Bertha the Bus and the 7 Steps to Consulting Success

As part of the new BEMS programme (that’s Business Extra Mural Studies) being offered by Onswitch in Grantham, I was sent off to experience a day on Bertha the bus. Bertha is a purple and black double decker bus, driving up and down the country delivering training for Vets and nurses. Onswitch offer a range of courses onboard Bertha – 5 steps Telephone skills, 7 steps Consult skills and 5 steps Equine skills – but today I was off to perfect my consulting skills. As a final year Vet student, I must admit that I was a bit sceptical about how much they could actually teach me – being fresh out of Uni  surely I should have been taught all of this before?

I was about to learn just how wrong I was. Bertha is brilliant. We were welcomed aboard by the lovely driver, Andy, and immediately offered tea or coffee as we settled ourselves down in the plush meeting area. Next we were introduced to the lovely Kristie, who would be taking our session that day. Once everyone was on board there was no waiting around, we were straight down to it. Kristie was fantastic – engaging, fun and professional. Despite the group’s best attempts to sidetrack her with stories of clients and patients she managed to keep us on track for the whole morning.

The 7 steps may appear as though they are fairly obvious when you read the list, but there is so much more to them, which I was soon to find out. Not only was I trained on how to hold a consultation, but also the reasons for the inclusion of all 7 steps. It had never really occurred to me that by saying to a client – “I’m just going to give Jack a quick clinical exam.” – this is portrayed as a rushed exam, and not exactly good value for money!

I learnt all about building rapport, as well as the type of language which I should use. Vet School will teach me that if Billy comes in with a mouth full of tartar and a couple of loose teeth, I should probably perform a dental, but Onswitch have taught me how to make the client believe that that’s the right course of action too. By simply switching ‘I think that we need to….’ to ‘I recommend that we….’ puts the right message across to the clients and makes them more likely to choose your top treatment option.

When we’d all been taught the 7 steps I was feeling pretty confident that I would be able to put these into practice back at the Vets – and what better time to test this theory than right now? The purpose of the top deck was suddenly apparent. Set up like a typical consult room, we paired up to role play some scenarios and practice our new 7 steps to consulting success. What’s more, the people downstairs could watch us on camera and rate our performance. It was terrifying at first, but the opportunity for feedback at the end was one not to be missed.

I had a really fantastic day with the Onswitch team – and the lunch was pretty good too! My day on Bertha the bus really helped me to understand the importance of consulting, particularly from a client’s point of view. I feel much more prepared to start what will, hopefully, be a long and successful career in consulting.

Thanks Onswitch!

By onswitchltd

Seeing is believing

Needing to book the eyes of Onswitch junior in for their annual health check, we recently contacted our local independent optician. We like to support community-based businesses wherever possible, and so we rang to make an appointment. Obviously his education comes first, and so we were looking for an appointment after 5pm.

Or any time on a Saturday.

Or any day or time in the school holidays.

We like to be flexible you see.

You can imagine our response when we were told that “the person who does the sight tests does not work on Saturdays, and they finish at 4.30 in the week.” Which pretty much rules out the possibility not only of school children, but also of anyone with a job getting their eyes tested here.

Resisting the urge to point out the flaws in this business model, we pressed on valiantly, asking for an appointment in the summer holidays perhaps? Except that with back-to-back staff holidays, once again there were no appointments available.

We tried hard, we really did, but it proved impossible to make an appointment with said local optician. And of course we were able to book a sight test quickly and easily with a branch of a large optical chain in the same town.

The moral of the story is clear.

Just like the morals of most of our stories – so much so that even we’re starting to find the repetition a little tedious!

Your business relies on seeing clients, so make it easy for them to see you.

That’s all you have to do.

Here endeth the lesson. 

By onswitchltd

Customer care, nailed?

Needing a spot of pampering, we recently booked in to a salon we hadn’t used before to have a manicure and some gel nails applied. Gentlemen readers may be unaware of the many benefits of gel nails, so you may care to re-imagine this cautionary tale by substituting a monthly procedure from your own personal grooming routine, like…. erm….

Anyway, we turned up at the salon at the pre-appointed time, for the pre-booked procedure. A procedure that requires a certain amount of alchemy beforehand to collect and prepare the requisite potions and equipment. Except none of this had been done, so what should have been a relaxing hour out of a manic day began with a lot of noisy bustling around. The technician banged a few cupboard doors, knocked something over and dropped bits on the floor.

All of which left us with the distinct impression that we were perhaps in the wrong hands. And that maybe our hands were about to be wrong also.

Regular readers and friends of Onswitch will be very familiar with the ‘7 steps’ that frame a customer-centred consultation. We couldn’t help comparing our manicure:

  1. Prepare yourself. Clearly overlooked. Gaps between appointments or lunch breaks can be used to collect together items for appointments later in the day, in case time runs away with you later. Or ask a junior or an assistant to help. Of course delays do happen, but it’s so important to have a process for managing the inevitable hiccup.
  2. Create a rapport. Another missed opportunity – having never been to the salon before, there was no eye contact (the technician was too busy moving around collecting things) or attempts at conversation.
  3. Ask open questions. At no point did anyone ask about preferences – nail shape, likely exposure to wear and tear and so on.
  4. Carry out an obvious examination. The basics of the procedure were carried out in a very rudimentary fashion – the filing was rough and ready and the whole thing felt like going through the motions, rather than a pampering experience.
  5. Make recommendations. Once again, no comments were made about nail condition, nor was advice was given about after-care
  6. Check understanding and signpost next steps. No suggestions were made about when further maintenance would be required
  7. Au revoir, not goodbye! And not surprisingly, there was no offer to book the required re-application in five weeks’ time. Not that we’re expecting the nails to still be in place in five weeks.

It could have been so different. In fact it is normally very different, at every other salon we’ve been to. The lack of preparation, involvement and interest not only made us doubt the quality of the service and the expected life of the product, but it removed any chance of us ever returning to said salon. And we’re telling you about it, just like unhappy clients tell their friends when their veterinary practice fails to deliver the high standards of care that they expect.

But we need to stop typing now, the nails might not take much more!

By onswitchltd

“Do you want the truth, or something beautiful?”

As Paloma Faith reminded us, not everyone we ask for advice and help tells it how it really is. From our corner of the veterinary consultancy world this seems to be particularly pertinent – we have just recently heard from several clients that they feel in their dealings with large companies offering ‘help’, all too often honesty can get clouded by contracts, whilst doing the right thing gets lost amongst selling more things.

If you want to know what it’s really like to own a Ford, you don’t ask the dealer on commission – you ask an online forum, a friend who has one; in short, anyone who isn’t going to benefit financially from their answer.

Just as when you want to know if that new jacket really does suit you, you don’t ask your other half – they’ll just tell you what they think you want to hear, give you a safe assurance, (or at failing that, choose the least inflammatory option!)

So if you are a practice, serious about changing your business for the better, perhaps asking the rep who sells you vaccines might not get you the right information to tackle your high staff costs. Perhaps it might be better to ask someone who understands your business model and the local market in which you operate, and who does not stand to lose if you take your business elsewhere because you don’t like or don’t trust what they’ve said?

At Onswitch, we don’t have any issues with being completely objective and honest, what with being, as we are, 100% independent.

We’re lucky to work with all sorts of practices, all over the country. With our Fixer process we go through financial, staffing, operations and client communication procedures with a fine-tooth comb and a healthy dose of common sense and industry nous. We talk both to clients and to pet or horse owners in the area who choose not to use the practice, as well as to other local animal care businesses, so that we can really build up a picture of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.

And then we tell the practice what we’ve found. We might soften any blow a little with cake, but we’ll still tell them. Everything. And then we’ll set about creating a bespoke plan, together, to fix any issues.

So if you want someone to really help you clear the smoke away, not just blow it where the sun don’t shine, then maybe think about talking to Onswitch. We promise that our feedback and advice will always be unbiased and honest, and based only on what works for your practice.

Which our clients tell us that they really value, because ultimately, it really adds value to their business.

By onswitchltd

Part 2 of Rebecca Verity’s BEMS Blog! – Cucumbers and parking tickets


Week 2 at Onswitch HQ – Well not quite, this week I was mostly out and about, attending the Hills ‘Every Pet Every Time’ CPD meet, and visiting the practice I have been studying in a town we shall call ‘Bob’ to be nice and ambiguous. This gave me plenty of opportunity to take part in one of my favourite activities, driving my car and singing very loudly to Fleetwood Mac songs, it’s a very good job I don’t rely on public transport as I’d be banned by now.

I jumped at the opportunity to attend the Hills EPET CPD, focusing on the consult room experience, not only for what I’d gain from the talks, but Alison pitched it as an opportunity to meet potential employers, and if all else failed, there was a free lunch. Who am I to argue with that?

I found the day to be a hugely worthwhile and valuable experience. It summarised the general structure of the veterinary/medical consultation, based on the Cambridge-Calgary model, which was revision for me as we’re taught it at vet school. I was surprised to learn that this is was new to a lot of vets and nurses. This model has long been used in the Human Medicine curriculum, however was only introduced to undergraduate Veterinary education in 2003. It made me realise how lucky new veterinary graduates of this era are to have these skills as second nature when we leave Vet School, rather than struggling to develop our own consultation methods while simultaneously dealing with all the other stresses of being a new graduate in your first job!

Not only did I learn a lot about the positive and negative forces influencing the success of a consult (and how to manipulate them), I had a wonderful free lunch, and was introduced to the Kubler-Ross change curve. This maps a person’s emotional reaction to change; Kubler-Ross originally developed this model based on her observations of people suffering from terminal illness. She later expanded her theory to apply to any form of dramatic life change. I actually recognised the stages based on some of my own experiences of change, for example like the time I ran out of gravy granules, or this week when I got a parking ticket near Onswitch HQ.

I was excited to finally get to visit the practice I had been studying all of last week. Having never been before, I was looking at the practice from the perspective of a new client, was it easy to find, what was the waiting room experience like etc… Working in the same building every day means you might not pick up on little things like the client does, it’s useful to get a fresh pair of eyes on things! I spent quite a bit of time reviewing practice literature, e.g Newsletters, leaflets and post op discharge sheets. From my experience, newsletters and leaflets tend to be very high quality, printed on good paper, and then discharge sheets are a scrappy bit of thin A4 paper. Surely these are just as important as other literature, if not more important, this is what the client takes home and leaves a lasting impression about the practice.

I also collected data on the number of new clients, number of consults, and number of different procedures done per month. It was interesting to look at the ratios of C1:C2 for each different species. This practice in Bob town was a Feline specialist, however there were twice as many C2s for every C1 for canine patients. If this is a feline specialist, why aren’t the cats being seen again?

The rest of the week I spent analyzing more practice data, and writing my recommendation report. I looked at key opinion leader data, client surveys, and mystery shopper data. There was also an afternoon spent furiously drinking tea and looking at finance data, the less said about that the better.

The Key opinion leader data consisted of basically asking local pet orientated businesses, for example, dog trainers, groomers, kennels etc… which vet practice they recommend. More and more new pet owners are using this method to find a new vet.

One thing that struck me when analyzing data was the correlation of call coaching data and new client registration. In months where a lower % of calls were answered, there was a noticeable drop in the number of newly registered clients. Makes perfect sense, pick up the phone to make money!

Friday being my last day, Alison took me out for lunch to pick my brains on how I found it being the Onswitch BEMS guinea pig (I was the first student), and so I could talk through my recommendations for the practice in ‘Bob town’. This was well received on my part, as rushing in the morning meant that all I had for lunch was an entire cucumber, which was only marginally worse than the day before’s lunch, which consisted of 2 apples and a Babybel. Poor luncheon choices aside, I loved my time at Onswitch and feel like I’ve learnt a lot, complementing the teaching we already get at Nottingham. I feel that the skills I learnt here I will be able to take with me and use in my future career to benefit whichever practice I end up working for! I definitely recommend BEMS to all students!

I’d like to say a massive thank-you to all at Onswitch for making me feel so welcome and like part of the team, and an additional massive thank-you on behalf of all Nottingham final years for agreeing to be the ‘major awesome sponsor’ of our graduation ball.

By onswitchltd

Rebecca Verity, Notts Vet Student extraordinaire, writes about her first week of BEMS placement at Onswitch


Week 1 – British decent

Vets are great at being vets (lucky that), but what vet school doesn’t teach you is how to run a successful business. That’s what your accountant is for right? You wouldn’t expect your accountant to spay a cat, so why expect a vet to run a business? Well, unfortunately, Veterinary is a business; those who leave vet school to work in private practice or have aspirations to one day run their own practice (that would be me) need basic business skills to be able to survive and prosper in a competitive market. Nottingham Vet students are very lucky in that our course involves some basic business training in the hope that we go out into practice with at least more than an inkling as to how a business is run. During our teaching, we’re given a failing practice and a week to look over the books, make what seem like agonisingly real decisions and re-brand the practice, before pitching our plans to the ‘Dragons Den’ of potential investors. The experience is intense, at times baffling, but overall the most enjoyable week and a half of vet school. Onswitch are crucial in delivering teaching and engaging students in various aspects of market analysis and marketing.

So here I am, a year on, with 2 weeks spare time between rotations, and Onswitch BEMS catches my eye. As someone who’d one day like to be a partner in a practice or god forbid, own my own, I thought this would be a useful 2 weeks, and if nothing else, something a bit different and enjoyable! So here’s what I’ve been up to in my first week!

Monday morning I braved the A52 and it’s questionable lorry drivers to make it to Grantham. My mission (if I chose to accept it) was to audit a real practice and write a report making recommendations as to how they can improve and grow. Where do you start with that? Well I did what any student would do when faced with what seemed an impossibly large task, sacked it off and went to the pub. No, of course, I turned to Google, which is exactly what most people would do when looking for vets. True fact: There are some practices that currently have no online presence, nothing, zero, nada, like they don’t even exist. I’m at that point in final year where I’m looking for jobs, and the first thing you do after seeing a job ad is plug the name into Google (other online search engines are available) and it’s incredible that in this day and age, there are still some vets that have no website or online presence at all, not even reviews! All that says to me is here’s a backwards practice not centred on clients. That may be a huge overstatement, but either way, it’s not a practice that I’d be interested in working for, nor is it one that a potential new client would want to come to!

So a quick Internet search gave me a good place to start, I now had a list of competitors, their locations and proximities to the practice I was auditing, and a whole heap of websites and social media pages to trawl through. I was shocked at the huge variations in quality of some of the websites – my favourite bad example had a hand drawn map scanned into the computer showing the practice location, surely that took more time than doing one online? Some other favourites included spelling errors, and a wacky website with a different font for every page. Weird stuff.

All that internet-ting was thirsty work, and I was overjoyed to find that hidden away in the kitchen were Yorkshire Tea bags, as a born and bred Yorkshire lass this was certainly good news.

I was now able to ring up the competitors I had identified, and Mystery Shop them, this is something Onswitch does every day and I also got the chance to take part in some TownTrack calls and some Onswitch Index calls. I made 50 calls in a morning, only one person asked what my pets name was, one call lasted a total of 14 seconds, what is going wrong? I couldn’t believe how bad some of the calls were! Due to a computer glitch, I accidentally made a call to the same vets in a row, in my panic I put on a strange accent, probably closest likened to Norwegian-Scottish. I’m sorry if you answered that call.

I also looked at the demographics of the area, so I could get an idea of the potential clients, e.g. how old were they?  Are there families or singles/couples? What types of advertising do they respond to? Are they homeowners? Annual income etc… Demographics can be very useful in tailoring marketing, there’s no point advertising in local papers if all the people in your area use the internet for their news. One of my tasks separate from the practice audit was to compare 2 sites in a city; a practice was looking to expand by purchasing a vet practice for sale down the road. I used demographic mapping, and saw that the new location wouldn’t be a good choice. It was in the report that I made the spell check error of changing British Descent to British Decent. I’m not sure I’ll live that one down.

As part of my review I also looked at some pre-collected ‘Vox Pop’ data. This was gathered from a location close to the practice and asked 50 people a series of questions. This data allowed me to see which vets in the area where the most popular, and identify possible reasons why my practice was/wasn’t being used.

So that was my week in a nutshell; I already have quite a sizeable word document reviewing the veterinary delivery in the area I’m studying, and already a list of things I think could improve what is already a fabulous practice. When starting out I thought, ‘this practice seems great, I’m not sure I can help…’ but nowhere is perfect, and there are always improvements to be made even when you’re at the top of your game. It’s constant development that keeps you there.

What is good about this placement is that you’re dealing with a real practice, in a real situation. I can’t stress the importance enough of the fact it was REAL. The Business Game we do at vet school is real enough, but the location has been changed, the names have been changed, competitors have to be made up. While this still gives you the chance to understand what you’re doing and review the practice current situation, it makes it so much more applicable when you’re doing it for real. This could easily be a practice that a new graduate goes to work for, and I’ll like to think that with the skills I’m learning both at vet school and on BEMS that I’ll be able to take these skills to my first job and contribute to the growth of the business and the promotion of client care, and actually make a difference.

Next week I’ll be drinking more Yorkshire Tea, visiting the practice to undergo a site audit, getting to grip with numbers looking at finance, and researching key opinion leaders in the area. I’m looking forward to visiting the practice I’ve been researching all week!

Ps. I didn’t mention we got Subway sandwiches on Friday, a personal highlight.

By onswitchltd

ESTA nightmare!

Attending the NAVC congress in Florida last month required an impressive amount of forward planning and diary management – but arriving at Heathrow, we were confident we’d got all the tickets, visas, in-flight reading and beach wear we’d need. After all, we’d even remembered to check the passport expiry date before Christmas (and sure enough it had needed renewing, at a cost of £72.50)

If you’re sensing a ‘but’ coming, good spot!

During the pre-congress checks we’d established that our ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) was valid and in-date; so at least that was one less additional expense!

We’d checked in online with our valid visa, printed off boarding cards and now we were all ready to present everything to the nice US Customs officials at the gate.

But (there it is), it transpires that the unique visa number belongs to the passport it was first created with, not the very same person travelling with it on a renewed passport. A renewed passport that despite being identical in all aspects aside from a lovely new photo, all of a sudden does not have the same identification number (why?) and therefore has rendered the ESTA invalid.

Of course we did point out to the nice man that maybe it would have been good to have been told that somewhere before now, but he didn’t seem in the mood for a discussion about process failure. Sensing that we and our boarding cards might lose our seats before we’d even managed to sit in them, we duly stumped up £17 to renew the visa there and then and simmered onto the plane.

There are many parallels with practice process here – so many of the things we do frustrate and confuse our clients. And so many of those things are only done that way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Perhaps we have lost the common sense filter – applying that little bit of logic that helps out our clients and makes life easier for everyone.

For example – a client tells you that she has moved house. You update your records, but do you prompt her to update the records held externally in the microchip company’s log? Thinking a bit broader is all part of great customer care – what else can we do to make things better and easier for our clients.

It’s just a shame that nobody appears to have told BA that.

By onswitchltd

Health care to order.

Those of you who follow Onswitch on Facebook or Twitter will already have felt the wrath of Onswitch on this one: the complete lack of 7-day access to routine health care.

To those of you that provide standard consultations and yard visits to pets and horses seven days a week, it’s such an obvious flaw in the human health care system that this same level of access just isn’t available to us two-legged animals.

Onswitch Junior needs his teenage booster vaccinations. Ringing our local GP surgery, we are informed that appointments are only available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. When he is either at, or travelling home from, school.

Taking time out of school does not appear to be an option in the new era of fines and black marks for unauthorised absence, and anyway, working full time and traveling round the country is not always conducive to being available to take him Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

What really got our blood boiling was being told that practically all the available vaccination appointments are booked solid for weeks due to the winter flu jabs. Now we’ve had a flyer promoting this campaign through from the GP, and adverts urging those of a certain age to register are all over the press – surgeries know that they are going to be busy, because they are driving the demand!

In any other business, when offering a service above and beyond the norm, especially one that you know is going to be popular, you staff up accordingly. You make more time available and brace yourself for the rush. You don’t appear surprised when the system can’t cope and ‘computer says no’.

Any good marketing campaign focuses on capacity planning. There is nothing worse than driving demand and not being able to match supply – consumers have limited patience and enthusiasm, and will simply give up unless you make it very easy for them to access your services and products. Health care and pet care are no different – many owners don’t really understand exactly why they must pay for annual vaccinations anyway, and many of those that do begrudge shelling out the funds. Unless we make it easy for them to fit vaccinating their animal into their busy lives, they simply won’t do it.

If you have a call reporting system at your business, take a look at the number of lost calls in the evenings and over the weekend. These are the times when working owners want to access health care for their pets, yet many practices are closed for routine consults. With staff rostered at these times to cover emergency care, and costing the practice money to do so, does it not make sense to provide standard care then too?

It seems so obvious to us, yet red tape, budget holder bureaucracy and a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality seem to be stopping the NHS appointment system joining the modern world.

Please don’t let it stop you.

By onswitchltd

Matching service provision to demand.


First, a warning. This blog is therapy! There may be capitals!

It is a venting of frustration, a means of minimising the shouting at the television and Twitter feed that has been happening rather too much recently! It also feels a lot like stating the bleedin’ obvious! If only Onswitch ruled the world…

So, at the end of August, the Friday before the Bank Holiday, Onswitch Junior complains of a sore ear, and it’s bad enough to warrant seeking medical advice.

We ring our GP, but the surgery is closed. No, we didn’t understand why either.

So then we ring NHS Direct, because their website told us “You should call the NHS 111 service if you need medical help fast, but it’s not a 999 emergency.”

They ask me how long he has been depressed and off his food. He hasn’t been, he has a sore ear (as I think I may have mentioned).

After working through the scripted symptom questionnaire, we are advised to call 999!!


Of course we don’t call 999, instead we rifle through our (slightly out of date) veterinary supplies and find some trusted drops. Which work! Although we do make an appointment with the GP surgery when they finally open again the following Tuesday, just to be sure.

There are so many questions here – why was the surgery closed on a normal working day? Why can’t we routinely access non-emergency care over the weekends? Why are doctors being paid a small fortune in ‘overtime’ payments for covering ‘normal’ demand? Why on earth don’t we have 24/7 healthcare as standard in Britain in 2013?

Of course the answer is inevitably so much more complicated than JFDI – there are politicians, government departments, regional budget holders, Quangos, patient groups and unions all pulling in different directions. But really?

More veterinary practices are now starting to offer routine consult appointments on Saturdays, evenings, and even a few enlightened ones on Sundays. Because it makes financial sense – if you are paying significant amounts of ‘overtime’ on staff rotas, then there will undoubtedly be a financial case to add these hours in to the ‘normal’ rota and justify an additional salary, even with anti-social hours payments.

It feels like such a quantum shift to offer medical care around the clock, but it shouldn’t – we can’t get ill to order. And there are so many occasions where our patients don’t need emergency care, but are uncomfortable enough to warrant some intervention over a weekend.

Is it really that hard to do? Because until it becomes standard practice, any vet who does offer this routine 24/7 cover will be feted as some kind of miracle worker and attract countless new clients. And if nothing else, that has got to be good for business!

By onswitchltd

White whine



Team Onswitch have been on the road even more than usual of late, accompanied by a certain Mr McVey. Our rather brilliant (if we do say so ourselves!) Emotional Intelligence workshops have taken us around the country, based at a Hilton hotel on every stop.

So far, so good.

Until we got to Luton.

After a hard day’s CPD, we just fancied a nice chilled glass of wine. Not an unreasonable request in a successful international chain of renowned hostelries.

But there was no wine to be had.

Yes, that’s right – no wine.

Shurely shome mishtake?

But no, after much searching, the staff were able to offer only a half-empty bottle of Chenin Blanc. Somewhat aghast, we declined, and gamely moved our watches on to Pimms o’clock.

The embarrassed bar staff told us that the previous night’s private parties had decimated the stocks, but it seems incredible to us that a large hotel, well-used to hosting functions and corporate events, could run dry.

It’s not as though wine hangs around long enough to go off (certainly not at chez Onswitch!), so just make sure you’ve always got loads in. It is that simple.

The same goes for your practice. It’s summer time, people go on holiday.

Plan ahead and ensure that your staffing rota fills the gaps.

Plan ahead and order in more good weather ‘stuff’ – dog bowls, tick removers, pet passports, kennel cough vaccinations; whatever you know you sell more of when the weather’s good.

Just plan ahead.

Much as we’re always surprised when we get good weather in Britain, the summer holidays are a given, they roll around every year. There’s no excuse for running out of the basics, especially when there’s another practice or pet store around the corner with plenty of stocks, and happy, welcoming staff.

 Now, where’s that glass?…

By onswitchltd