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Treating every customer interaction with intention and care



The first time Yelp reviewer Courtney M. took her 14-year-old black lab, Asher, to West Coast Animal Hospital in San Diego, she was a little wary. Especially as the owner of an older dog with specific care needs, she feared her concerns might be overlooked or written off—to great expense. “My dog is my whole world,” she said. “Every time I took my dog to a practice, I always left feeling like my dog’s issues were glanced over and I was sent home with a big bill with nothing resolved.”

The visit went well, however, and about a month later, she received a surprise call from her veterinarian—but it wasn’t bad news. Dr. Young had called simply to ask how Asher and Courtney were doing. 

“Honestly, that blew my mind,” Courtney said. “I’d never had that kind of level of customer care. The fact that the vet remembered me, reached out to me a couple of weeks later and asked how his progress was—that really touched me.” 

Dr. Megan Gibbings and her husband Tom own West Coast Animal Hospital, a practice dedicated to repairing the relationship between pet owners and animal health practices. They know many pet owners, like Courtney, are stressed or anxious entrusting their worlds to a new doctor, and they work hard to earn that trust. 

“When you go to a veterinary hospital, the last thing that you want to do is have the doctor trying to sell you something that you’re not quite sure that you need,” Tom said. “And since this is a trust-based business, we do everything that reinforces and develops that trust because we see this as a long-term relationship. That’s what has our customers singing our praises to their friends and family.”

Friends, family, and Yelp users, too—Courtney had such a positive experience with Asher’s care team that she wrote a review: “Everyone there is so incredibly thoughtful. I live 10 hours away from San Diego, and every time something happens with my elderly baby, I will not hesitate to make the drive to make sure he gets the best care possible. The whole practice is incredible, and I wouldn’t trust Asher with anyone else.”

How exactly have Megan and Tom earned the trust of clients who live 10 hours away? To start, they’ve built the business on core values, from client communication to a positive work culture. Externally, clients receive regular communication, such as Courtney’s check-in call; internally, staff members meet daily with their team and managers. This level of communication—rare in the animal health field—has made all the difference, according to the Gibbingses.

“It’s a service-based business; it’s not like a product you can just put in a machine and crank out a million units,” said Tom, who came from the corporate world. “Every interaction has to be deliberate—trying to create a culture that aligns with the values and the service that we want to provide.” 

Megan agreed, adding: “Do good medicine, do what’s right for the pet, what’s right for the customer, and the business will follow. It’s just that simple.”  

Megan, who’s worked in animal health for 20 years, brought a passion for evolving the practice to include the best and most innovative practices in patient care. Meanwhile, her husband Tom—who came from the corporate world—has helped adapt management strategies such as the one-on-one and daily scrum (or 10 minute stand-up) to accommodate the hospital’s needs. 

“I was able to take a lot of lessons that I learned in corporate America and combine those with the values of mom pop and make something that’s special because we have the structure that people want, but we also have the value that people want,” Tom said. “And when I say people, I mean both our employees and our customers, because the two things are intrinsically entwined. Without our employees, we don’t have a business.”

For example, Megan expanded the concept of regular staff meetings into daily rounds, where the techs and vets spend 10 minutes going over the cases of the day. She also feels that leading by example is an integral part of her mission of creating a great space for pet owners and her staff. “I’m there every day and bouncing ideas off the associate veterinarians and the support staff,” she said. 

And the callback that inspired Courtney to review? That’s a key part of the customer process at West Coast. The practice uses an electronic medical record system, which allows staff members to record details about each patient and easily pull it up on a screen. This has helped the owners maintain long-term relationships with clients, even as the practice itself has changed and grown—from three staff members in 2017 to seven full-time vets and 45 staff members in 2021. 

For other business owners, Tom sums up the secret to their success in this way: “Talk to your coworkers, talk to your subordinates, talk to your superiors, talk to your customers—and of course, everyone talks to the pets too… It’s an obvious thing, but I don’t think there’s enough of it in the veterinary industry.”

No matter your industry, you can learn from West Coast Animal Hospital’s values, including: 

  • It’s okay to re-evaluate your hiring decisions. Sometimes you make hires to fill a gap but need to correct later if they don’t fit in the culture you’ve built. 
  • Lead by example, and the rest of the staff will follow. If you want to build a great culture in your small business, you have to live it yourself first. 
  • Communication runs both ways. It’s essential to open up communication channels with your staff and your client base. Your staff should also be able to communicate well with your clients.
  • Own your mistakes and your negative reviews. When you get a bad review, it’s crucial to take ownership of the issue and fix it. It shows your clients and your staff that you’re willing to improve. 

These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Megan, Tom, and Courtney, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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