Jam tomorrow...

and the next day, and the next...

It's strawberry season, which means only one thing in the Lambert household - jam making! Every year, after Easter, we start getting ready. Is the trusty old jam pan up to another year? Have we got enough labels, gingham squares, greaseproof paper and (most importantly) enough jars? Because once the strawberries are ripe, if jam doesn't get made the birds get the strawberries. It's all systems go picking, washing, boiling and sterilising jars.

But lovely as strawberry jam undoubtedly is, you may well be wondering what it's got in common with running a veterinary practice. The answer, friends, is planning and preparedness.

Spot the patterns
Every year follows the same cycle in the veterinary profession so it's vital to plan ahead and be prepared. Each summer practices get busier as clients head off on holidays and need vaccinations and certification, appointments are filled with owners who are off work with the children. Summer is a busy time, and yet every year we hear from practices who are surprised at how busy they are. It's the same the world over, although of course the hectic periods may happen at different times. Local and regional factors will be at play too - harvesting, factory shutdowns and tourism will all change the patterns of people in your town needing care for their pets at certain times. But it's predictable.

As with most aspects of running a business, success lies in data. Every practice ought to be tracking client activity through the year - measuring inbound client activity e.g call numbers and web clicks to plot peaks and troughs in vaccinations, understanding where the busy times are. This allows you to put more people on the phones when inbound call volumes peak, to order in more vaccines and parasiticides when demand is high, to promote services via social media during the quieter months.

What gets measured gets better
Collecting data regularly in standard formats allows you to make plans based on evidence not gut feel. It allows you to keep the team happy and motivated, with staffing levels matching demand to avoid people becoming overwhelmed and stressed. Data also allows you to see whether quiet times are simply normal for this stage in the annual cycle, or may actually be a sign that something's wrong. Planning ahead lets you stay ahead.

Team Onswitch love a spreadsheet, so it warms our hearts when we work with practices who share our appreciation for an excel table. It's easy to track shifts in client communication patterns when you have a spreadsheet with monthly data for inbound contacts. We're not just talking calls; WhatsApp, Messenger and web clicks can all be tracked, recorded and plotted to see what's changing each month. Your phone line, website and messaging apps are all brilliant early warning flags if contact rates fall unexpectedly - after all, without this vital step on the customer journey where potential customers make contact, activity levels will fall.

Give someone on the team responsibility for tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) such as:
- Percentage of appointments booked (online and via phone)
- Number of 5* Google reviews
- Number of new web chat conversations

But of course there's no point producing fancy reports if nobody is going to look at them and act on their insights. We always recommend regular practice meetings between department heads, and with the whole team, and these are great places to present summaries of how things are going, along with identified actions, so that everyone feels engaged with objectives and understands how their own role plays its part in achieving them.

An annual health check is always recommended
It's time to follow your own advice. As vets you recommend annual health checks for the animals you care for, as business owners it makes sense to do the same for your practice. An annual review of performance against KPIs will show where any developing issues are and enable you to track progress against objectives. Onswitch have helped countless practices take stock and retake control over their business, with our Business Health Check. The savings from process improvements and the guidance it identifies invariably far outweigh the costs making it a fantastic investment too!

Turns out there will be jam tomorrow after all.