The last few years have been scary for equine veterinary practitioners. Economically, they were hit harder than small animal veterinarians. The good news is that business is, at least anecdotally, getting better, according to research from Equine Business Management Strategies.
However, experts who understand the market for goods and services predict that this slump will last for another 15 years. Combine this with other economic factors such as high hay prices, reduced incomes and fewer horse properties, and the situation seems dire. With all the doom and gloom, it is important to see that there is a positive change coming. This change is called Generation Y.
Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation, is the largest generation America has seen, and it is the most educated generation to date. The 80 million people who make up this group were born roughly between the years 1978 and 1998. Although most of them are still too young to be your influential clients, these people will change your world for the better.
If you are as determined as I know equine veterinarians to be, then I know you’re ready to stand up and start doing something to fight for the future success of your business. The secret to turning the corner is to design your practice, and your hospital, for Generation Y.
What Makes Gen Y Tick?
If you have young employees, you have probably already noticed demographic friction in your practice. You may have had thoughts such as “Why won’t she return my phone calls?” or “Why does he think I’m running a charity?” These moments occur because Generation Y is distinctly different from previous generations. While it is dangerous to generalize, most demographers agree with the following descriptors for these children of Boomers:
· Technologically savvy
· Close to their parents
· Big expectations for career and personal life
· “Color-blind” (open to influence from a variety of cultures, races and traditions)
· Prematurely affluent
Are all Gen Y-ers alike? Of course not. But the descriptors above help us set the stage for relating to Gen Y in a different way.
What Gen Y Wants from You
As consumers, Millennials are extremely fickle. With the world at their fingertips, they know their options, and they’re educated about the care that their horses are getting. I am sure that it is a constant bane to your practice to have your clients telling you about their Internet diagnoses and treatment protocols! Nevertheless, you should respect the client who can instantaneously Tweet her opinions to her 1,000 closest friends.
The key to earning loyalty from your Gen Y clients lies in the word “authenticity.” You MUST be who you are in every aspect of your relationship with the outside world. Here are some down-to-earth tips on how to create a deeper commitment to authenticity in your business:
Learn and Live Your Own Brand. You can do this internally, but it is best to hire someone to call your clients, competitors and the community to see what people think of your practice. Our firm did that and YES, it was painful, but we were inspired by what we learned. What you think you are saying and what you are really saying can often be in opposition. It pays to know how you present yourself so you can form an action plan for how to become more true to yourself.
Break Down Communication Barriers. It’s that simple. Gen Y is about relationships, and Millennials reaffirm their own relationships constantly via connected social networks. If you aren’t open, honest and connected, then you are irrelevant. The goal isn’t to inspire you to go launch a Facebook page tomorrow, but to ask what you can do to better communicate.
Here are some examples:
Network Your Staff with Your Clients. Your clients want more than a half-hearted call back. They may want to have a concierge relationship with your practice. What if they could email, text or IM with someone at your practice whenever they wanted to ask questions or express concerns? Use this relationship to demonstrate the incredible care their horses are receiving while staying at your hospital.
Reach Out. Don’t wait for your clients to come to you. Host education, outreach and fun events for your clients and the community. Demonstrate your commitment to issues larger than running your practice and you will earn your clients’ loyalty. I call this the “Aveda” model of business. Save the earth first, and sell second!
Do Away with Bureaucracy. Don’t be offended if your clients are casual with you. Encourage them to participate in the care that their horses are getting. Do not banish them to dismal waiting areas. Do break down the barrier between the doctor and client, and come out from behind the back door. Once again, the beauty of your youngest clients is that they crave and respect the relationship. Build that for them and they will have a high opinion of your service.
Why We Are Inspired
As veterinary architects, what a delight it is for us to discuss a trend that does not create more infrastructure or make hospitals more expensive. You can’t afford more pressure, and you can’t afford more expense. What Gen Y inspires us to do is to delete the infrastructure and go back to the relationships between people.
In parting, here are some questions for you to ask as you think of designing or remodeling your hospital with the next generation in mind:
Why have a front desk when all you need is a comfortable chair, a cup of coffee and a friendly greeter?
Why have offices? Why not create an open, collaborative work environment?
Why have a conference room? Why not do CE, community outreach and other communication in an open environment?
Why perpetuate paper communications and create the storage infrastructure to support them?
Why not let your clients watch? There are some walls that must be built to keep people and horses safe or to protect privacy, but why not let your clients see into lab, work and procedure areas?
Why not come out from behind closed doors?
For as many challenges as Generation Y will bring us, there are opportunities. I am inspired to strip away the complexity that we have driven into hospital design and create buildings that affirm rather than divide. Let’s get ready for Generation Y to challenge us to be ourselves and to go back to what is important, which is the doctor, the client and the patient.
Heather E. Lewis AIA, NCARB, is a principal of Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has designed animal hospitals and animal care facilities since 1979.