Recently Onswitch met with some clients at a local country pub. We have used it regularly in the past for meetings and evening events (it’s a hard life!) however, we shall be using it considerably less in the future. Probably not at all.


When we arrived we were told that all the staff in the restaurant were new that night. Perhaps not the best of ideas to shape your customer service entirely with youngsters new to the catering business? With no experienced senior members of staff working front-of-house that night, the undeniably good food being dispatched by the very capable chef fell a little flat on its (eventual) arrival at our table.


But we’re jumping ahead.

First we ordered drinks. And then returned them. Five times.

The mixer gun had clearly not been connected to the aerating pipe properly, as all the soft drinks ordered were flat. Desperate for a fizzy drink that actually fizzed, one of our clients even offered to show them how to connect the gas, but the offer was met with blank looks.


Finally in possession of the drinks we wanted, we received a doggy bag of someone else’s food.

After despatching the leftover chips to their correct table, we eventually managed to place our own food order after enduring half an hour of updates on recent conquests and social whirls going on not far from our table, where all five waitresses were swapping stories loudly at the bar. Despite frequent attempts to catch an eye, any eye, we were only able to attract attention by going to stand next to our waitress and giving her our order.


When the food arrived, it was good, but by this point we felt that we’d really earned it!

And because it was not wonderfully, amazingly fantastic food to make up for the laughably rubbish service, we decided there and then that this was not to be the venue for the Onswitch Christmas Lunch after all. The next day when we called to cancel our booking for 20 nobody at the pub even asked why.

Of course we told them!


Just what we told them will remain between us, but the thrust of it was this – without excellent customer service, the fancy menu and the fresh seasonal produce cooked to perfection are pointless. Your reputation stands or falls by the front-of-house team. Sound familiar?

You can be the best vet in the world, but if your receptionist is rude and incompetent then people simply won’t come back when there are other places nearby doing all the same things, but doing them much better.


It’s a familiar message, but a hugely important one.

Serve your clients right, or they’ll go elsewhere.

And then it will serve you right.


It’s been an interesting, and expensive, week for one member of the Onswitch team.

Noticing a swollen lump on the cat’s head, our Onswitcher takes said tomcat to the vet. He can be a little bit fighty (the cat, not the vet. As far as we know) and it looked to us like a war wound abscess.


Once in the consult room, the vet says nine words. Nine! (We counted them.)

The cat was given antibiotics and we were sent away to “see how he gets on”. The bill was paid by card, but there was no receipt, no explanation, and no warmth.


Three days later, this is how the cat ‘got on’.

He placed himself on the best carpet just in time for the abscess to discharge itself spectacularly all over the place.

We said nine words.

Swear words.

New carpet required.


We take the cat back to the practice and they tell us that it was an abscess.

Which we had known all along.

The cat is sedated and what little remains inside the lump is drained out, in silence. We pay another bill and once again there is no receipt.


At this point we ask to speak with the manager, frustrated at the lack of communication and empathy that we and our now-rather-less-feisty tom have experienced on both visits. The manager is not concerned, and we are cut short from a conversation which is clearly going nowhere with an air of ‘like it or lump it’.

Flippin’ lumps.


Fortunately for us, there are several other practices where we can take our tom, along with our two new kittens and all their accompanying vaccinations, neuters and lifetime veterinary costs. Which just goes to show why a warm and collaborative service is so crucial – this practice has lost many hundreds of pounds of potential income, not just from us, but from all the other local people we will share our experience with.


If you don’t create a rapport with your clients, if you don’t explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and make clear recommendations for next steps, then we won’t trust our beloved pets to you.

So here are nine more words:

Without our trust, you have no business. End of.




Not returning calls, being evasive and short when you finally do speak, forgetting important dates – it’s clear that this relationship is coming to an end.

Except this time it’s about matters of health, not of the heart – your practice’s relationship with your customers has perhaps become rather one-sided.

Through the eyes of your clients, you just don’t care any more.

Maybe it’s time for them to call it a day?


Just as in all relationships, we have to work at being a partner in the care of the animals we see. Their owners choose us to provide top-quality care that complements their own boundless love and attention, and it is a choice – if we mess up, we’ll quickly be dumped and bad-mouthed around town.

Just as in any relationship, it’s the little things that say the most about how we really feel. And so, at the risk of taking all the romance and secrecy out of the practice – owner relationship, allow us to share our top ten tips for showing the love:


  1. Keep it personal. Always introduce yourself by name, and address both the owner and pet / horse by name during the consultation
  2. Use positive body language. Make regular eye contact, smile and nod where appropriate and avoid turning your back to clients whilst they speak
  3. Prepare yourself. Read through the notes and get the owner’s and animal’s names in your mind, collect any equipment you need for the consult before beginning – one of the biggest owner frustrations in the vet or nurse leaving the room mid-consult.
  4. Don’t use jargon. Technical terms will confuse and alienate owners at a time when they may already be worried or frustrated – keep it simple and explain diagnoses and prognoses in everyday language
  5. Make clear recommendations. Stay away from phrases like “I think we should”, “perhaps we can try” and “let’s wait and see” – the owner is paying for your expertise, so don’t be afraid to demonstrate it
  6. Use open questions: “so how has Fred been?” “what are you feeding him?”, “when was Lulu last wormed?”. You’ll get far more useful information than when you ask a closed question which only has a yes or no option for answering, and the client feels like they are having a genuine conversation, not an uncomfortable interrogation.
  7. Provide additional information. Tell your clients about your OOH service, promote the puppy clinic or practice dentistry expertise – it isn’t hard selling, it’s simply helping them provide the best care in the most convenient way
  8. Keep in touch. Collect mobile numbers and email addresses routinely and send out regular newsletters and invitations for booster vaccinations and check-ups.
  9. Stay social. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter are brilliant for building strong relationships with clients and friends, but do make sure content is added regularly and positive community involvement is encouraged (your pages and feeds shouldn’t ever feel cliquey)
  10. Make it easy for the owner to see you again – if it’s a price checker on the phone, offer an appointment; and book the next visit with the owner at the time of the consultation (even if the patient is discharged, put a routine health check in the diary)



Making your relationship work requires a bit of effort, but the rewards are great.

If you need some practical support then Onswitch regularly run one-day courses that will help you show the love, and become a more considerate partner, whether you are a clinician or part of the customer care team.  These take place onboard Bertha, our training bus, in a town near you three times a year. Prices start from just £285 +VAT per person, per day and the schedule can be found at, where you can also make a booking.


So if you’re serious about saving your relationship, it’s time to wear your heart on your sleeve and show your customers just how much you really do care.

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.


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!


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 people 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.


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 this era of fines and black marks for unauthorised absence, and anyway, working full time and travelling 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 team members 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.


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 on earth don’t we have 24/7 healthcare as standard in Britain in 2018?


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 more and more 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!

Team Onswitch have been on the road even more than usual of late.

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?…







Recently we’ve experienced the fall-out from a process gone wrong. A no-process, a nocess, if you will. At the dentists.


We like our dentist – he is not at all pushy and does not recommend unnecessary treatments or procedures. The practice sell all kinds of tooth care paraphernalia at pretty much cost price, broadcasting the message loud and clear that we clients are paying for their time and expertise, not helping them make a quick pound or two on a box of floss.


The Onswitch teeth are whitened periodically – requiring the purchase of a particular product from the practice, where the dental surgeon has always been required to authorise dispensation. So as we were about to go away and needed fresh supplies without a trip to the dentist due any time soon, we called the practice to ask if they could provide a couple of tubes for us to collect in a day or two.


Apparently not.

The receptionist told us that she was not sure if there was stock available.

She did not offer to find out, or order some if not.

She did not know the price (classic fail – ALWAYS have prices of common items and procedures to hand).

But it transpired that the reason she did not know the price, was because each dentist at the practice manages their own stock and charges their own price. Which strikes us as:

  1. Not something clients should ever be told
  2. A really rather ridiculous process

At what practice meeting did everyone sit down and agree that a commonly-used item would be ordered, stocked and dispensed by each dentist, at prices determined by, and known only to them? We’d have loved to have banged some heads together at that one!


To make the whole process even more complicated, the system requires that when the receptionist does manage to extract a tube from the client’s own dentist, and has given the secret handshake to find out today’s price, it can’t just be put aside for the client to collect at a later date.

Oh no.

The receptionist has to call the dentist the moment the client is at the desk, hands extended expectantly towards the magic tube, so that he can authorise the transfer in the manner of some illicit drug deal. Interrupting the dentist as he works wonders on another paying client. Why on earth can’t this be pre-authorised? Just crazy.


Anyhow.. At that point we went online, and discovered that the exact same item could be bought for around a quarter of the price.

No drama, no prescription, no dentist’s authorisation required.

So guess what, we bought several tubes.