The Power of Empathy Driven Innovation

We were recently asked by a potential client to describe Nebo’s approach to innovation. Our answer should sound pretty familiar to anyone familiar with our brand:

We believe in putting the user first. Of course, part of our job is to stay on the cutting edge of trends and technology, but we’ll always be more interested in solving problems and making the world a better place. If pushing the envelope or breaking new ground helps us create a better user experience, we’re all for it, but innovation in and of itself shouldn’t be a goal.

With that said, we spend a lot of time examining some of the world’s biggest brands. We’ve talked about Coke and Tesla and New Belgium and extracted lessons from the decisions they’ve made, both good and bad. But when it comes to innovating in the name of better serving users, it’s important to understand that you don’t need a massive budget. Your brand may not have the R&D funding of Apple or Microsoft, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with simple, effective ways to better your business.

On a recent trip to my vet, I realized how the small, locally-owned practice was the perfect example of how user-first thinking can make a big difference.

 

The Village Vets 

 
The Village Vets is a family owned veterinary practice with three locations in the greater Atlanta area. Without the power of a large corporation like VCA behind it, the practice faced an uphill battle to stand out in a crowded market. For reference, here’s what it looks like when you search for “Atlanta veterinarians” on Google Maps:

Owners Dr. Will Draper and his wife, Dr. Françoise Tyler, realized their biggest competitive advantage would be their compassion for their clients and patients. With that in mind, they set out to make the routine experience of taking your pet in for a check-up, as well as the potentially traumatic experience of treating a more serious problem, easier and less stressful.

Dr. Draper told us “The way The Village Vets stays innovative is by watching, asking, and listening to what our clients want and need; and also taking advantage of what newer technology allows us to provide for them.”

The powerful aspect of this approach is the way in which the two components are prioritized. Notice that he didn’t say they always look for ways to incorporate the latest technology into their practice. They do it only after they understand how it’s going to benefit their clients.

And it’s not just lip service. Draper took a very simple approach to discovering ways to make his customers happier. He didn’t hire a big consulting firm or pay tens of thousands of dollars for fancy social listening software. He sent out an email survey to customers with some basic questions. He talked to clients in person. He called. He texted. He listened to what they had to say.

Photo Courtesy of Mooney Photography

More importantly, he took the findings and implemented actual change in the way The Village Vets did business.

Here are a few of the things he discovered and how they led to simple, yet effective, innovations:

Problem: Most veterinary offices close between 6-7 p.m. during the week and offer little in the way of weekend hours. The Village Vets discovered that finding a convenient appointment time was a major source of stress for clients with rigid work schedules.

Solution: The Village Vets expanded evening and weekend hours to accommodate more patients and put less of a strain on clients to rearrange their calendars.

Problem: When it comes to prescriptions, many vets offer a set of printed instructions for patients. The problem is, these pages are cumbersome and easily lost. Worse yet, it can be difficult to get back in touch with the doctor that saw your pet to get important questions answered.

Solution: The practice began emailing prescription information in addition to handing out printed papers to clients. These emails came directly from each client's doctor and further email communication was encouraged to ease worries or concerns after an appointment.

Problem: Clients frequently need access to their pets' shot records for boarding, daycare, travel, etc. The Village Vets discovered that the traditional ways of transferring records (fax or phone call) were time consuming and unreliable for everyone involved.

Solution: The practice began printing picture ID cards of each pet with shot record info right on the card so owners would always have the information handy.

Problem: Traditionally, the post-visit process at most veterinarians is hands off -- outside of a follow up call from a vet tech. After talking with clients, Dr. Draper realized that clients were having trouble getting their advanced questions answered after the fact.

Solution: In addition to standard courtesy calls from vet techs, The Village Vets started including follow-up emails from the specific veterinarian that saw each client’s pet. That gave clients direct access to the people with the most knowledge about their pet's condition and helped put them at ease.

 

The Lesson

 
In speaking with Dr. Draper for this blog, his compassion for his clients and his understanding of the immense responsibility that comes with caring for a sick pet was astounding. Below is his full quote to us regarding his practice’s approach to innovation. Note there is very little mention of budget or tech gadgets or expensive software, just a thorough understanding of his client’s deepest concerns and a thoughtful approach to solving them. See for yourself:
"The way The Village Vets stays innovative is by watching, asking, and listening to what our clients want and need; and also taking advantage of what newer technology allows us to provide for them.  

On top of practicing quality, excellent veterinary medicine and providing superior, excellent service, we have to pay attention to all that is around us.  For instance- we know people like a clean, pleasant smelling facility.  So, we make sure we are constantly cleaning, and built our practices to be aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.  We also know that most cats get uber-stressed as soon as they leave their home- and it doesn't help to enter a vet hospital with lots of loud dog barking and weird smells.  Therefore we have separate exam rooms upstairs, soundproofed and away from the downstairs, especially for their comfort (it also eases the stress of their caregivers). We know people want to be in a nice, quiet place when they are saying their last goodbyes to their beloved pet, who will soon be put to rest.  Afterwards they don't want to walk through a crowded lobby as they leave, showing deep emotion and sorrow.  So our practices have comfortable "care rooms" that allow families to be alone with their pets for as long as they need to- with a separate, private exit. Those things matter.  

Our clients love innovation, convenience, communication, pet education, and knowing their "kids" are getting the very best.  So, we do all that we can to take care of them, as they do us.  We utilize some of the same state-of-the-art technology seen in human hospitals: computerized medical records, digital x-ray, ultrasound, endoscopy, laser therapy, and surgical patient heart and respiration monitoring...to name a few.  We offer 24 hour veterinary care- we never close. We network our three practices so that a client can to go any one and have access to their pets' records.  We make house calls when necessary. We are constantly emailing, calling and texting clients, along with sending monthly newsletters (we even write cards and letters to send via snail mail for those clients who don't do computers).  We do a monthly radio pet-education and call-in segment (on WSB 95.5FM).  We reach out to neighborhoods and schools to educate kids (big and small) about proper pet care.  We constantly update our web site and Facebook pages.  We tweet.  We pin (on Pinterest).  We shoot and broadcast pet info videos, TV PSA's and commercials that are readily available for viewing on YouTube.  We are also very excited to now offer our own mobile app:-).  We communicate so much that it actually irritates some clients (smile), but the vast majority appreciate and love it.   

There is so much out there that allows us to be better than the generation before us- it is important to take reach out and grab it.  I'm excited about what's next, too.  It costs some time and money to make it happen, but it is so totally worth it. Our clients and patients deserve it." 

These may seem like simple changes, and they are, but they are big steps toward fixing the common short-comings of many veterinary (and human doctor) practices.

By listening to their customers, The Village Vets have been able to identify changes that were incredibly effective and relatively inexpensive to make. Their success is proof that innovation doesn’t take deep pockets, only a wealth of empathy and compassion.

 

Written by Brian Easter on December 6, 2013

Comments

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William Draper Sr says:

No question as to whether or not I'm biased. LOL I am one of the proudest fathers you'll ever meet. He told me when he was a seventh grader that he was going to be a Vet. Did he do it or what?
Proud of you Dr. Will ????????????????????

Phyllis Colmar says:

I have been a rescuer and for many years and am so pleased at the addition of the appointment times and rescue focused vets so we are no longer second class clients of the practice. I feel we get the same quality of care as the retail clients so we can afford to take in more pets and save more lives. I specialize in seniors so adoption can be slow and vet visits more often so I greatly appreciate the dedication DVV has to the less fortunate pets in our community. I truly do not know what we would do without you all. Thank you.

Tony Draper says:

Just a proud pappy sticking his chest out. Dr. Will and Dr. Fran are dyn0mite!!!!! Keep up the great work!!!

shelly groves says:

Awesome blog! I may be prejudice, as Will Draper has been my vet since he opened his first office in Decatur13 years ago! What he failed to mention is the amazing care they give to rescue animals, in addition to his regular clientele. GREAT Vet practice, I recommend Village Vets to every new adopter of my foster dogs. Will and Frannie are fantastic!!

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Written by
Brian Easter
Co-Founder