If your employees were asked about their jobs, what would their answers be? Would they boast about your practice? Would they be proud of the quality of patient care and the services provided? Could they tell a great story about the practice’s commitment to its patients?
Or would your employees respond that they like being vets or vet techs, but that they don’t enjoy working at your practice?
If you’re thinking this is simply an issue of employee relations, think again. The story your employees share with friends, family and acquaintances in the community is the most critical marketing in which your practice will engage.
You might think marketing is solely for in-house staff assigned to the marketing department or the role an outside consultant is hired to handle, but in reality, marketing encompasses more than your practice’s promotional materials, advertising and lead generation.
Marketing includes the story your employees share while out living life.
“Employees naturally market the business they work for outside of work,” said Debra J. M. Best, SPHR, owner of Deb Best Practices.
Whether that message is positive or negative depends on how engaged the employees are and how valued they feel, she added. Employees who feel like they are part of the team and that they are treated well will freely share their enthusiasm. Conversely, disenfranchised employees will share their feelings equally as freely. This type of marketing carries tremendous influence.
Businesses often struggle with the issue of employee satisfaction, often linking it with wages. However, satisfied employees are not always those earning the highest wages. It comes down to how valued they feel at work.
Institute the following five strategies and convert your employees into frontline marketers for your practice.
1. Establish a Value System
Define the values that are most important to your practice. Articulate those values to all staff members regardless of their titles or pay grades. Clearly define each value and explain how each staff member plays an integral role in carrying out those values.
Likely a commitment to customer service and quality products will rank high on your list of values. Employees who believe they are providing top-notch care will talk about the practice to everyone they know. On the other hand, if they believe the clinic is cutting corners to save a dollar or turn a little extra profit, they will only share their displeasure.
Identify instances when the practice exceeded customer expectations and share those stories with employees. Tell employees why and how the practice was formed and what is most important to you as the practice founder. These anecdotes give fodder your employees can use in conversation.
Continuous improvement and continuing education are likely another value for your practice. Offer training opportunities to all employees.
“One of my clients is a veterinarian,” Best explained. “When I provided an OSHA training class, everyone participated— the veterinarians, the vet techs, the receptionists and even the owner.”
Training needs will vary for each employee, but providing opportunities for appropriate skill development demonstrates the practice’s commitment to continuous improvement.
Your value system should also set an expectation for professionalism and respect.
“There should be no tolerance for being disrespectful,” Best added. There may be employees within your practice who do not socialize with each other outside of work, or really do not care to be friends, but when working together they should demonstrate mutual professional respect.
“You’re 85-90% of the way to engaging your employees when there is a positive work environment that includes being respectful,” she said.
2. Show Appreciation
Let your employees know how much you appreciate their work. That can be as simple as saying, “Thank you.” Demonstrating appreciation can also be accomplished in the way you treat your employees. Small gestures, such as a shout-out on the practice Facebook page, an acknowledgement in the next staff meeting or hosting a practice-sponsored breakfast or lunch go a long way.
Employees feel appreciated when informed of changes within the practice before the changes are implemented. When hiring someone new or if a staff member is leaving, tell your employees before the person shows up or disappears. Critical business functions change over time. Announce modifications to pricing structures, product or service offerings, new software, etc. to staff before expecting them to follow the new processes.
Listen to your employees when they have feedback. Because they are often the individuals directly interacting with your clients, they might have insights you never considered. They will feel valued and appreciated if you take time to listen. Although you might not be able to implement every suggestion, thank them for bringing the information forward. Incorporate suggestions where possible and offer an explanation when the proposal is not feasible.
3. Provide Direction
When you’re ready to take the next step and ask your employees to become front-line marketers, they probably will need guidance. Explain that part of successful marketing is being themselves. An interaction that sounds forced or artificial will turn clients off rather than secure additional sales. Offer suggestions on how to subtly encourage leads through casual conversations with friends or longstanding clients. Encourage employees to practice with one another prior to engaging a potential client in conversation.
Consider training about specific products or services you prefer they talk about. Chances are manufacturers of the product you’re asking staff to promote can provide training and support. Ask the manufacturer’s representative to host an in-house training session to explain to staff members the benefits of the product and what makes it different from the competitors.
Empower your staff with the authority to make decisions when providing customer service. Ask them to use their common sense to ensure that every customer interaction is a good one. Support them regardless of whether the outcome was good or bad. If the outcome was positive, praise them and share the success with other staff members. If the results were the opposite of the intended outcome, support them for trying, then help the entire staff to learn from the mistake.
4. ‘Follow Me’ Leadership
Demonstrate to your employees that you, the owner, are a part of the team. Participate in mandatory trainings, write articles for the website and, engage in front-line marketing alongside your staff members.
“When they see you performing some of the same tasks they do, it gives them a sense that they’re really helping you, not just working for the practice,” Best said.
Clearly establish the rules you have for your practice in general and for each employee. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, and discomfort leads to dissatisfaction.
Encouraging your staff to follow your lead is more than pitching in and working alongside them; it’s also about demonstrating your passion for the practice and your clients and showing your commitment to current research.
5. Provide Motivation
Incentives play an important role in motivating employees. Contests can be fun and engaging, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. Educate staff members about the products and services that increase profits for the practice. Explain how and when it is appropriate to ask a client to purchase those products or services.
“They should understand that they should sell them only when appropriate or necessary,” Best emphasized.
Incentives for client referrals can also serve as motivators. When a staff member encourages family, friends or community members to become clients, reward them with an established prize—be it money, time off or a discount for services.
When designing an incentive program, be sure the goals are achievable. Specify the target that must be achieved and the specific payout earned for meeting the objective. Incentive structures that are unclear or are perceived to be unattainable will frustrate employees and likely discourage participation.
Whatever incentive program is implemented, make sure employees understand that their job responsibilities have not changed. They will not be able to devote all their work time “cold calling” (seeking out new clients) at the expense of their assigned tasks. When implemented properly, incentives create invested employees who feel a greater ownership in the success of the practice and understand that they are affecting the practice’s growth.
Take-Home Message: Enjoy the Benefits
“Companies get into trouble when they think it is someone else’s job to do marketing and sales,” Best said. “Every employee is a marketer when they are out and about in the community.”
When you cultivate an atmosphere that supports morale and encourages employee loyalty, your business will benefit two-fold. The office will have a positive attitude where everyone enjoys coming to work, and that enthusiasm will spill over to current and potential clients, resulting in a strong image within the community and a higher profit margin.
“Happy employees make happy customers,” Best concluded. Train your employees about specific products that you carry or services that you provide.