoleon, Ohio. He now works as a Pfizer Animal Health veterinarian. “The anonymity of the survey gave us a true reflection of our clients’ satisfaction with our clinic,” Edwards says. “The results demonstrated both high and low ratings in several of the same categories from different clients. With that, we knew we had to rethink how we tailor our communications to farm-specific issues.”

Edwards and his staff were able to identify opportunities to improve upon current business practices, as well as give themselves a “pat on the back” for those areas where they were successful. Opportunities for improvement included more individual records analysis, more educational offerings for producers and working with herdsmen more closely to develop on-farm skills.

With monthly meetings and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place for client interactions, Edwards and his staff understood the importance of addressing different client personalities. Using the Myers-Briggs personality test to assess employees’ personality type, Edwards believes it is helpful when adding new clinic staff. “The survey helped us realize how we could better serve our customers — an invaluable piece of information for anyone in the customer service business,” Edwards says.  

Rating veterinary services

The most important motivator of client satisfaction for veterinarian clinics can be traced to the actual veterinary services provided. The Pfizer Animal Health survey also examined 22 frequently offered veterinary consulting services to discover what services dairy producers most value, their awareness of service offerings, level of satisfaction with provided services and opportunities to improve their satisfaction.

New services offerings

Nearly all of the practices surveyed offered the services dairy producers indicated they most value and believe improve the profitability of their operation, including pregnancy diagnosis (97%), preventive medicine (96%), reproduction program review and consultation (95%), mastitis prevention (90%) and calf and heifer management (89%).

However, there were differences in what most practices offered and what dairy producers wanted. Consulting services, in which one out of four dairy producers gave high importance ratings and less than half of the practices currently offered, included nutrition consulting, proper milk management and continuing education and training.

“By re-examining your existing programs, you can find new programs and areas to meet changing needs and grow clinic revenues,” says Roger Saltman, DVM, MBA, Pfizer Animal Health.

John Anderson, DVM, West Michigan Veterinary Service, Coopersville, Mich., and survey participant, says, “We realized there were a couple of things our clients wanted that we didn’t offer. As a result, we are considering offering employee training, nutrition, financial planning and facilities design.” 

Increase awareness of offerings

Producers may not be aware of all the services offered within a practice. In the survey dairy producers were asked to indicate which consulting services were offered by their veterinary clinic. Comparing dairy producer perceptions of services offered to the vet-reported services offered shows a significant gap in awareness of every consulting service.

The largest gaps between what was offered and what producers knew about included advisory board/management team member services (40%), herd record analysis (39%), husbandry review (37.1%), facilities design (32.5%) and peer group meetings (29.6%).

“Furthermore, the survey indicated that the use of consulting services include half or more of the dairy producers when they were aware their clinic offered the service,” Saltman adds. “Practices should look at ways to consistently promote the availability of the full range of services they offer.”

One way Anderson’s practice helped create awareness was by writing and distributing a monthly newsletter to all clients. “If we pick up some new information from a meeting or make a change with our services, we put it in,” Anderson explains. “It has really helped our producers become more informed, and we have had some clients learn about offerings that they didn’t know we provided.”

Improving satisfaction

The survey indicated, with the exception of pregnancy diagnosis, that satisfaction with consulting services was moderate. About half of those producers who used these services gave ratings of less than 6.0, with the average satisfaction scores ranging from 4.74 to 5.78 for services such as husbandry review, peer group meetings, goal setting/financial planning, nutrition consulting, milk management, facilities design, parlor maintenance and evaluation, expansion assistance and Spanish-speaking initiatives.

 “A complete review of your services could identify areas for proactive improvement,” Saltman says.

From the veterinarian’s view

Dairy veterinarians were also asked to provide ratings on how satisfied they believed their clients were with their performance. The results showed gaps in perception existed for every performance attribute, with veterinarians’ perceptions consistently lower in how important certain performance attributes were to client satisfaction. The largest gaps (in mean difference) in perceptions occurred in these performance attributes:

  • Ability of veterinary technicians or other support staff to answer questions on proper product usage (1.09)
  • Appearance of the doctor’s vehicle, including cleanliness, easily recognized and organized (1.05)
  • Appearance of the clinic, including cleanliness, odor free and organized (.76)

Improving performance

In all, dairy veterinary clinics were perceived favorably by the majority of dairy producers surveyed on all but one performance attribute, the cost of supplies purchased from the clinic, which only had 39%. “Clinics can promote the convenience and cost savings of purchasing supplies in the clinic versus the added cost of shipping and/or mileage to purchase these supplies through other channels,” Saltman suggests.

Four additional performance areas had one-third or more ratings of less than 6.0 on the 1 to 7 scale, indicating a possible need to reevaluate:

  • Doctor identifies areas of concern before they become problems
  • Overall value of veterinary service for the money
  • Doctor keeps me abreast of new technology
  • Offer training/other support on proper use of products

“Make sure supportive materials and training are provided and help develop a broader understanding of your clients’ needs and wants,” Saltman recommends.