My Love Affair with Lists

Written by Debbie Boone, CVPM. Originally published on VitusVet.com.

I learned to be a list maker many years ago from my first boss.

He kept a yellow legal pad on his desk and wrote down all the things he needed to accomplish that day and in the near future. Since we shared an office for several years, I figured out early on that if I looked at his list, I could keep one step ahead of the tasks he planned to give me. When he came to me with my assignment I could often say, “I have already done that.” I am sure he thought I was a mind reader or a genius (I am neither). I just smiled and went on my way. I am not sure he ever figured it out.

Over the years I created lists for end of day tasks, slow time tasks and equipment maintenance. Then there were the job duties lists for the tech team, client services, and pet hospitality staff. Of course, there is always the time off request list and the who works what holiday list. These are all fairly common in a well-managed hospital. I also created a list of staff meeting dates for the entire year and posted it on January 1. No excuses for not knowing….

The lists that were my favorites were the lists that told me about the health of my practice. I loved to run the list of my top 500 clients. It was never surprising who was going to show up at the top year after year because they were our frequent flyers. These clients typically make up 80% of your income. Treat them well and make sure your staff does too. My next favorite list was the year to year comparisons. I would run these on top products to see how much sales revenue I was losing to the internet and then share with my team so we could strategize on ways to salvage these sales. Then there was the services by provider list that showed my doctors’ work by income category. These lists helped me see if any of our multiple doctors was not practicing to our standards by looking at their diagnostic or dentistry services counts compared to each other. I shared them with my practice owner so the doctor who was falling behind could be mentored. Of course, the Profit and Loss statement was a vital list that we reviewed with our accountant on a monthly basis. Not looking at your P&L regularly is like trying to regulate a diabetic cat with no monitoring. We should not practice medicine with guesswork, and you can’t run a practice that way either.

Other important lists are new clients, referrals, and retained clients. Many practices measure new client numbers every month and this is a valid activity. We should also recognize and thank clients for referring others. But the success of a practice comes from the clients you retain. The longer people come to a practice the more likely they are to trust your doctors and team to have the best interest of their pet at heart. I was working with a new practice owner who purchased a low cost- high volume practice and was working to change the brand to a more mid-range model. We ran (with great difficulty) her client retention numbers and found when it was the low-cost model under the former owner less than 20% of new clients returned. However, as she moved the type of practice to a higher-touch better medicine model, we are seeing the needle move to 40% of new clients return the following year and it continues to rise. These numbers are not easy to obtain in most software so having an app like VitusVet that measures this quickly is a time saver.

One of my most important lists is the staff. This is a list I want to stay the same year after year. Staff retention is an indicator of good culture. If you want to see client retention at high numbers, then work hard to keep your great team members. Clients like to see familiar faces. Training new people costs a lot of money in time and errors. A team that has worked together for years is like a well-oiled machine – smooth running and efficient.I

Of course, there are the compliance lists. When reminders for services went out, I looked at the percentage lists of services completed. This list reviewed compliance on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd reminders. Then a list of those who did not comply was created and those clients were called so we could encourage an appointment or clean up our database if they were not returning. Keeping a clean database is important if you want to get information that is accurate. A list of inactive clients who have not returned in more than 3 years is created, the clients are called and purged or inactivated if they are not coming back. I did this at year-end.

Inventory lists sorted into sales and quantity allow us to grade our products into AA, A, B, C and D categories. AA, A are can’t do without products accounting for the majority of your sales and use, B you need but have a substitute, C you may sell every 6 months but they are necessary and D you don’t sell in a year and need to script them out and not waste your money or tie up your cash.  

Finally, the shopped services list. These are the items people call and ask pricing on every single day. We should be making phone shopper calls to our neighboring hospitals and shopping these services. You can’t explain how you are different if you don’t know. We train our staff how to explain our difference to potential clients who are calling. Anyone in the veterinary profession knows there can be vast differences in the quality of medical care between practices. Potential clients are for the most part medically ignorant until we educate them on the “why” behind the costs.

I encourage you to be a list maker. Lists keep us on track, eliminate guesswork, keep our practice clean, help us measure our success, show us where we need to step up our game and hold us accountable when we don’t follow through. These are not all of my lists and I am sure you have some we could add. I would love to hear about your lists and what you have discovered about your practice from creating them.  

I can now check “write October blog” off my list!