Supporting a Growing Veterinary Practice Through Flawless Customer Communication
Animals are family. Whether they live in our home or on the farm, our animals are a vital part of our lives, and they need our care. At Akuut Veterinary Practice, we look after animals of all sizes: from small ones like rabbits, cats, and dogs, to large ones like goats, sheep, and even horses.
Situated between Brussels and Leuven, Akuut is one of the largest veterinary practices in Belgium, and we keep growing. Since David Haelterman started the practice in 2004, we have grown to 10 vets and 5 assistant vets, with 21 employees total and two locations. And we keep growing: We are building an addition to our larger location in Kortenberg to keep up with customer demand.
I think if there’s a secret to Akuut’s success, it’s that we treat all animals equally, and we work as a team to give each animal the best care possible. That puts the emphasis on communication: It’s important that everyone has the same information—and that it’s accurate and up to date—so we can serve our customers and their loved ones. Fortunately, Akuut is a great team. We’re a lot like a family in the way we work together.
When an emergency arises, we’re always available. Like human patients, animals don’t stick to business hours to get sick, so we have employees on standby for after-hours care. Our 24/7 total service puts a great demand on our communications requirements.
I know about our communication needs, because as the administrative assistant at Akuut, every phone call starts with me. So I could see that our communication system wasn’t up to the task of our present needs, and definitely not our future ones as we take on new customers by the day.
A Growing, Disconnected Business
I’ll paint you a picture of how our communications were failing. When a customer calls, the first thing we do is pull up the animal’s file in our system. We usually start with the customer’s name. Something you might not know is that the most common surname in Belgium is Peeters. Usually it’s spelled that way, “Peeters,” but there are all sorts of variants: “Peters,” “Pieters,” “Pieterse.” If you work reception in Belgium, you’ve asked a thousand times: “Does that have two e’s or one?”
Also, increasingly, we see names that previously were not well known in Belgium. We try our best to get everyone’s name correct, but of course sometimes people make mistakes in taking down a name for our system, and when that happens it can take a long time to find the customer’s file.
We can also draw up the file with the animal’s name, but do you know how many dog owners decide to name their pet Snoopy?
As we try to locate the correct Snoopy Peeters in our system, more calls come in. I have to apologize to everyone for waiting. Even if our customers are patient, it’s still a frustrating experience for everyone.
Then there was our after-hours service. We advertise on our website that we will be available 24/7, so you can always call us. It’s a draw for our customers, because not every veterinary practice offers after-hour care. We devote employees to being on-call so we can deliver on that promise we make to our customers.
But, far too often, the communications service we used—which was supposed to work with WiFi and 3G—would fail us. A vet would be at home on stand-by for the night, but if they had a bad connection, they wouldn’t receive the call. If someone tried to call us at night, it was likely an emergency—and they couldn’t get through. Words can’t describe how disheartening this situation was for everyone. We needed a new, trustworthy service immediately to power our communications.
A Custom Solution
About six months ago, I began meeting with people from IP Communications, our trusted IT partner, about our desire for a better solution. As a veterinary practice, we had some specific technical needs.
Our customer-relationship management (CRM) system—which holds data about customers and animals—is designed just for vets. The CRM automatically files things like X-rays as well as test results, which saves us time and reduces the risk of filing error. Being a niche application, you can imagine that it doesn’t integrate into many other systems. But it was crucial that any communications platform we chose would integrate with that CRM. The disconnect between the two was a major bottleneck for our customers and staff.
IP Communications recommended Circuit by Atos Unify, the business collaboration platform. Circuit is a cloud-based solution that improves teamwork by bringing voice, video, group chat, screen, and content sharing into one application. This is important because it gives teams a full history of information and content in a single, secure space.
IP Communications said they could build an integration based on Circuit‘s APIs that would pull up a customer’s file automatically when they call our office. My eyes lit up. It would also provide the most reliable service for our after-hours operation, which was absolutely vital. Circuit sounded like it was the perfect fit for Akuut.
IP Communications worked closely with BusinessCom, whose far-reaching knowledge of several Atos Unify products meant they were able to deal quickly with the several questions which arose at the beginning of our project.
Making Our Customers Feel at Home
Our integration with Circuit is fairly new, but it’s already made my work vastly easier by having a customer’s file immediately in front of me. It’s better for the customer too, because we can get right to the reason they’re calling. I can answer their question or put them through to the vet they need to talk to, and then move on to the next customer. We don’t have that long backlog of calls waiting anymore.
Now, when clients call, I make a point of greeting them by name and telling them I have their file in front of me. Knowing who they are makes them feel more at home with us. It’s also a much faster process for them, which they love.
This new setup also helps as we grow. Since I’ve been at Akuut for a while, I know many of our regular customers by name. But a new colleague won’t have met everyone yet. If someone calls and says, “Hi, it’s Catherine. I just wanted to check about that problem from eight months ago…” a new person working with our old system would be completely in the dark.
As Akuut adds more vets and assistants, having Circuit launch that file automatically when Catherine calls means we’re all up to speed. And it’s a much better experience for Catherine, because she can feel reassured that whoever picks up the phone has the right information.
And our after-hours service is more reliable than ever. We no longer have issues with connections. When we say that our vets are reachable 24/7—we mean it. This is a critical service for our customers, so it’s amazing that we’re able to provide it more consistently than ever before.
It’s the Connection That’s Most Important
So far, we have focused our efforts on external communication with our customers. We currently use email to share information between ourselves, and mobile chat mainly for scheduling.
The next step will be to explore how to use Circuit for internal communication between Akuut employees. I’m looking forward to exploring which parts can be integrated or replaced with Circuit, so we can create seamless communication, internally and externally. It’s something for us to grow into, but it just makes sense to have everything in one place.
For now, the biggest difference has been reliability. That was our number one goal going into this. With Circuit, I’m 100% certain that every call comes through. That goal isn’t unique to our business. Whether you’re a veterinary or a legal or a medical practice, you need confidence in your system, so you can be there for your customers when they need you.
Customers today expect us to be available whenever they want to reach us. That is true for all businesses, but especially for those of us whose customers call in during an emergency. They don’t need the added stress of the call not working—or getting through only to have us not know who they are. What they need is reassurance that we are here for them and we will address the problem together.
It’s that connection that’s most important, because it’s how we show customers that we are family.